Lawmakers’ recommendations on ARPA spending starting to take shape (Capitol Update)

There was a lot of activity at the Capitol last week with interim studies discussing a variety of topics and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) working groups considering and approving multiple funding proposals. The next stop for the working group proposals approved last week will be at a meeting of the full Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding Committee on Tuesday. Proposals approved Tuesday will be heard by the full House and Senate when the special session resumes, probably later this month.

Legislative interim studies covered discussions of criminal sentencing reform, increasing the compulsory liability insurance required for drivers, driving-under-the-influence enforcement, laws setting the salaries of county sheriffs, compensation for people who have been wrongfully convicted by the state, the state’s nursing shortage, post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by veterans and first responders, reform of the possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, better protections for tenants under the Oklahoma Residential Landlord Tenant Act, and the hardships suffered by people trying to become homeowners.

If you’re a believer that state government services can improve the opportunity for better lives, it was a good week for you. All four ARPA working groups met last week. The Transportation, Infrastructure, and Rural Development working group approved a $60 million request to fund the development of rural industrial parks, mostly to improve utilities. Also, the cities of Inola and Ardmore were funded $10 million and $14 million respectively for water and industrial projects. 

The Government Transformation and Collaboration working group approved nine proposals by non-profit organizations for local health and social services, including $50 million for the Oklahoma Primary Care Association; $30.1 million for Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma; $2.8 million for YWCA Oklahoma City for renovations to the organization’s shelter; a combined $700,000 for the Parent Child Center of Tulsa for proposals pertaining to child abuse prevention; $2 million for the Family Safety Center in Tulsa to expand its facilities; $1 million for the Spring Shelter in Sand Springs for its HVAC plumbing proposal; $30 million for Oasis Fresh Market & Oasis Projects 501(c)(3) for project expansion in food deserts; $3 million for Food on the Move’s Food Hub proposal; and $5.2 million for the Oklahoma Dental Foundation to fund five new mobile dental units.

The Health and Human Services working group approved another package of non-profit organization proposals, including $30.7 million for the Oklahoma Association of Youth Services; $342,360 for Oklahoma Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA); $9 million to the Potts Foundation for a partnership with the Oklahoma State Health Department to offset developmental losses suffered by infants and toddlers during the pandemic; and $300,000 for the 1st Step Male Diversion program in Tulsa, an alternative to incarceration program for young men otherwise headed to prison. The Economic Development and Workforce working group approved several economic development projects. They also approved $5 million for a revolving fund to be appropriated later for a statewide workforce program.

Legislators appear to be planning to appropriate during the upcoming special session all or nearly all that’s remaining of the $1.87 billion in ARPA funding approved by Congress for Oklahoma. The working groups have labored to screen the $17 billion in requests and approved funding for “transformational” projects that will benefit the state for years to come. With the plethora of long-neglected needs and opportunities identified in the state, many of which will remain unfunded, it is ironic that none of Oklahoma’s seven-member Congressional Delegation voted for the funding.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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