The Legislature has greatly benefited this year from the influx of a large number of freshmen members elected during the 2010 election cycle. Because they are a product of this important election cycle, they know firsthand how important it is for Oklahoma’s policy makers to cut government spending.
Here is one example:
For years, various attempts have been made in the Legislature to bring some common sense to the way the state allocated benefits to state employees. Believe it or not, with very limited exceptions, state policy mandated that state employees receive a rich health benefit allowance even if the state employee had health coverage with another source. It made absolutely no sense that the taxpayers were forced to pay for a duplicative benefit that was not even needed.
Attempts to allow otherwise covered state employees to opt out of health coverage met with opposition and were always defeated. Advocates of the status quo argued that the removal of these employee from the state’s self insurance PPO would risk prejudicing the makeup of the universe of participants, and they didn’t want to set a trend of allowing certain employees to opt out.
Of course this resulted in an absolute absurdity because taxpayers were forced to spend thousands of dollars providing coverage for those who didn’t even need it.
Legislation to fix this problem was assigned to the Government Modernization Committee where we would always support it and send it on to the rest of the Legislature. But it never made it through the entire Legislature, and eventually died every time.
So this year, when freshmen Representative Dustin Roberts and Senator Josh Brecheen sponsored House Bill 1062, a limited version of the opt out legislation, it looked like all the other past failed attempts. I doubt that many believed the legislation would be successful because after all, similar approaches had always been defeated.
This did not deter the freshmen legislators from not only continuing to advance the proposal, but expanding it to include all state employees. Because of their hard work, the law was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.
Now, for the first time, as state employees are signing up for their benefits for next year, they can opt out of the system. Each employee who chooses to opt out saves the taxpayers thousands of dollars.
I believe this success is partially due to the fact that freshmen legislators did not know they were attempting a task that veteran legislators had already failed to accomplish. Their intent was to right an obvious wrong and save the taxpayers money. They did not care about the politics of the issue or the difficulty of the task.
In my view, the legislative freshmen serve as a good example of the importance of term limits and the value that newcomers bring to the legislative environment.