Senate leader names budget committee chairs (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

It’s one of those things that goes largely unnoticed but is as important as anything the legislative leadership does. Last week Senate President Pro Tempore-designate Greg Treat named his Appropriations subcommittee chairs who will serve under Appropriations Committee Chair Roger Thompson. All Senators are members of the Appropriations Committee, but the nuts-and-bolts budget work is done in six subcommittees. The chairs of the subcommittees speak for their members in the larger appropriations meetings and generally become the voice of the Senate to the agencies under their jurisdiction.

Sen. Treat reduced the number of subcommittees from eight to six. He changed the Finance Subcommittee back to a full standing committee rather than a subcommittee of appropriations. Finance had always been standing committee until the past few years. Sen. Stephanie Bice, who in her first term tackled reforming Oklahoma’s archaic liquor laws, will chair Senate Finance. Tax reform will likely be a hot topic for this important and powerful standing committee.

Importantly for health and mental health providers and human services, Sen. Treat returned the Health and Human Services budgets to a single subcommittee. The subcommittee was divided two years ago into a Health subcommittee and a Human Services subcommittee. Sen. Frank Simpson, Springer, moves up from Vice Chair of the Human Services subcommittee to Chairman of the Health and Human Services subcommittee. This will be a good thing for coordinating the budgets of all these agencies. Sen. Simpson served in the U. S. Navy for 26 years and had a career in private industry before being elected to the Senate. He’s devoted a lot of his legislative effort to veteran’s issues. In addition, he’s a United Methodist minister, currently pastoring a church.

Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, from Muskogee will take the Senate reigns of the Education subcommittee that handles the Common, Higher, and Career Tech Education budgets as well as several other agencies. In education, money often drives policy so this gives Sen. Pemberton a large voice in the future of Oklahoma education. He should be well prepared for the job having served as a coach, teacher and administrator in Oklahoma public schools for 37 years before being elected to the Senate in 2016.

Sen. Darcy Jech, Kingfisher, has moved up from Vice-Chair to Chair of the Natural Resources and Regulatory Services subcommittee replacing Sen. Eddie Fields who left the Senate to run for Lieutenant Governor. This subcommittee handles agencies such as Agriculture, Tourism, Corporation Commission, Commerce and Environmental Quality. Many of these agencies have suffered huge cuts in the past decade in the effort to protect education and healthcare funding. With the economy coming back they will be looking to try to re-institute some of their lost services.

Sen. Adam Pugh, Edmond, will chair the Public Safety and Judiciary subcommittee that handles the budget for the courts, District Attorneys, Corrections, and other such agencies. The Attorney General’s office was removed from this subcommittee when Sen. David Holt became Chair a while back because his wife was an Assistant Attorney General. I would look for it to return since Holt left the Senate. Sen. Pugh has a military background and has shown himself to be thoughtful in the area of the courts and corrections. He’ll need all the leadership skills he learned in the military for these budgets.

Sen. Gary Stanislawski, Tulsa, will finish his last two years of Senate service as Chair of the General Government and Transportation subcommittee that handles the budgets for agencies like the Governor’s office, the State Treasurer, the Election Board, and quite a few others, as well as the Department of Transportation. Sen. Stanislawski has served the past two years as chair of the Education Standing Committee and may continue in that role. Finally, Sen. Tom Dugger, Stillwater will serve as Chair of the Subcommittee on Select Agencies. These are the agencies that are self-funding through fees. The subcommittee holds these agencies accountable although they do not receive appropriated funds. Sen. Dugger’s many years of experience as a CPA will serve the state well in this capacity.


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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