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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted worker shortages in many fields here in our state and across the nation.

Now there is new legislation at the Oklahoma State Capitol that is trying to fix the problem by making financial incentives easier to get for nurses and engineers.

“This is a raging fire that we are only going to be able to put out with a long-term plan,” said Rep. Jon Echols.

The House Majority Leader is talking about shortages in nursing teaching and engineers fields in our state.

Last week, the Republican from Oklahoma City introduced the “Needed Oklahoma Workers Act” to the House’s Higher Education Committee.

“The idea behind this legislation is to re-energize the way Oklahoma focuses on needed degree,” said Echols.

The bill would create a revolving fund that the state Board of Regents would use to better incentivize Oklahomans to get, specifically, into nursing and engineering.

“If we can fund directly those programs, we would have a better shot at creating the workforce that we need,” said Echols.

“I agree that work force development is something that our state absolutely needs, but I’m curious as to how this would function,” said Rep. Trish Ranson. The Democrat from Stillwater spoke out at the committee meeting.

“We are able to encourage, yes, but we are not able to tell the regents how they have to spend their money,” said Ranson.

But Echols says now is the time to make it work. He says with a new Oklahoma State Chancellor of Higher Education, state ARPA funds and state budget surpluses available, spending the money needs to happen now to compete with surrounding states.

“We are in competition for not just businesses, but we are in competition for talent. And if we don’t have the nurses that we need, the healthcare workers we need, the engineers that we need, we are not going to be able compete in tomorrow’s economy,” said Echols.

Echols says Colorado and Arkansas have taken big steps to rework their systems to address the shortages. As for his bill, it passed committee 8-0.

Echols says the bill would apply to those going for their Masters and PhD’s. The bill originally had language for teachers but Echols says it will be taken out as there is another bill in the House of Representatives this session that spells out another program to encourage more education majors in Oklahoma. 

This bill now moves on to the House floor for debate.