Week 2 - Legislative Session Update

 

February 8-11, 2016

Revenue Collections Again Fall Short of Projections; Second Revenue Failure Likely

Collections in the General Revenue Fund (GRF) for January fell more than 17 percent below the estimate and more than 16 percent below prior year collections making it likely that a second revenue failure will be declared after the Board of Equalization meets on February 16. In December, the Board of Equalization declared a revenue failure to the FY-2016 budget that went into effect on July 1 prompting the state Finance Director to implement an across-the-board cut of three percent to all state agencies. A second revenue failure would further harm already tight agency budgets. Discussions have already begun among legislators to revise the 2016 budget by making targeted cuts to some agencies and protecting critical areas of state government rather than allowing a second across-the-board cut.  

Since June 2014, the price of a barrel of oil has decreased by more than 70 percent and thousands of Oklahomans have lost their jobs in the energy sector. The slowdown in the energy industry has resulted in a major reduction of revenue in every major tax collection category.  

 

Bill Aimed at Reducing Teacher Shortage Clears House Floor

A plan to help reduce the statewide teacher shortage by providing an additional $3,000 incentive for retired educators to return to teaching overwhelmingly passed out of the House today.  

House Bill 2247, authored by state Rep. Randy McDaniel (R-Oklahoma City), would increase the maximum amount that a retired teacher may earn during the first three years after retirement from $15,000 to $18,000. In order to offset the negative fiscal impact to OTRS of raising the cap by $3,000, the employer contribution rate will be increased from 9.5 percent to 11 percent for retirees who are rehired.  

Under current law, a teacher who retires from the public school system may earn up to $15,000 from a school or school district during the first 36 months after retirement and still receive full retirement benefits from the state. After 36 months, teachers may earn an unlimited amount from a school or school district without a reduction in OTRS benefits.          

The measure passed out of the House by a vote of 92-3 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Bill Designed to Utilize Cemetery Plots More Efficiently Clears House Committee

A measure aimed at increasing burial space in cemeteries passed out of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee this week.

House Bill 3165, by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman (R-Fairview), would allow cemeteries to declare an unused burial plot abandoned if it has not been used for 75 years or more and notice has been provided to the owner or heirs and beneficiaries. The bill would allow the plot to be returned to the cemetery so that others could purchase the spot.

The bill provides that if a plot is deemed abandoned and an heir or beneficiary comes forward with a claim after the plot has been transferred to another owner, the cemetery would be required to provide the claimant with an alternative and equivalent plot.

The measure passed out of committee by a vote of 12-0 and now proceeds to the House floor where it will await consideration by the full House.

 

House Committee Approves Plan to Allow Citizens to Select Judges

A bill that would abolish the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and allow voters to select judges for the state's highest courts passed out of a House committee this week. 

House Joint Resolution 1037, by state Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Edmond), would place a question on the state ballot to allow voters to amend the state Constitution to eliminate the JNC and replace it with an election system by voters beginning in 2018. The JNC is a 15-member panel, established by the state Constitution, that reviews potential candidates for judgeships to be selected by the governor. The JNC sends three candidates to the governor upon a judicial vacancy.

HJR 1037 passed out of the House Judicial Committee by a vote of 4-3 and now heads to the House floor for consideration.

 

House Committee Approves Bill Clarifying Charter School Law

A bill clarifying who can sponsor a charter school passed out of a House committee this week.

House Bill 2720, by state Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman), would clarify that the governing board of a conversion charter school cannot be considered an applicant or sponsor.  Under current law, when a a school district coverts a traditional public school into a charter school, the local board of education serves as the applicant or sponsor of the charter school.

The bill also amends current law to require the board of education to demonstrate, through documentation, compliance with certain charter school application requirements and subjects those documents to the Oklahoma Open Records Act. The measure also requires votes by a local school board for the conversion of a traditional school to a charter school to be open to the public. The local board must then notify the  State Board of Education of the vote to approve the conversion.

The measure passed out of the House Common Education Committee by a vote of 13-2 and now heads to the House floor for consideration.

 

Measure to Increase Threshold for Felony Property Crimes Heads to House Floor

A bill that would increase the monetary threshold to consider a property crime a felony passed out of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee this week. 

The measure House Bill 2751, by state Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa), is aimed at reducing the number of crimes considered felonies by increasing from $500 to $1,000 the amount of theft of or damage of property before a nonviolent property crime is considered a felony.

More than 30 states have increased their statutory thresholds in the last several years in order to reduce overcrowded prison systems.

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 8-1 and now heads to the House floor for consideration.

 

Bill to Create Recall System for School Board Members Passes Moves to House Floor

A bill that would create a recall system for recalling school board members passed out of the House Elections and Ethics Committee this week.

House Bill 3055, by state Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole), would create a recall and removal procedure for school district board of education members. Under the measure, a special election would be set to recall board members upon submission of a petition to the county election board. The petition must contain signatures of at least 25 percent of the total number of school district votes cast in the highest vote turnout among the previous five elections.

Recall procedures for school board members differs among various states. According to BallotPedia, there have been 219 recall efforts across the nation between 2006 and 2016.

The measure passed out of committee by a vote of 5-3 and now awaits consideration on the House floor.