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Oklahoma’s 55th legislative session kicked off last week as the governor doubled down on her inaugural address themes.

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New session

Oklahoma’s 55th legislative session kicked off last week as the governor doubled down on her inaugural address themes.

“My challenge is to use this session to unpack how the state is spending its money,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in her State of the State address, highlighting the state’s growing tax revenue but the declining amount lawmakers have to spend.

Fallin’s speech included an appeal for lawmakers to invest in education, incarceration reform and health care, three areas in which the state consistently performs poorly.

“Oklahoma has some great forward momentum, but there are some obstacles we must face head-on,” Fallin said.

A projected $300 million budget shortfall has most agencies facing likely cuts even while the Department of Education, Medicaid and Department of Corrections are requesting over $500 million in increases.

Fallin said she supported increases in education funding by as much as $25 million but centered her address on increasing partnerships between schools and the business community to create more career-ready graduates, including the launch of Oklahoma Works, a new program that helps develop those types of partnerships.

In a response to Fallin’s address, House Minority Leader Scott Inman also said he was hopeful the governor would push the state forward.

“We were cautiously optimistic about what the future holds for those core functions of government that we care about,” Inman, D-Del City, said. “It was a speech that, on a whole, a middle-of-the-road Democrat could have given.”

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Hoodie death

During last week’s State of the State address by Gov. Mary Fallin, two men showed up in Guy Fawkes masks to protest Senate Bill 13, often referred to as the “hoodie bill” because it would ban the use of masks and concealing clothing, possibly hoodies, in public.

However, two days into the new session, Sen. Anthony Sykes, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, released a statement that he would not hear the bill.

“After evaluating the legislation assigned to the Judiciary Committee this session, I have decided that Senate Bill 13 will not be heard so we may focus on other legislation before us,” Sykes, R-Moore, said.

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Award finalist

Local nonprofit Fields & Futures is a finalist for the 2015 LIDS Foundation Tip the Hat Award and is in the running for $125,000. Fields & Futures, along with several other nonprofits that address issues of physical fitness, is listed at lidsfoundation.org/2015voting, where visitors can vote for their favorite organization before Sunday.

“Each individual can vote once, and it’s okay to vote from different devices; each vote counts once,” said Dustin Trammell, regional director for LIDS Sports Group. Fields & Futures renovates local athletic fields in the Oklahoma City area.

Exemptions

Oklahoma City Public Schools’ offering of the PSAT for free to every sophomore and junior this year has not only increased participation in the test from 200 to more than 2,800, it has helped 489 students become exempt from some end-of-the-year standardized tests because of their scores.

Also, more than 240 students qualified for Advanced Placement courses because of their PSAT score.

The school board heard the stats during last week’s meeting and also reviewed state mandatory test data that showed the average student spends 20 hours a year completing standardized testing, which works out to around 2 percent of the school year.

“I think we all know that it’s a little more than 2 percent when you take into consideration the time to prepare [for the tests],” school board member Gloria Torres said.

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Quotable

“We were really excited about sidewalks, but we are not excited about bus pads, and I don’t see those two going together,” said Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee (pictured), who voted against a resolution asking for some sidewalk funds to be used for bus shelter concrete pads.

Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid asked the council last week to approve the resolution, indicating a desire to use some sidewalk funds from MAPS3 on concrete pads for bus stop shelters. The council voted 4-5 against the measure. OKC is in the process of spending over $18 million on new sidewalks throughout the city.

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