Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced the appointment of Senate committee membership and chairs for the upcoming session. There were three key vacant committee chairmanships for committees with jurisdiction over policies that effect every Oklahoman. These are the Senate Education Committee that will be chaired by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond; the Senate Public Safety Committee to be chaired by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle; and the Senate Finance Committee to be chaired by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa.
The appointment of Sen. Pugh for Education is a bit of a surprise only because he was not previously on the Education committee. However, looking back at his legislative interests, one of his early first-term bills was to create an Oklahoma School Oversight and Review Commission to study and make recommendations for improving educational opportunities in public schools by making recommendations to realign resources and funding to achieve better outcomes. The bill failed to receive a hearing in committee in 2018. Later he passed bills dealing with changing and better enforcing public school accreditation standards, as well as allowing teachers certified out of state to be certified in their areas of expertise in Oklahoma without further testing. As a non-educator chairing education policy, it will be interesting to see him perhaps bring a fresh approach to some education issues.
Sen. Paxton has served on the Public Safety Committee from the beginning of his service in the Senate and is moving up from vice-chair to chair. Interestingly, Sen. Paxton was vice-chair of both the Public Safety and the Energy Committees simultaneously for the past two years, which is unusual. He divided his legislative interests between public safety and the energy industry, as well as other issues. This year he is giving up his vice chair of the Energy Committee to chair the Public Safety Committee, which probably will handle some of the higher profile and more controversial legislation of the year.
The Senate Finance Committee will be chaired by Sen. Rader, who is giving up the vice chair position of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The former college football coach has gravitated toward the fiscal side of state government policy recognizing that, in government as in life, if you want to know what people think is important, follow the money. Following the way tax money is raised and spent provides insight into what state government is all about. Having spent time helping lead the spending committee, he will now chair the revenue committee. There is a lot of good work that can be done in revising and modifying the state’s tax structure. Sen. Rader jumped in with both feet in his first term by proposing elimination of the state capital gains tax. His bill ultimately did not pass, but it became a rallying cry for teachers during the teacher demonstrations at the Capitol in 2018.