State Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson said Thursday he hopes the second session of the 49th Oklahoma Legislature will be remembered in the future as the session when lawmakers made the health of Oklahomans their top priority.
“There could be a perfect storm brewing, with all the elements coming together in one place at one time to allow us to do something important for the health of our state,” Hobson said. “We’ve got a health crisis, a governor with a vision and leaders in both the House and Senate willing to do something about it. And we’ve got a relatively low cigarette tax that can be increased to fund this historic initiative.”
Meeting with members of the State Capitol Press Corps to discuss his goals for the coming session Thursday morning, Hobson said the 2004 session of the Legislature could go down in history as “the health care session.”
Hobson, who advocated an increase in the tax on tobacco products to fund health programs and development of a world-class cancer treatment and research center last year, will be backing Governor Brad Henry’s plan to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a net of 52 cents and to use the money to develop a cancer center and help fund health insurance for nearly 200,000 uninsured Oklahomans.
“People are probably sick of hearing me say this, but Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that got sicker statistically in the 1990s and the life expectancy in our state is less than the life expectancy in Guatemala. That’s unacceptable. The governor’s plan will make Oklahoma healthier. It will save lives,” Hobson said.
The 26-year veteran of the Legislature said, however, that opposition to the plan has already surfaced.
“It’s hard to imagine how anyone can be against making Oklahoma a healthier place to live, especially when we can fund this bold initiative by raising a tax more than two-thirds of Oklahomans support raising,” Hobson said.
A survey conducted earlier this month by a pair of Washington D.C. research firms for the Oklahoma Alliance on Health and Tobacco showed that 68 percent of the registered voters in Oklahoma support raising the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, a slightly higher percentage said they would support a 50 cent per pack increase. The survey showed broad based support from men and women, Democrats and Republicans and in all sections of the state.
“The people of our state get the picture. Let’s hope the lawmakers who represent them will too,” Hobson said.
The other key healthcare issue facing Oklahoma, Hobson said, is making sure the state has available care for the most serious of medical emergencies. He said he is anxiously awaiting the details of Governor Henry’s plan to support a statewide trauma system.
The Senate leader also said he will again seek to rescue the state’s ailing horse industry by sponsoring legislation allowing electronic gaming in three pari-mutuel horse racing facilities. The games allowed would be the same as those played at the more than 80 Native American tribal casinos across the state.
“There are 50,000 jobs in the horse industry that are saddling up and getting ready to ride out of our state. There are more jobs at stake in this issue than in all of the economic development initiatives that have come before the Legislature in the last decade combined.
“We can stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend we don’t have electronic gaming casinos in Oklahoma or we can step up to the plate and save this vital industry,” Hobson said.
The Second Session of the 49th Oklahoma Legislature will convene at noon Monday, Feb. 2.