Friday, February 27, 2009

Senator Gumm's "Senate Minute" - Feb. 27-March 5, 2009

Hello again, everyone! This was the first of three weeks for the full Senate to consider bills approved by Senate committees.
That meant long days considering about 30 bills every day. To go through that many bills requires a great deal of homework, reading each of the measures to determine whether the proposals are in Oklahoma’s best interest.
A bill getting fast track approval in the Senate was my proposal to create a Children’s Cabinet. With this bill, we hope to streamline programs, leading to better services for Oklahoma’s children. With no additional cost to the state, we would get more for every dollar we invest in children.
It passed without opposition in the Senate and is now off to the House of Representatives where it faces an uncertain future. A similar bill was killed by House leaders, who continue to exhibit a disturbing trend of putting partisan politics ahead of doing right by our children. Perhaps with this bill their record might finally reflect their rhetoric; we will see.
Another issue that was considered by the full Senate this week, and will be again, was a measure adjusting eligibility for Oklahoma’s Higher Learning Access Program, also called “Oklahoma’s Promise.” This is an extraordinarily successful program that opens the doors to a college education for students who otherwise might not afford it.
The program provides a tuition scholarship to Oklahoma students from families with annual incomes less than $50,000. To qualify, students must sign up in the eighth, ninth or tenth grades, agree to take tough courses, make good grades, stay out of trouble and attend an Oklahoma college or university.
A big debate is brewing on whether to adjust the income level. One proposal, passed this week, would make the $50,000 income level based on a three-year average, which I support. Another we will consider in the next couple of weeks would move that number down to $40,000, but base it on adjusted gross income.
The sponsor of the proposal says that would keep about the same number of Oklahoma families eligible for Oklahoma’s promise. He believes our goal should be to make Oklahoma’s Promise available only to about half of Oklahoma families.
Lowering the income limit is far too timid an effort for a great state like ours. I do not support dropping the income limit, even if it is based on adjusted gross income.
A task force assigned to look at Oklahoma’s Promise proposed keeping the income limit at $50,000, but basing it on adjusted gross income – making college more available for more families. I will try to amend the bill to reflect the proposal of the task force.
To me, we must be bold in our efforts to get more Oklahomans a college degree. More college graduates means greater prosperity, and I will do what I can to open the doors of college to more Oklahomans.
Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.

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