STILLWATER — Reps. Cory Williams, Dennis Casey and Greg Babinec and Sen. Tom Dugger will be meeting community members at the Legislator’s Reception held at Stillwater Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 11, from 5-7 p.m. The annual event is sponsored by the library, League of Women Voters, Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee and Friends of the Stillwater Public Library.
“One of the top priorities of our library is to provide easy access to government information and to help citizens become more active civically,” said Lynda Reynolds, Stillwater Public Library director. “This event is a perfect opportunity for community members to resolve in the New Year to take a more active part in the governance of Stillwater, Payne County and the state.”
The come and go event takes place in the library’s auditorium. While legislators will give short remarks at the event, the majority of the reception is devoted to one-on-one opportunities to ask questions of the legislators and to raise concerns and give feedback.
Budgetary issues have been front page news in Oklahoma recently and will likely be a much discussed topic at the reception. As both legislators and citizens themselves, Babinec, Williams and Casey believe that economic issues are among the top concerns for Stillwater and Payne County residents.
“As an established businessman, I have seen how economic development directly impacts communities,” said Babinec. “It goes beyond tax dollars, too. When businesses are empowered to grow, community members reap the benefits through greater access to amenities, stronger community relations and more opportunities for children and generations to come.
“Payne County residents have seen this firsthand as our business climate has improved over the years, but we still have room to grow. We should strengthen our commitment to rural economic development and reap the benefits that go along with it.”
Williams believes diversifying the local economic base is a key concern.
“While municipalities are reliant on a decreasing sales-tax base, in part due to the growth of e-commerce, we need to make sure our local regulations are not stifling the economy but instead attract growth opportunities.”
Williams also thinks criminal justice reform and education will be top priorities for his constituents.
“While the State has yet to fully pass and/or implement criminal justice reform, there is no reason that our elected officials at the local level shouldn’t fully embrace the ideal passed by an overwhelming majority of voters last November,” said Williams. “A continued subscription to ‘tough on crime’ policies and the proliferation of fines and fees at the local level, a contributor to our mass incarceration problem, is unacceptable.
“Additionally, with the ongoing fiscal crisis at the State Capitol, protecting higher ed and CareerTech becomes ever more important.”
According to Casey, these educational issues go hand in hand with economic concerns in a community like Stillwater.
“No doubt, the University is a very important driver economically,” said Casey. “It a very delicate balance to make college affordable to our citizens.”
Part of that balance includes supporting libraries.
“I hear all the time we need to fund core services from my colleagues,” said Casey. “Education is one of those services, and libraries are an extension of those core services.”
“Public libraries are essential to communities, especially those in the rural parts of the state,” said Babinec. “They serve as a hub for town meetings and events (hosting more than 4.3 million programs per year across the country); they increase access to literacy materials (summer reading programs for kids boost comprehension when school is out), and they offer equal opportunities to folks needing internet access and help with basic internet skills.
“Oklahoma has well over 1 million library card users who depend on more than 200 library sites in our state. Ensuring access to these invaluable community assets is necessary.”
Williams thinks libraries are important in maintaining a healthy democracy.
“At the base of our democracy is an engaged and informed constituency,” said Williams. “If we do not continue to foster an environment where people of all socio-economic levels can equally intellectually enrich ourselves, then we risk stagnation and the erosion of our Republic. Yes, we should continue to fund and support public libraries.”
Bipartisanship can be a key factor in passing legislation to improve the economy, education and libraries. Both Babinec and Casey are proud of the bipartisan efforts that have been achieved in the state legislature.
“Personally, I was proud of House Bill 1875,” said Babinec. “The bill permits school districts to donate food to a nonprofit organization through an authorized on-campus non-profit representative directly affiliated with the school. That food may be received, stored and redistributed at the school at any time, and school employees may assist in preparing and distributing the food as volunteers for the nonprofit organization.”
It’s good policy that increases food security and decreases food waste. The legislation passed unanimously – 95 House Republicans and Democrats came together to help combat the statistic that one in four Oklahoma children struggle with food insecurity.”
In Casey’s opinion, bipartisan efforts are not uncommon in most areas, save one.
“I think bipartisanship, when it comes to lot of the policy issues, is fairly solid,” said Casey. “When it comes to revenue I see a much larger divide. With State Question 640 and needing 76 votes to pass revenue measures in the House, it becomes very difficult.”
According to Oklahoma Policy Institute, SQ 640 requires that revenue bills be approved by a 3/4th vote of both legislative chambers and be signed by the Governor, or win in a vote of the people.
Williams has a fairly different viewpoint.
“I fully believe that this year was devoid of grand accomplishments,” said Williams. “We failed on tax reform, criminal justice reform, fiscal stability and a litany of other issues. Those were not necessarily stymied on party lines as much as divisions within the majority caucus itself. Small policy initiatives managed to meander through the process, but nothing that rises to the level of a seminal piece of bi-partisan legislation.”
The Legislator’s Reception is a free, informal event open to the public.