Friday, January 19, 2024

OCPA column: Goals for 2024

Goals for 2024
By Jonathan Small

Just as citizens make new year’s resolutions, policymakers should also set goals for the next 12 months. With the 2024 session beginning in roughly one month, this is a perfect time for lawmakers to take that step.

First up: reforming Oklahoma’s judicial-selection process. Instead of allowing the executive branch to nominate judges and requiring legislative approval for confirmation—the system installed by our nation’s founding fathers at the federal level—Oklahoma uses a 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission that operates in secret to select judicial nominees.

Among its many flaws, the JNC has allowed donors to Democratic political campaigns, including everything from state races to president, to choose Oklahoma judicial nominees even as voters have given strong support to Republican governors. Independent measures show the resulting judiciary is far more liberal than in many other states. It’s time to scrap the JNC and use the founding-fathers model.

Second, lawmakers to need cut or eliminate the personal income tax. The tax is a penalty on work and investment. We need to encourage investment in Oklahoma, not punish it.

Third, officials should move school-board elections to November. Currently, those elections are held on low-visibility dates in the spring. Moving school-board races to the general election will dramatically increase public participation, and public input is much-needed in our public-school system.

Fourth, lawmakers should fund workforce-needs scholarships through the Department of Commerce. Many degrees conferred through the university system leave students with significant debt and few marketable skills. At the same time, many employers cannot find qualified candidates for jobs. Workforce-needs scholarships will reverse that dynamic, boost employment and income in the state, and improve Oklahoma’s overall economy.

Lawmakers should also pass legislation eradicating so-called “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) in Oklahoma universities and state government. They should also ban viewpoint discrimination at state universities. DEI is little more than a new coat of paint splashed across old and ugly prejudice. Lawmakers should authorize a private cause of action for those harmed by DEI to further deter abuse.

Policymakers should also better protect Oklahoma children from harmful content by, among other things, restricting access to pornographic sites via age verification requirements. It’s time to put teeth in state laws that are often evaded by unscrupulous actors.

And legislators should enact additional reforms for sentencing-and-court costs, fines and fees. The use of these fees to fund prosecutors’ offices creates perverse incentives that make it more likely prosecutors file charges in cases that might be handled differently if funding came from other sources.

And fines-and-fees can, ironically, make it more likely a former offender re-offends after completing a sentence because she cannot obtain employment that allows her to pay off her fines and cover the cost of basic necessities.

These are all sensible reforms. By enacting them, lawmakers will keep Oklahoma on the path to a brighter future for the next generation.

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


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