Alva Review-Courier -

Infrastructure and marijuana are top concerns in the Oklahoma House

 

February 20, 2022

Marione Martin

State Representative Carl Newton, OD speaks during the Alva Chamber Community Coffee at Alva State Bank Friday.

Todd Holder welcomed guests to the Alva Chamber Community Coffee held at Alva State Bank Friday morning. "I feel more positive about northwest Oklahoma than I have in a long time, especially Alva," said Holder. "I think there are some things happening, some things moving. It just feels better, certainly now that we have the pandemic, hopefully, behind us. We can move forward onto something else."

Alva Chamber Executive Director Jodie Bradford encouraged people to get their tickets for the Citizens' Choice Gala to be held Feb. 24. Tickets are $5 less in advance. She said at least 30 tables have been booked already. She then introduced Representative Dr. Carl Newton to give an update on the state legislature.

Newton said Sen. Casey Murdock was unable to attend due to ranch duties. With the recent snow and cold weather, he had to be at Felt taking care of cattle.

Much of the time at the state capitol, legislators are working behind the scenes, Newton said. "We're working on rail parks. We're working on taking care of William S. Keys out here. We're working on situations families have with state government." He invited people to contact him or Murdock if they have a situation they can help with.

"We want to know what you want," he said. "We're there to represent you."

Infrastructure and ARPA

Newton said a priority in the House is to build infrastructure and make sure the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money is used properly. Right now the state has "close to $2 billion in savings", but five years ago when Newton was first elected, the state was "way in the hole." He said they need $3.7 billion in reserve to recover if that kind of situation occurs in the future. "So we don't want to just give it out," he said.

Newton said this past week the state put $50 to $60 million into nursing programs, Career Tech and colleges, to get more nurses in the field. It's hoped within five years this will result in 1,000 more nurses.

The state has spent almost $50 million to determine where the broadband weak spots are located. "We're going to come back and do some appropriations there," Newton said.

Medical Marijuana

The number two priority in the House is medical marijuana. "Medical marijuana is a medicine. It should be treated like a medicine," he said. Farmers in this area have told him they can't spray their crops because there's an open medical marijuana grow acreage next door.

"They (marijuana grow facilities) don't want to be on the sensitive crops list because they don't want people to know where they're at," Newton said. "That's not fair."

He said one of the bills being run in the House is to put grow facilities on the sensitive crops list to increase testing. "How many of you guys take a medicine that hasn't been tested? It should have testing, and those samples should be set aside," Newton said.

Right now for testing the growers bring in their own samples. He said farmers would love to pick out their wheat samples for testing at the elevators. "I bet there wouldn't be any cheat in it, and it would all weigh over 60," he commented.

Newton said he was going to run that bill but was asked not to do so because OMMA (Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority) doesn't have enough staff. "But that's one of the laws we're going to get put in place," Newton said.

He said his name is on a marijuana bill authored by Sen. Murdock in the senate. He isn't certain what it says because of the number of bills in the legislature. Newton said he's on 16 Senate bills and nine in the House, but he has to concentrate on the ones in the House. Of those nine, he says seven are already through committee hearings.

Service Company Tax Protests

One of the bills concerns wind and pipeline companies and tax protests. "It puts our schools and our county governments in a bind," said Newton. "Right now an assessor in Woods County cannot talk to an assessor in Alfalfa County regarding an appraisal price, the price they put on wind energy or a pipeline or oil and gas. They cannot communicate between the two counties.

"I know it's confidential, but I think it only makes sense. We have a third party that's hiring on with these assessors in all of these counties, and he knows what's going on."

Newton is running a bill to allow the assessors to communicate with each other about these assessments. He said he knows of one school with a $1 million deficit because of money being held up by tax protests and some of this money is being held three to five years.

Lowering Driving Age for Farm Kids

Another bill Newton is running involves legal driving age. "Maybe I've been jealous since I was a little kid that Kansas (kids) can drive at 14, and I had to wait until I was 16," he said.

Newton is working on a permit to allow farm kids to drive from farm to town and back to the farm on farm use and going to school and back at age 14. "They still have to pass the driver's test and all that," he added. The permit would require a direct route.

Votes Needed to Change Constitution

"Right now to change the constitution of Oklahoma it just takes a 50 percent plus one vote," Newton said. He said changing the constitution should have "a little higher bar."

Newton is pushing for a requirement of 55 percent of voters. Changing that would require a statewide election.

He points out that school bond elections require a 60 percent majority to pass. "I think 55 (percent) proves that people really want it rather than just 50 plus one," he explained.

Funding Rural EMS Services

Newton said he's concerned how rural emergency medical services have trouble "making ends meet." He is working with Farm Bureau on how to fund them. Right now, ad valorem tax support is limited to 3 mills (in 522 EMS districts). Newton's bill would allow up to 10 mills, but the exact amount would be determined by a county vote.

He clarified that it would have to be a statewide vote to allow the increase. Then each county would have to vote to determine the amount assessed.

"How do we put our citizens at risk if we don't meet their needs out there?" he asked.

Grocery Sales Tax

There has been talk of eliminating the sales tax on groceries. "If we as a state take away the tax, then you as a city or county would lose any tax on that," Newton said. "So we're not going to eliminate it. We're just going to give some kind of a credit."

He said he's already had a lot of smaller cities call him saying that makes a big difference in their communities. "Some of these smaller towns, the grocery store is one of the biggest businesses they have now, and so they don't want to lose that (tax)," he said.

"I think if we're going to take the tax off foods, it should be healthy foods," he added. "If you want to go buy a bottle of pop, I think you ought to pay tax on it."

He said the way to look at that is those things on SNAP program would qualify for no sales tax. That would include healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and meats. "Cinnamon rolls would not be included," he said gesturing to the breakfast buffet set out for guests.

Newton answered several questions from the audience.

NWOSU President Dr. Janet Cunningham spoke about taking students to the capitol for higher education day. Newton said he and the other legislators enjoy meeting with visitors. He encouraged everyone to visit the capitol to see how beautiful it looks after all the work that has been done on it.

A video of the meeting may be viewed at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com.

 

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