By Sean Murphy
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — The first session of the 54th Oklahoma legislature convenes today for its regular legislative session, with legislative leaders talking about ways to fund necessary infrastructure repairs and improve the state’s business climate through a reduction in the state’s personal income tax and changes to the workers’ compensation system.
A rundown about the lawmakers and the issue’s they’ll face during the session:
· What’s at stake: The biggest issue is how lawmakers will divide state revenue, currently projected to be about $7 billion. Although the final amount the legislature will have to appropriate won’t be approved until later this month, it’s expected they will have roughly $170 million more to spend on this year’s budget than last year. But state agencies already have requested more than $1.4 billion in new spending, which leaves it up to lawmakers to determine winners and losers when it comes to the budget.
· Who’s in charge: Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and Senate and currently control every statewide elected office. The GOP holds 36 of the 48 seats in the state Senate and 72 of the 101 seats in the state House — both the largest Republican majorities since statehood. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, will lead the Senate for the third consecutive session, while new House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is beginning his first term as the leader in the House. Shannon is both the first African-American speaker and, at age 34, the youngest in state history. Gov. Mary Fallin is a Republican halfway through a four-year term.
· How long will it last: Oklahoma’s constitution says the legislature must begin its regular session at noon on the first Monday in February and adjourn “sine die” no later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday of May. (Sine die is Latin for “indefinitely.” It is literally translated “without day.”)
· Who’s my legislator: Both chambers have sites where you can find your legislator by putting in your ZIP code and address. The Senate website is www.oksenate.gov and the House website is www.okhouse.gov .
· Can I make a difference: Definitely, if you take the time. Committee meetings and legislative sessions are open to the general public. You can also track bills and legislative activity on the Oklahoma legislature’s website at www.oklegislature.gov .
· Can I watch: Yes. The House broadcasts its proceedings online at www.okhouse.gov and streams audio from many of its committee hearings. The Senate also broadcasts its proceedings at www.oksenate.gov and has upgraded its audio and video systems to stream most of its committee hearings online.
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