The Woodward Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Eggs and Issues of the new year Friday at the High Plains Technology Center.

All of Woodward’s area representatives were present to discuss issues facing Woodward and Northwest Oklahoma as the legislative session starts.

Legislators attending were Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, Rep. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, and Sen. Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward.

Several issues were discussed, including lawsuit reform, roads, and the current lack of workers and funds needed by the corrections department.

Hickman began the meeting with his statement concerning several issues, including the current situation of the corrections department.

“There are currently 500 vacancies in the Department of Corrections in the state,” said Hickman. “I have sponsored a bill that will lower the minimum age a corrections officer can be to work for a prison from 21 years of age to 20 years of age. This will help catch those people coming out of the military who would like to work in the corrections field and it will increase the pool of candidates who could fill those vacant positions.”

Hickman continued, “Also the bill will allow out of state residents to work for a correctional facility in our state. As of right now, if you live right across the state line in Texas you cannot work for a corrections facility in Oklahoma. This too, I believe, will increase the amount of candidates which will help add workers for many corrections facilities in need of people working there.”

Hickman said he has introduced a bill that will change the way trespassers will be brought to justice as well as a bill that will allow state parks to keep what money they make and used for the park’s services.

“The trespassing laws the state currently has puts the burden on the landowner to prove he or she had their land properly posted and to prove ownership of the land in question,” said Hickman. “With this bill, it puts the burden on the trespasser.”

Hickman also touched on the teachers union’s lawsuit against the state legislature and the governor concerning education funding.

“It looks as if this will go to court and tax dollars should not be used in this lawsuit that I believe is not realistic,” said Hickman. “Other states have done this and lost to their teachers union such as Arkansas have had to close several of their school districts.

“The teachers union lawsuit is for $4 billion and the state budget is only $6 billion. We have asked the teachers union which departments they would like for us to cut out to get the funds they want but they haven’t responded with an answer yet. If you want to get more money to schools you have to slice the pie into smaller areas. I believe this lawsuit will in the long run hurt education.”

Johnson was next to take the podium and discussed the Republican agenda for the new legislative session.

“We have a problem with the Department of Corrections and I believe our colleagues across the aisle (Democrats) are making it more political than I think it should be,” said Johnson.

Johnson went on to say, “The number one priority for Republicans this session is lawsuit reform. We really need real lawsuit reform and we must have common sense with lawsuit reform and hopefully we can agree and get something worthwhile before the governor.”

Johnson also discussed the always debated topic of tax relief.

“We need tax relief and we will try to do more this session,” said Johnson. “There will be a call for the elimination of the estate tax which will give some tax relief.”

Johnson also discussed a bill he will introduce concerning the Judicial Complaint Board.

“As of right now the Oklahoma Judicial Complaint Board only has the power to remove judges,” said Johnson. “The bill I am introducing would allow the Judicial Complaint Board to reprimand or suspend judges. This is a power that they do not have right now. Removing a judge is not always the answer and this bill will aid in deciding what is right per instance concerning judges and make the judicial system stronger.”

Laughlin and Blackwell finished the program discussing the need to grow a strong economy, repairing the damaged roads and bridges in the state, and the need to establish tax cuts.

“We must grow a strong economy in Oklahoma. We must think about strategic tax cuts that will boost the economy in Oklahoma,” said Laughlin. “We must eliminate the estate tax and look for tax cuts that have proven in other states to boost an economy despite cutting taxes.”

Laughlin also discussed the need to use more of the tag tax to help maintain Oklahoma roads.

“Less than one percent of the tag tax is actually used to help with roads,” said Laughlin. “Over 45 percent of the tag tax goes into the general fund and I believe this money needs to go towards roads and bridges in our state.”

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