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2.5.22 – Duncan Banner – Oklahoma City

Education, strengthening the state’s workforce and reining in the growing medical marijuana industry are expected to be key focuses when the Republican-controlled Legislature reconvenes Monday for regular session.

In addition, lawmakers say billions in federal funds that are expected to flow into Oklahoma through both the American Rescue Plan Act and the recent bipartisan infrastructure law will loom large over all decisions and impact budget negotiations.

“We are sitting on a giant pot of gold with a lot of things that need to be fixed,” said state Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds. “That’s probably going to be the No. 1 thing that’s going to be driving every discussion in every meeting from top to bottom. What do we do? How do we do it?”

Phillips said that while the ARPA and infrastructure expenditures won’t be decided statutorily, it’s probably “the biggest shining star in everyone’s face right now” as lawmakers decide how to prioritize infrastructure projects and expand broadband access. He said it will probably be the top talking point. A legislative commission will ultimately decide how the funds are spent.

Phillips said numerous bills also have been filed dealing with the marijuana industry and related criminal activity that is affecting nearly every county.

“We had a massive increase of illegal pot farms pop up everywhere,” Phillips said.

And since it is an election year, he said he expects to see legislation dealing with vaccine mandates. Several dozen vaccine-related bills already await lawmakers’ consideration.

Every elected statewide office is up for grabs in November. Every House seat and half of the state Senate seats will also be on the ballot.

State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, said lawmakers will continue efforts to crack down on “federal overreach,” and he anticipates a legislative push to end abortion.

Humphrey also said he expects there to be continuing conversations around criminal justice reform. He said Oklahomans want to find a balance between helping people who need it, but also want to be able to incarcerate those who don’t.

Dozens of education-related bills also have been filed ranging the gamut from ones that protect play to ones that restrict school library books and delete curricula from campuses.

State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, the Senate Majority Leader, said education bills filed by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, are measures that the public should watch closely. McCortney said he would assume those are a priority for Treat.

Treat has filed a controversial bill that would expand school vouchers and require some public school funding be spent on students enrolled in private schools and being homeschooled.

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, said lawmakers will also be focused on addressing ongoing workforce shortages. He said discussions and funding plans will involve how to train more registered nurses and engineers. Some of those plans though will be worked on through the ARPA process, Hilbert said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.