OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s underfunded pension systems, the high number of working poor without health insurance and state employees who haven’t had an across-the-board pay raise in seven years are some of the dozens of topics that lawmakers want to explore before the 2014 legislative session begins in February.
Nearly 200 requests have been filed in the House and Senate for interim studies to take place over the next several months.
On Friday, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, approved 68 studies out of the 134 that were requested by individual House members. In the Senate, President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has assigned each of the 55 study requests to standing committees, where the chairman has the discretion of whether to proceed with a study.
“As committee chairmen, we are expected to have some increased knowledge and understanding of that particular area,” said Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “With that increased understanding, for those that come under health and human services, I can make a determination if those have some real merit.”
Among the requests that Crain will consider for his committee are ways to reduce Oklahoma’s high divorce rate, youth access to tobacco alternatives like electronic cigarettes, increasing organ donation and the certification process for dialysis centers.
Crain also is among several legislators who have requested interim studies on how the state can expand health insurance to cover some of the estimated 17 percent of Oklahomans currently uninsured. Crain co-authored a measure late last session that would have used a state tobacco tax earmarked for health care, combined with modest co-pays and federal Medicaid dollars, to expand the state’s Insure Oklahoma program for the working poor. However, the bill never was granted a hearing amid resistance from some conservative Republicans in the Legislature who oppose any attempt to draw down additional federal Medicaid dollars.