The House of Representatives accomplished a great deal in the 53rd Legislature by focusing on policy over politics. I was honored to serve as speaker for these exciting two years. I'm pleased with the initial, real-world results of our work.
The Department of Human Services is undergoing a major culture change of benefit to vulnerable Oklahomans. The criminal justice and corrections systems are on smarter, more sustainable paths. The workers' compensation system is cracking down on fraud, lowering costs and better serving injured workers. Lawsuit reform is reducing harmful, frivolous litigation against businesses and individuals. Health care access is improving through increased residency slots at hospitals in underserved rural areas.
Also, pension funds are becoming fiscally solvent so government can keep promises to workers and stand on solid financial footing. A new statewide plan is taking shape to provide adequate water to the next generation. The transportation infrastructure is being repaired and expanded to accommodate growth. Education reforms are improving student reading skills and overall classroom experiences. And government is continuing to become more efficient through strategic consolidations and technology initiatives.
These complex policy areas often stirred controversy among special interests. But we didn't relent. We stayed focused on creating a pro-growth Oklahoma — an endeavor to which all these initiatives are intrinsically linked. Today, Oklahoma's job growth is among the nation's highest and unemployment among the lowest. Our policies are improving Oklahoma.
Bold action was taken to pass these policies, but in other cases the House carefully deliberated ideas and determined another course was necessary on issues we support, such as lowering taxes. The income tax reduction plan proposed by the House would have used responsible economic growth requirements to lower the top personal income tax rate to 4.5 percent in a manner that wouldn't harm core services or raise taxes on any one group of taxpayers.
Although this plan and other tax plans didn't advance, the tax reform work done this session puts Oklahoma closer to achieving the true, growth-spurring income tax reduction we all desire next session.
Because process matters as much as policy, the House also worked this session to improve the legislative process. We increased transparency by having conference committees meet publicly for the first time. We made more legislative documents and proceedings publicly available online. And we operated in a members-centered manner by reducing the role of lobbyists, political consultants and political staff so decisions could be based on actual needs rather than political desires.
These improvements were essential to the productive policy implemented by the House. Future Legislatures would be wise to retain and expand them.
Due to term limits, my time in the Legislature is ending. I'll miss serving, but the beauty of public service is that it's not about the individual — it's about everyone working together for the greater good. As long as our public servants keep working in this manner, Oklahoma will continue to grow and reach its potential.
Steele, R-Shawnee, is outgoing speaker of the Oklahoma House and has represented District 26 since 2000.