Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Couple of Good Things from and Interesting Session

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! The 2007 session of the Oklahoma Legislature has passed into history and the 149 lawmakers are returning to their families and hometowns.

There was a new political dynamic – a popular Democratic governor, new leadership in the Republican House of Representatives, and a Senate divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans.

The split power led many to predict fewer bills would become law than in years past. That appears to have been a solid prediction; hundreds of bills with good ideas were left by the wayside.

Despite the difficult political environment, we passed some positive legislation. The biggest for me, of course, was passage of the “Back to School” sales tax holiday, a cause I have championed since I was first became your senator.

This year, Oklahoma families will not have to travel to Texas to enjoy a sales tax holiday on school clothes during the first weekend in August. This common-sense proposal will help our families, our retailers and the entire Oklahoma economy.

Another law that will make a huge difference for Oklahoma’s children is the “All Kids Act.” The law will increase the number of children eligible to receive health care through Medicaid by closing the gap between those children presently receiving Medicaid benefits and those covered under private insurance held by their parents.

We have a real problem in Oklahoma because so many parents do not make enough to afford health insurance but make too much to be eligible for Medicaid. This legislation will provide a bridge, giving these children access to quality health care and allow them to lead healthy, productive lives.

The “All Kids Act” will increase Medicaid eligibility for children from 185 percent of the poverty level to 300 percent – the maximum allowed by the federal government. That will enable the state’s Medicaid program to provide coverage for as many as 42,000 additional children.

Currently in Oklahoma, children whose parents make $37,000 or less a year are eligible for Medicaid. The “All Kids Act” would increase that income ceiling to $60,000 a year.
State costs to provide the additional coverage are estimated at $8 million, allowing the state to draw down nearly $30 million in federal matching funds. The program will be funded by revenue from the state’s tobacco tax, which was increased by voters in 2004.

This was a huge step for a healthy future for our state. A healthy beginning for children leads to healthy adults and a brighter future for us all.

Over the next several weeks, I will write about successes and missed opportunities of the 2007 session. As difficult as it was to find common ground on a number of issues, our success on the two issues in this week’s column shows we can reach common ground. All it takes is hard work and a willingness to look at issues from all sides.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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