June 20, 2022 Senate Review by Senator Roland PedersonTue, 21 Jun 2022 09:09:04 CDT
We met again at the Capitol this past week in a special legislative session to approve projects that were submitted to the Legislature for consideration to receive a portion of our state's American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. These are federal monies our state received from the ARPA plan that was passed by Congress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our state received $11 billion, most of which was given directly to our state agencies. However, the Legislature was given $1.87 billion to appropriate to respond to the pandemic and its negative economic impact. We can use these funds for a variety of uses, including supporting public health responses; addressing negative economic impacts; replacing public sector revenue loss; offering premium pay for essential workers; water and sewage infrastructure; and broadband infrastructure.
The proposals we approved this past week accounted for about $50 million of our nearly $1.9 billion allocation. I'm thrilled the Legislature approved $15 million for Northeastern State University's School of Optometry. These dollars will help to finish the school's state-of-the-art optometry complex, which will include cutting-edge equipment and classroom technology, specialized clinics for low vision, vision therapy and rehabilitation, primary care and contact lenses. It will also include a surgical suite for Oklahoma optometry's expanded scope of practice. The NSU School of Optometry is a crown jewel for our state one of only 23 schools in the nation. These funds will help NSU solidify their ranking as a top destination for optometry students.
We also approved a couple of health care initiatives - $8.8 million for CareerTech projects addressing our state's nursing workforce shortage to help produce more than 2,500 additional licensed and trained health care workers over the next five years. Another $250,000 was approved to assist the Health Workforce Training Commission to administer additional nursing workforce programs.
Rural broadband is an issue that's near and dear to my heart and a priority of the Legislature. We approved $2 million for broadband mapping projects during the 2022 legislative session and advanced an additional $500,000 to the state's Broadband Office during the special session to assist in the effort of expanding high-speed internet access for all Oklahomans.
You may have heard about several tax relief proposals submitted by the House, which frankly, was political theater. The Senate supports inflation relief, but we are taking a very cautious approach to ensure we strike the appropriate balance of tax cuts while not sacrificing essential state revenues that fund our core services. The Senate President Pro Tempore has created a tax reform working group to look at all proposals on the table. I'll keep you updated as we progress.
Aside from special session, I've been out in the fields working on harvest, and thankfully, we are finished. I always encourage folks to thank their local farmer for all they do to feed our state, nation and world a job that's becoming harder as inflation continues to rise. For those working from sunup to sundown alongside my family, I sure am grateful.
It's an honor to represent our conservative values here at our state Capitol. If there's something I can help you with, please reach out to my office by emailing Roland.Pederson@oksenate.gov or calling 405-521-5630.
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