(Cushing, Okla.)  Senator Jim Halligan and Rep. Lee Denney gave a brief overview of the upcoming legislative session at a Legislative Luncheon held at the Cushing Country Club. 

Governor Mary Fallin will open the 2012 session with a State of Address on Feb. 6th at noon.

“We will be looking at approximately 1800 pieces of legislature this year,” Denney said.  “There have been 975 bills filed in the House and the Senate has 940.” 

A bill both Halligan and Denney are working on is the renaming of a portion of Highway 108, to honor Jordon Morris who was killed in action August 11, 2011.

“This young man was outstanding,” Denney said.  Halligan echoed her comment, adding Morris was also a West Point graduate.  

As for other bills on the horizon, Denney said she expects a little controversy over her plan to work on making Oklahoma a “safe harbor state” by passing legislation prohibiting the prosecution of prostituted minors – specifically ages 16 and under. 

Denney gave an example of a young woman who was able to get out of prostitution and receive training in cosmetology, only to be denied her license due to the fact she had been prosecuted as a prostitute.  “I just don’t think we need to punish these young victims of sex trafficking ,” Denney said.  

(In 2008 New York became the first state to pass a Safe Harbor law.  Since then Texas, Illinois and Tennessee have passed similar laws banning the prosecution of prostituted minors.)  

Halligan admitted he, too, may raise some eyebrows with legislation he would like to see passed.  “I’m still pushing for more mathematics in Oklahoma schools,” Halligan said.  “There is a subtle bigotry of low expectations.”  He also said people can see for themselves how students in their district stack up against students in other countries in the subjects of math and reading by going to this website: www.globalreportcard.org

“I think you will be very surprised,” Halligan said. 

According to Halligan, statistics show 65 to 70 percent of jobs in the future will require some sort of post secondary education.  He also raised the issue of the high drop-out rate in Oklahoma – particularly the metro areas of Tulsa and Oklahoma City – citing recent statistics as high as 50 percent of the students enrolled in 9th grade don’t graduate.

“Businesses will not want to move to Oklahoma with those kind of statistics,” Halligan said.

Halligan also talked about presenting a “truth in lending” bill. 

“Too many students in college made student loans to ‘pursue their dream’ without being told the prospects for getting a job in that field,” he said.  “They don’t know those student loans don’t go away even if they have to file bankruptcy.  I feel strongly students and parents need to know what the prospects are.” 

As for what else may be on the horizon, Halligan said he thinks citizens can look for state income tax reductions over a period of time.  “However, we have to be cautious.  We are going to have to look at tax credits.” 

Overall, Halligan and Denney remain optimistic about the next year. 

“We’ve made a lot of cuts.  Income is improving in the state.  There’s a lot of oil and gas activity – just look at Payne County,” Halligan said.  “I’m optimistic we’ve gone through the worst.”

To follow what’s going on at the state Capitol during legislative session – and particularly during the appropriation process –  Halligan suggested going to: oklahoma.watchdog.org/