(Oklahoma City) In an effort to protect public safety during the ongoing state budget crunch, the Oklahoma Legislature will reconvene for a brief special session on November 18th to appropriate $9.8 million in emergency funding to the Department of Corrections.
Governor Frank Keating, House Speaker Larry Adair and Senate President Pro Tempore designate Cal Hobson announced the agreement Wednesday, saying the emergency appropriation will temporarily halt DOC's plan to furlough prison guards and other corrections employees in
the weeks to come.
"A quick special session is necessary to resolve the immediate public safety issue facing the Department of Corrections. It would be irresponsible to allow corrections officers to be furloughed, even in this difficult budget time. There are other pressing budget needs facing our state, but they can wait until the Legislature and Governor-Elect Henry discuss them in the regular session," said Gov. Keating.
"As elected officials, our first duty is to protect public safety. If we ignore the staffing crisis in the state prison system, we would be shirking our responsibility and putting citizens at risk. We will continue to explore any and all alternatives for softening the budget impact on other important state programs and services, but for the short-term, our focus must be on the safety of the people of Oklahoma," said Speaker Adair (D-Stilwell)
"Oklahoma has a myriad of budget problems, but the most pressing one from a public safety perspective is in our prison system. It may not be the most popular expenditure of funds, but if we're going to protect the people of Oklahoma, it's something that we have to do. If we could wave a magic wand and solve all of our revenue problems, especially those in the public schools, we would do that, but given the resources available to us all we can do at this time is address our public safety needs," said Senate President Pro Tempore designate Cal Hobson (D-Lexington).
If the DOC does not receive emergency funding, prison employees will be furloughed for 23 days over the remainder of the fiscal year in order to balance the agency's budget - an action that many feel will put Oklahoma citizens and corrections employees at risk.
Under the agreement forged by the governor and legislative leaders, $9.8 million will be appropriated to the state prison system to address its short-term funding needs and delay the planned furloughs at least until February when the new 2003 Legislature convenes. The $9.8 million figure is the amount of revenue that accumulated in state coffers at the end of the fiscal year in June after the Legislature had already written the state budget and adjourned.
Because a special session of the Legislature is technically still in progress, lawmakers plan to accomplish the budget work in a one-day meeting on November 18th. Gov. Keating will amend his call for the ongoing special session to include the corrections issue and legislative leaders will call their colleagues back to the Capitol to address the new agenda item.
Gov. Keating and legislative leaders drafted the plan in consultation with Governor-elect Brad Henry. Officials with the governor-elect say that he is in full support of the public safety