State Capitol

Today marks the beginning of the 2016 legislative session for the State of Oklahoma, and rightly enough, the issue gathering the most attention is the nearly $1 billion gap in the state's budget -- an astounding figure, to be sure. But on today's StudioTulsa, we turn our attention in another important, equally unsettling direction. And it's not a matter of one single troubling issue, actually, but rather a multitude of infractions.

As 2016 gets underway, the most vexing question confronting Oklahoma legislators, policymakers, and various state agency heads is...how will the Sooner State solve the glaring budget hole that Oklahomans will face this year -- and next year. State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger has declared a "revenue failure" for this year, resulting in a 3% cut to all state budgets funded by General Revenue -- and the preliminary projection of revenue for next year sees a shortfall of $900 million out of an approximately $7 billion state budget.

On May 23rd, the Oklahoma State Legislature approved HB 3399, a bill which would, if it became law, withdraw this state from the Common Core State Standards initiative. This bill is now on Gov. Mary Fallin's desk, awaiting her decision; the Governor has until June 7th to sign the bill into law, or veto it, or do nothing (in which case the bill will not take effect).

Today on ST, a special interview from our archives as we listen back to a 1993 discussion with Charles Banks Wilson. The widely beloved artist died last week at 94. Wilson was born in Arkansas and grew up in Miami, Oklahoma; over the course of his long and prolific career, he worked as a painter, printmaker, art teacher, lecturer, historian, and magazine and book illustrator --- and his works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Corcoran Gallery, the Oklahoma State Capitol, the Smithsonian, and other notable institutions.

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Lawmakers are back to work in Oklahoma City today after a brief Easter break. Rush Springs Democrat Joe Dorman hopes the legislature decides quickly what to do about the crumbling state capitol building. He says it’s a part of the history of our state that needs to be repaired. He especially wants the south doors reopened and the yellow barricade markers in front of the capitol steps removed.

While the debate in Washington, amid these dreaded days of "sequestration," is about whether to increase revenues or cut spending --- or somehow achieve a compromise that does both --- here in Oklahoma, the state legislature is (once again) looking to reduce tax revenues. This comes despite the fact that our state currently has a number of extremely pressing needs vis a vis education, DHS, corrections, and infrastructure --- as well as, of course, the long-term and likewise urgent problem of pension liabilities.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The new, 72-member-strong Oklahoma House Republican caucus is meeting to elect its new leaders.

The caucus will meet for a closed-door meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday with all of the members-elect who were either elected to office or were unopposed this election cycle.

House Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon is expected to officially become the House Speaker-elect, although there won't be a vote since he wasn't opposed. Shannon is replacing term-limited House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee.

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Oklahoma lawmakers are bracing for the worst. If the automatic federal budget cuts take place, Oklahoma will lose millions of dollars in federal matching funds. Rush Springs Democrat Joe Dorman says it will cripple many programs.

Joe Dorman: "We saw $140-million that could be cut out of health funds. We saw over $50-million to educational programs we could lose. It is $120,000 per region, for the 10-regions for senior nutrition sites alone."

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Sand Springs woman's gripping tale of becoming a child prostitute at age 11 captivated a legislative panel exploring ways to deal with what police say is a growing problem of human trafficking in Oklahoma.

Jeannetta McCrary told lawmakers how she went from a straight-A cheerleader to a life of sexual exploitation and prostitution as a victim of child trafficking in the 1980s.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma agencies are saving money by switching to debit cards instead of paper checks for things like unemployment benefits and tax refunds, but at least one lawmaker is concerned the cards are posing problems for some citizens and leading to huge windfalls for a private contractor.

State Rep. Scott Inman of Del City outlined his concerns Tuesday during a meeting of the House Government Modernization Committee.

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