Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Olsen, Others Discuss Pending Legislation

State Rep. Jim Olsen addresses chamber members 
while chamber president Jamie Henson looks on.

Oklahoma House Rep. Jim Olsen and representatives of two United States legislators were on hand Wednesday to discuss pending legislation at the Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce’s June membership luncheon.

Olsen discussed measures the state legislature worked on in the most recent session, which he said went well despite the impact of the coronavirus.

Olsen said pending measures focus on criminal justice, education, judiciary, pro-life legislation and more.

The lawmaker also discussed State Question 802, which voters will decide on June 30. The measure adds a new article to the Oklahoma Constitution that would expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program to include certain low-income adults between the ages of 18 and 65 whose income does not exceed 133 percent of the federal poverty level. Sallisaw Mayor Ernie Martens urged those in the audience to approve Question 802, saying “If you want to take care of your local hospitals, I suggest you vote for it,” he said.

Leasha Pilcher, the field representative for U.S. Rep. Mark Wayne Mullins, said Mullins is fully focused on the passage of the Justice Act, a measure that has the backing of President Donald Trump.

The legislation provides long-term solutions focused on police reform, accountability and transparency, while also promoting efforts to find solutions to systemic issues affecting people of color such as education and health disparities.

Caleb Cochran, a representative of U.S. Sen. James Lankford, also talked about the Justice Act. Cochran said it is vital to “keep the conversation going” about law enforcement reform and why it is necessary.

The guest speakers also discussed how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their work. “Social distancing and masks are still necessary. You can still support your community, just use common sense to do it,” Cochran said.

Martens took to the podium to give an update on how the city is doing amid the virus pandemic.

“This has been a tough year for all of us,” he said, but noted that case numbers in Sequoyah County are still fairly low compared with other areas.

Martens said he owed a big thank you to all the groups and entities that stepped up to distribute food during this time. He cited the Cherokee Nation, Catholic Charities, First Assembly of God in Sallisaw and other agencies for their determination to take care of area residents. “It says a lot for the generosity of our community,” he said.

Martens also said he is “very proud” of the way the city has bounced back from the shutdowns that occurred when the virus first began hitting close to home. He said city officials “expected doom and gloom” when sales tax figures were released, but he said they were surprised to find the numbers are up 6.2 percent, $365,000 higher than at this time in 2019. The hotel-motel tax and sales tax are also higher, but Martens said it is the tax from medical marijuana purchases that offered the biggest surprise. “By December we could have $200,000 (from the tax) that we didn’t know we would have.”

The mayor also discussed the ongoing improvements at Stanley W. Tubbs Memorial Library, including the removal of sweet gum trees, making the doors accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a brand-new sculpture and more. He said the city is also working on improvements to the wastewater treatment plant, the city’s walking trail is now complete with the exception of landscaping. Also Little League and T-ball tournaments are scheduled at the Sports Complex.

Aviagen is planning another renovation, Martens said, and groundbreaking on the new Veterans Center is expected in late summer or early fall.

Chamber President Jaime Henson began the noon meeting by thanking Sonic for providing the meal and People Inc. for the use of its conference center. She also reminded those in attendance that there will be no Chamber membership luncheon in July.

The Sallisaw Police Department was recognized 
as the chamber member of the month. Accepting the award from Pres. Jaime Henson 
are from left Cpt. John Weber, Chief Terry Franklin, and Capt. Beau Gabbert.

Chamber Executive Director Marty Green gave a brief Census update as well. He said the number of responses to the Census in Sallisaw is still extremely low. “We stand to lose thousands of dollars in this community" if residents do not complete and turn in their census, he stated.

Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer

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