Saturday, January 11, 2020

OCPA column: New Years' (and session) resolutions

New Year’s (and session) resolutions
By Jonathan Small

When it comes to resolutions, one should pursue those that are simple and achievable. That’s true whether you’re talking about personal resolutions or (as I am today) resolutions for public policy goals for Oklahoma.

In that spirit, I offer the following.

Lawmakers should raise the cap on Oklahoma’s Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program. Research has shown, repeatedly, that this program saves state funds and increases overall spending on education. It also increases academic opportunity for needy children and puts Oklahoma on the path to a better future by ensuring more students become prepared for work or college.

The Legislature should also advance much-needed union reforms (excluding those serving hazard-duty public-safety employees). First, unions should be required to obtain recertification regularly. The strikes of 2018 demonstrated they have the power of elected officials and the ability to shut down our schools. That kind of power needs regular accountability. Today’s teachers and other education employees should not be bound by a certification vote taken by their grandparent’s generation. When a union provides value, recertification is no threat, and when a union doesn’t there’s no reason to limits its members’ options.

Unions should also be required to proactively receive a worker’s permission before union dues can be obtained from teachers and education employees. Also, state and local government shouldn’t be involved in collecting dues for unions.

To benefit teachers, lawmakers should provide state-funded liability insurance coverage. Many teachers don’t agree with their union’s political stances, but still feel compelled to join because membership includes liability insurance coverage. Teachers who maintain classroom discipline should not have to fear frivolous lawsuits. The state should give them more financial peace of mind.

Finally, the Legislature should advance genuine health care reforms, not budget-busting Medicaid expansion. It’s time to restrict hospitals’ ability to “surprise” bill patients for out-of-network charges even when treatment is obtained at an in-network facility. Also, Oklahomans should not have their credit scores reduced in situations where they were not given advance notice they would face high charges for a provider they didn’t know was out of network.

Rural health care is facing serious challenges, but lawmakers can address those needs without expanding welfare. (It must be noted most financial gains from Medicaid expansion will accrue to wealthy big-box hospitals in Oklahoma City and Tulsa anyway, not rural communities.)

To achieve this goal, lawmakers can dedicate Oklahoma’s annual tobacco settlement payments and endowment earnings (totaling more than $100 million annually) to rural hospitals and doctors. Oklahoma has the money to meet rural health care needs.

Finally, state spending should stay in line with current tax collections.

If policymakers want to produce a better Oklahoma for the next generation, these simple steps are a good start.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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