The chairman of a legislative committee on senior issues told seniors who gathered Monday at the state Capitol to “make a fist” as they battle for issues vital to those older than 65.
“Sometimes you have to make a fist and use it to pound on a few doors,” said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. “There are literally hundreds of competing interests here every day, represented by hundreds of lobbyists and sometimes thousands of constituents.”
About 335 seniors, or slightly more than half of those expected, showed up for the annual Senior Day at the Capitol to talk with lawmakers.
More than 550 people preregistered, but blizzard conditions in northern and western Oklahoma prevented many from making the trip.
Forecasts of snow in Oklahoma City caused others to reconsider. By noon, most were on their way home before travel conditions worsened. The event was to run through 2 p.m.
Several seniors said they supported House Bill 1418, which would require the state Department of Human Services to allow patrons of senior nutrition sites to take home leftover food.
Gwen “GG” Johnson, of Oklahoma City, said she was surprised to hear that 1 in 6 Oklahoma seniors struggles with hunger.
“People need to be careful about (the food’s) safety if it sat out all day and then took it home,” she said.
Bernadine Perkins, of Atoka, said she has worked for senior nutrition programs for nearly 20 years.
“They would love to take some of their food home with them, but you have a concern whether it would spoil or not,” she said.
Perkins, 70, said the issue gets complicated because sometimes seniors don’t go straight home or they want to share the food with others.
Barney Allen, of Ardmore, said he hopes lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin reconsider efforts to reduce the state’s top personal income tax rate.
“I’m of the opinion that Oklahoma doesn’t have sufficient funding now, and I don’t want to see them jeopardize our government by limiting our income even more than it already is,” said Allen, 77.
Allen said it is risky to cut state revenue sources at a time when cuts are expected in federal allocations to states as part of a way to reduce the country’s deficit.
Allen said he is involved with a nonprofit mental health services organization that covers nine counties. It covers a large rural area, which drives up expenses, and more funding is needed, he said.
Dank, chairman of the House of Representatives Long Term Care and Senior Services Committee, told seniors gathered in the House chamber they should come to the Capitol often. About 711,000 of the state’s 3.4 million residents are 60 years old or older.
“Many legislators think the big issues of concern to seniors are end-of-life issues, like how to provide nursing home and hospice care,” Dank said.
He said most seniors in Oklahoma still live at home and lead active lives. Legislators, he said, too often “ignore living issues.”
Dank asked them to support two of his bills. One would exempt hearing aids from sales taxes, and another would freeze property taxes on primary residences for all Oklahomans older than 65.
“Gravel pits are exempt from sales taxes in Oklahoma but hearing aids for seniors are not,” he said.
The sales taxes on some costly hearing aids price them out of range for many seniors, Dank said.