Two important House bills recently passed the Senate Appropriations committee. One will reimburse the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) fund, and the other expands the Pay for Success Act. If these gain the approval of the entire Senate they could be signed into law by the governor.
Last year the Legislature borrowed from the CIRB fund when we were dealing with budget shortfalls; it is time to pay back that money. Restoring CIRB funding is a big deal, particularly in rural Oklahoma where we have to drive longer distances than those in urban areas--often on roads needing greater repairs.
At one time, Oklahoma had 1,800 structurally deficient bridges, but lawmakers made transportation a funding priority and now that number is down to less than 200. Paying back the funds borrowed means our county transportation workers can continue bridge renovation while keeping other roads projects on track. When you see county transportation workers, thank them for their work.
The Pay for Success Act, meanwhile, would expand a program that allows private/public partnerships to help divert certain women from prison by treating them for substance abuse. We would rather them be treated, working and being reunited with their families, rather than in jail. Pay for Success is much less expensive than incarceration, and it is better for families and employers. The program has been immensely successful, changing the lives of the women involved as well as their families. This bill would broaden the act to be available to all state agencies, allowing them to contract with private entities to provide programs or services that achieve certifiable and beneficial results for state residents. The state would pay only if the desired results are achieved. The bill is a way to encourage innovation and benefit the state without risking state dollars on programs that may not work.
In other news this week, the state reached a $270 million settlement in its lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma. Our state’s attorney general has promised nearly $200 million will go to the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery in Tulsa, which will create a national addiction center modeled after the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. About $17.5 million will go to counties and cities to help them deal with the opioid crisis. The state has other lawsuits pending against additional manufacturers, so there could be future settlements as well.
Serving as the House budget chairman over mental health and substance abuse, I welcome the Purdue Pharma settlement. Yet, I was disappointed by the lack of communication from the Attorney General's office to the Legislature about the terms of the settlement and essentially bypassing the Legislature's appropriation process. In my opinion (I do not speak for the Legislature on this matter), the settlement belongs to you and those affected by addiction. Don't get me wrong; I believe a national addiction research center is needed. However, I will be fighting to ensure future opioid settlements are negotiated to benefit the entire state, not merely the northeast corner of it.
As always, I will keep you updated as the session progresses. Please feel free to reach out to me with your questions or concerns firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling my office (405) 557-7327.