Rice sets goals for 2009 legislative session
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Published: 02-Feb-2009

By Patrick B. McGuigan

State Sen. Andrew Rice, who represents MidTown Oklahoma City in the upper legislative chamber at the State Capitol, says the challenge of the 2009 legislative session beginning this week is clear. “Overall, the challenge is going to be that there’s so much less money. The Legislature will have to cut surgically, or across the board, but we will have to make some cuts. This may preclude broad tax relief for individuals and other steps that had been contemplated.”

Rice still hopes to press a few fiscal-related measures, but his focus in a recent interview seemed realistic: “One tax credit that I would like to see, an issue that is important to me and MidTown constituents, would be a tax credit on grocery taxes. A coalition of religious groups and policy organizations back that. It’s now $40 and I would like to expand it at least to the extent of taking account of the cost of living.”

Rice is also pushing on an issue “attracting some attention in the news media of late regards tanning beds and their use by minors. I’d like to put limits on the use of tanning beds, at lest for minors up to the age of 18.” Another issue he plans to address is sexual assaults in Oklahoma nursing homes. “Right now, complaints go to the Department of Health, but I have sense that the complaints have sometimes been caught up in the bureaucracy. My new bill would require that the Department of Health report incidents of such abuse immediately to local law enforcement.”

Known for advocacy of better health care, including for military veterans, Sen. Rice told The City Sentinel he would press a measure to help with the costs of cancer trials and treatments, “to improve what is available now through private health insurance. Another bill would make reforms in veteran’s health care. My legislation is focusing on TriCare eligibility and a higher ceiling for more to qualify. We are trying to find a way to assure that vets get covered for needed services.” Rice has long supported better access to insurance, and will continue that in this session, he said.

Rice also is pressing to increase energy efficiency, “through incentives, in school districts.” In terms of local economic development, he plans to advance a measure to remove the export tax business on a unique local business, the Old Russia Vodka company.

While Rice, a Democrat, is no longer a committee chairman because of the shift in control of the upper chamber from his party to the Republicans, he believes his role on committees touching finance, energy and Business/Labor will allow him to be effective.

In his first stab at statewide office, Rice became the nominee of his party in last November’s Senate race. Asked to reflect on that, he said, “It was a good experience. I’d certainly do it again if the decision presented itself all over. But I learned it’s hard to beat an incumbent, and it simply requires an incredible amount of money.”

He continued, counting his blessings: “I am very grateful to still be a state Senator. I’ve got it good. I am fortunate to be able to work so close to my home in MidTown. With two young kids that’s a great blessing. Often, I can go home during a break at the Capitol, to have lunch with them and my wife.”

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