By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Freshman state Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, said Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State Address is one he’ll never forget.
“It was very good,” Standridge said. “The number that is impressing to me is the unemployment rate.”
The governor reported that unemployment has been reduced 30 percent since 2010 and is currently “one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. Our median household income rose in 2011 by $4,000 — placing Oklahoma at No. 1 in the country,” she said.
“Oklahoma is employed in small business, and small business tends to weather those storms better,” Standridge said.
Standridge, a small business owner himself, said small business is the lifeblood of community, and that is especially relevant in Norman, which has an even lower unemployment rate than the state average.
“I think we’re doing things right, and it’s creating jobs,” said freshman Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville. “I enjoyed the governor’s speech. I thought she made sense.”
Standridge said the economy is bouncing back.
Workers’ compensation reform: Fallin cited workers’ compensation costs as a primary barrier to economic growth. Standridge agrees.
“I believe that is our No. 1 issue,” Standridge said. “We have a judicial-based workers’ comp system right now. A lot of the reforms we’ve implemented aren’t being utilized. We’re not going to see true reform until we move out of the judicial to an administrative system.”
Standridge believes the current system is not beneficial to either the employer or employees. He said getting workers’ comp out of the “adversarial process” is key to real reform.
“The point of workers’ comp should be to get them the treatment they need and to get them back to work as soon as possible,” he said. “It should be all about the workers.”
Economic incentives: The Quick Action Fund, which will be used to compete for employers through quick incentives, is a touchier subject for Standridge.
“In a perfect world, I would like government out of everything,” he said.
But the current competitive climate has caused Oklahoma to miss out on opportunities because those incentives weren’t available.
“As long as we don’t get carried away, it makes good economic sense,” Standridge said. “We have lost prospective employers because of not having it in the past.”
The governor’s pursuit of economic growth in the areas of aerospace and defense, energy, agriculture and biosciences, information and financial services, and transportation and distribution will serve Norman — with the University of Oklahoma and the National Weather Center — well, Standridge said.
“She’s in favor of converting CNG for the state vehicles,” Cleveland said. “I’ve been in favor of that for a long time now.”
Saving dollars: “The state owns 7,000 buildings,” he said. “Some of those are empty. The state needs to start selling those off. I’ve been following it all along, looking at these buildings. This is something House Speaker (T.W) Shannon has been looking at.”
Standridge said he agrees with restoring the Capitol but needs to study the matter more before he voices an opinion on the funding.
“I’m in favor of repairing the Capitol, but I’m not in favor of any bonds,” Cleveland said. “I think we should take the money out of our budget and repair the Capitol.”
Health care: The Oklahoma Democratic Party was critical of Fallin’s “rejection of the Medicaid expansion, which would have immediately helped 600,000 Oklahomans,” the party said in a press release Monday. “She said that the cost of the Affordable Care Act was too much, but she ignored the fact that we have already paid for it with federal tax dollars. The $54 million for a Health Insurance Exchange that she sent back to Washington is Oklahoma’s money that will be used in a different state.”
Standridge defended Fallin’s rejection of the federal health care money.
“The amount that it would cost us to expand an already broken system is something the state really can’t afford,” Standridge said. “I think the emphasis should be on programs like Insure Oklahoma.”
As a small business owner, Standridge has personal experience with Insure Oklahoma.
“I would like to expand the poverty level of Insure Oklahoma,” he said. “Insure Oklahoma is based on employment. Their benefits are paid through their employer.”
Standridge said the unemployed and extremely poor get help through Medicaid.
“The gap is for the working poor,” he said. “You want them to be employed. Insure Oklahoma is a good program.”
Cleveland said he likes Fallin’s proposal to spend $15 million on mental health.
“We have a mental health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We haven’t been putting money into mental health in the past like we should, and I think that’s important for Oklahoma,” Cleveland said.
“We do have to find a way to help the hospitals,” Standridge said. “I think we need to look and see what their challenges are and try to address those challenges.”
Standridge is on the Health and Human Services Committee and will deal with some health care-related issues.
“I do applaud the governor on making the strong point about tackling prescription drug abuse head on,” he said.
While Standridge has not witnessed increased painkiller prescriptions in his pharmacy in Blanchard or through his pharmaceutical business that serves institutions, he knows abuse is a growing problem.
“I think it’s a serious problem and we definitely have to attack it,” he said. “We need to find out how they’re getting their drugs.”
For local news and more, subscribe to The Norman Transcript Smart Edition, or our print edition.