Week 12 - Legislative Session Update

 

Senate Passes Smart on Crime Reform Bills

A slate of bills aimed at improving public safety and reducing Oklahoma's overcrowded prisons by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, giving prosecutors more discretion in filing charges and expanding eligibility for drug courts passed out of the Senate this week. 

Four of the bills were authored by state Rep. Pam Peterson.

House Bill 2472 would give district attorneys discretion to file any crime as a misdemeanor, except those requiring a sentence of 85 percent or more upon conviction, after considering the nature of the offense, the age, background and criminal history of the defendant, the character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant and the best interests of justice.

House Bill 2479 would adjust mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for felony drug possession. Under current law, mandatory minimum and maximum sentences are 2-10 years for a first offense, 4-20 years for a second offense and 4-20 years for a third offense. This bill would adjust those sentences to 0-5 years for a first offense, 0-10 years for a second offense and 4-15 years for a third offense.

House Bill 2751 would increase the threshold from $500 to $1000 to be charged with a felony property crime.

House Bill 2753 would expand eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing to more defendants. Under current law, a defendant must have a previous felony conviction to be eligible for those alternative sentencing programs.

The Senate also passed two bills authored by House Speaker Jeff Hickman.

House Bill 3159 would mandate that any offender serving an "85 percent" sentence would be subject to a parole hearing upon completing 85 percent of their sentence. The bill stipulates that any offender who waives their constitutional right to a parole hearing would be eligible for only a maximum of five percent of earned credits against time served, ensuring the offender will serve at least 95 percent of his or her sentence.   

House Bill 3160 would create a financial earned credit of three percent against the balance of accumulated fees and fines for every 30 days served. The measure also provides that, upon release, an offender who makes 24 months of successful payments toward the balance of those fees and fines would be eligible to have their remaining balance waived.

 

 

Senate Approves Open Carry of Firearms Without Permit

Legislation that would allow Oklahomans to openly carry a firearm without a permit passed out of the Senate this week.

House Bill 3098, by state Rep. Jeff Coody, would allow any resident age 21 or older who is not a convicted felon to carry a firearm openly without  the requirement of obtaining a permit as currently required by the Oklahoma Self Defense Act.

A person would still be required to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

House Bill 3098 now returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

 

Senate approves bill to improve prosecution of repeat DUIs

Legislation to aid prosecutors in keeping drunk drivers off the road was approved this week by the Oklahoma Senate.

House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders and state Sen. Greg Treat, creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.

There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not 'courts of record.' Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the only current municipal courts of record.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and the 51st (including states and territories) for improvement over the previous 10-year period (NHTSA, 2012).

The legislation was approved unanimously and now proceeds to the governor's office to be signed into law.

  

Uninsured Motorists Beware; House Approves Use of Automated License Plate Readers

Legislation approved this week by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would authorize the use of automated license plate readers to flag uninsured motorists at a time when Oklahoma leads the nation in uninsured motorists on the road. 

One in four vehicles in Oklahoma does not have insurance, state Rep. Ken Walker said. Senate Bill 359, by Sen. Corey Brooks and Walker, would authorize law enforcement to compare the license plate number with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list to determine if the owner of the plate has insurance. 

Walker said as a privacy rights advocate, he tries to balance enforcement needs with privacy issues. The legislation does require that license plate photographs that are shown to be of insured vehicles must be destroyed. He is the House author of a second proposal, Senate Bill 1144, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, to create the Automatic License Plate Reader Privacy Act. It makes the misuse of data subject to legal action and provides that captured data is not a public record.

 

Measure to Help Mentally Ill Get Treatment Heads to Governor

A bill that would allow family members to petition courts to order those with mental illness to treatment programs is heading to the governor's desk to await her signature.

House Bill 1697, by state Rep. Lee Denney, would allow judges to order individuals to participate in an assisted outpatient treatment program if petitioned by immediate family members or guardians or those directly involved with the individual's treatment. The individual must be 18 years or older, under the care of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision. 

The "Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act" was introduced after Costello was killed by his son Christian, who struggled with mental illness, last year.

 

 

Bill Allowing Collection of DNA for Felony Arrest Heads to Governor

A bill that would allow law enforcement to collect DNA from anyone arrested for a felony crime was passed by the Senate this week.

House Bill 2275, by state Rep. Lee Denney, would require every person 18 years of age or older who is arrested for a felony offense to submit to DNA testing. The sample would not to be analyzed and would be destroyed unless the arrest was made due to a valid felony arrest warrant, the person appeared before a judge who found probable cause for the arrest, or the person posted bond or was released prior to appearing before a judge and then failed to appear for a scheduled hearing.

The bill now goes to the governor for her consideration.

 

New law will expand property tax benefit to more disabled veterans

Legislation now signed into law will increase the access of 100-percent disabled veterans to a property tax exemption.

House Bill 2349, by state Rep. Dustin Roberts and state Sen. Frank Simpson, modifies the definition of gross household income to exclude veterans' disability compensation payments when determining eligibility for the additional homestead exemption.

The bill was endorsed by the World Hunger Action Organization and was their featured bill for the session. 

Based on 2014 U.S. Veteran Affairs data, there are 84,170 Oklahoma veterans receiving disability compensation. House staff estimates about 2,830 homesteads could qualify under the new law and, at $103 per exemption, the maximum fiscal impact would be $291,490 in local property tax revenues.

The law will take effect in November of 2016.

  

Measure Increasing Penalty for Stolen Valor Clears Committee

Those who fraudulently hold themselves out to be a veteran or active military member in order to obtain benefits would be subject to an increased fine under a bill that passed out of the Senate this week.

House Bill 2450, by state Rep. James Leewright, would increase the fine from $100 to $1000 for impersonating a member of the Armed Forces by wearing any decoration or medals awarded to members of the Armed Forces. 

Leewright said the issue of stolen valor has increased dramatically since the 9/11 attacks and the military response that followed it, as Americans have openly honored active and veteran military personnel.

Most people who impersonate a military member want to share in that honor, while others just want to take advantage of military discounts and free services offered to veterans and active duty personnel, he said.

 

 

Bill to allow judges to consider veterans' PTSD during sentencing clears Senate

The Senate this week passed a bill that would allow judges to consider veteran's diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when sentencing them for crimes. 

House Bill 2595, by state Rep. Richard Morrissette, would allow the court to consider post-traumatic stress disorder as a mitigating factor when making sentencing decisions concerning a veteran who has been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that eleven percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD but that many others go undiagnosed because they do not seek treatment. 

Various studies have found that at least 30 percent of men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD and an additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives. 

The bill now heads to the governor's desk to await her signature.

 

Critical Domestic Violence Measure Signed into Law 

Legislation signed into law by the governor this week would broaden the definition of domestic violence, giving law enforcement and prosecutors a greater ability to go after abusers.

Current statute defines domestic violence as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse within a 12-month period. State Rep. Scott Biggs, the House author of Senate Bill 1491, said it removes the 12-month stipulation and reduces the required incidents of abuse to two or more.

State Reps. Mike Sanders and Cyndi Munson helped work to get the legislation approved in the House and said its passage was critical.

Week 11 - Legislative Session Update

 

General Revenue Fund Collections Over Estimate for First Time Since July 2015

The Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported this week that General Revenue Fund (GRF) collections in March were higher than the estimate for the first time since last July.

March GRF collections of $394.2 million were $3.1 million, or 0.8 percent, above the official estimate upon which the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriated state budget was based, and $30.1 million, or 7.1 percent, below prior year collections.

 

Governor Signs Charter School Measure

Gov. Mary Fallin this week signed into law a measure that would clarify state law that allows public schools to convert existing schools into "conversion schools," which have the flexibility of charter schools.

House Bill 2720, by state Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman), amends the Charter School Act to clarify the governance, funding and personnel flexibilities afforded to a charter school. Under the measure, conversion schools are still managed by the local school district and receive the same funding as traditional public schools. Conversion schools have access to all of the flexibilities currently afforded to charter schools in Oklahoma. The bill also clarifies that the local school board is the only entity to approve or disapprove a plan to create a conversion school.

 

Senate Passes Autism Insurance Coverage Bill

The Senate this week passed a bipartisan measure that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children.

House Bill 2962, by state Rep. Jason Nelson and co-authored by a bipartisan coalition of more than 30 House Republicans and Democrats, would require a health benefit plan offered in Oklahoma to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of an autism spectrum disorder in children. The bill would limit the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000, but would place no limits on number of visits.

The Legislature last considered an autism insurance reform bill in 2008. Nelson said since then 43 states have implemented some form of reform to health plans to provide treatment for autism disorders.

House Bill 2962 passed out of the Senate by a vote of 36 to 5 and now returns to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

 

Cattle Rustling Bill Headed to Governor

Legislation on its way to the governor's desk after being approved unanimously in the Senate will further deter cattle rustlers, according to its proponents.

House Bill 2504, by state Rep. John Pfeiffer, increases the fine for theft of livestock and implements of husbandry to three times the value of animals and machinery, not to exceed $500,000. It also gives district attorneys more options when prosecuting cattle rustlers.

Pfeiffer, who is the chair of the bipartisan House Rural Caucus, said cattle rustling remains a problem in rural areas throughout Oklahoma.

 

State Employee Suggestion Box Bill Signed into Law

Legislation signed into law by the governor this week would expand a State Employee Suggestion Program enacted in 2015 by the same author.

The 2015 law authorizes state agencies to financially reward an employee when that employee makes a suggestion that results in a direct cost savings to the agency of $5,000 or more. The reward is limited to 20 percent of the cost savings.

The 2015 law only applied to agencies with more than 10 full-time employees. House Bill 2471, by state Rep. Ken Walker, removes that limitation.

Hall Files for Candidacy

On Wednesday, April 13, 2016, I filed papers with the Secretary of the Election Board for the opportunity to continue to serve House District 100.

After I spoke to a group of high school students at the Capitol yesterday, one of them asked what my favorite part of my job is. My answer, "my constituents - over the last several years of serving, I have loved becoming friends with my constituents and neighbors!"

#VoteHall on November 8th!

Pages of the Week

It was a pleasure to host, Gabby Gomez (right) and Winslow Lybrand (left), as pages at the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week! Gabby & Winslow are seniors at Bethany High School. I'm proud of these hard working leaders!

Week 10 - Legislative Session Update

 

Senate Passes Smart on Crime Reform Bills

A slate of bills aimed at improving public safety and reducing Oklahoma's overcrowded prisons by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, giving prosecutors more discretion in filing charges and expanding eligibility for drug courts passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week.

Four of the bills were authored by state Rep. Pam Peterson.

House Bill 2472 would give district attorneys discretion to file any crime as a misdemeanor, except those requiring a sentence of 85 percent or more upon conviction, after considering the nature of the offense, the age, background and criminal history of the defendant, the character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant and the best interests of justice.

House Bill 2479 would adjust mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for felony drug possession. Under current law, mandatory minimum and maximum sentences are 2-10 years for a first offense, 4-20 years for a second offense and 4-20 years for a third offense. This bill would adjust those sentences to 0-5 years for a first offense, 0-10 years for a second offense and 4-15 years for a third offense.

House Bill 2751 would increase the threshold from $500 to $1000 to be charged with a felony property crime.

House Bill 2753 would expand eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing to more defendants. Under current law, a defendant must have a previous felony conviction to be eligible for those alternative sentencing programs.

The committee also passed two bills authored by House Speaker Jeff Hickman.

House Bill 3159 would mandate that any offender serving an "85 percent" sentence would be subject to a parole hearing upon completing 85 percent of their sentence. The bill stipulates that any offender who waives their constitutional right to a parole hearing would be eligible for only a maximum of five percent of earned credits against time served, ensuring the offender will serve at least 95 percent of his or her sentence.   

House Bill 3160 would create a financial earned credit of three percent against the balance of accumulated fees and fines for every 30 days served. The measure also provides that, upon release, an offender who makes 24 months of successful payments toward the balance of those fees and fines would be eligible to have their remaining balance waived.

The bills will now head to the Senate floor for consideration.

 

Alcohol Modernization Bill Heads to House Floor

A measure that would allow citizens to vote to modernize the state's laws on the sale of beer and wine passed out of the House Rules Committee this week.

Senate Joint Resolution 68, by state Rep. Glen Mulready and state Senators Stephanie Bice (R-Edmond) and Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), would place a question on the November ballot to allow voters to remove the Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission from the state Constitution. The commission would be replaced by a regulatory body created by statute.

The bill would allow cold wine and beer to be sold in liquor stores, grocery stores and convenience stores - something currently allowed in 42 states.

The bill passed out of the House Rules Committee by a vote of 6-3 and now moves to the House floor for consideration.

 

Committee Approves Use of Automated License Plate Readers

Legislation approved this week in a House committee would authorize the use of automated license plate readers to flag uninsured motorists at a time when Oklahoma leads the nation in uninsured motorists on the road.

One in four vehicles in Oklahoma does not have insurance, state Rep. Ken Walker said. Senate Bill 359, by Sen. Corey Brooks and Walker, would authorize law enforcement to compare the license plate number with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list to determine if the owner of the plate has insurance.

Walker said as a privacy rights advocate, he tries to balance enforcement needs with privacy issues. The legislation does require that license plate photographs that are shown to be of insured vehicles must be destroyed. Furthermore, a second bill, Senate Bill 1144, by Sen. Nathan Dahm and Walker, creates the Automatic License Plate Reader Privacy Act. It makes the misuse of data subject to legal action and provides that captured data is not a public record.

Senate Bill 359 and Senate Bill 1144 were both approved by the House Appropriations Committee Thursday by votes of 20-5 and 22-3, respectively.

 

Budget subcommittee votes to support charitable vehicle donations

Legislation approved Monday by a budget subcommittee would allow charitable organizations that receive vehicles for needy individuals to bypass an excise tax on those motor vehicles.

Senate Bill 1459, Sen Gary Stanislawski and Rep. Ken Walker, would allow the charitable organizations that receive these vehicles to use dealer plates instead of having to retag the vehicle and pay an excise tax, Walker said.

Walker said the Car Care Clinic in Tulsa is an example of such an organization.

Senate Bill 1459 was approved by a vote of 7-0 in the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommitee on Revenue and Taxation. It now proceeds to the full A&B committee for consideration.

 

Uninsured Motorists Beware; Committee Approves Use of Automated License Plate Readers

Legislation approved this week in a House committee would authorize the use of automated license plate readers to flag uninsured motorists at a time when Oklahoma leads the nation in uninsured motorists on the road.

One in four vehicles in Oklahoma does not have insurance, state Rep. Ken Walker said. Senate Bill 359, by Sen. Corey Brooks and Walker, would authorize law enforcement to compare the license plate number with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list to determine if the owner of the plate has insurance.

Walker said as a privacy rights advocate, he tries to balance enforcement needs with privacy issues. The legislation does require that license plate photographs that are shown to be of insured vehicles must be destroyed. Furthermore, a second bill, Senate Bill 1144, by Sen. Nathan Dahm and Walker, creates the Automatic License Plate Reader Privacy Act. It makes the misuse of data subject to legal action and provides that captured data is not a public record.

"On the one hand we want law enforcement to be effective, but we don't want them to overreach and sell that data or make it public," said Walker, R-Tulsa. "These two bills together ensure that we can help law enforcement spot uninsured motorists, but we don't have to give away our privacy."

Senate Bill 359 and Senate Bill 1144 were both approved by the House Appropriations Committee Thursday by votes of 20-5 and 22-3, respectively. This week is the last week by which Senate bills can be heard in House committees.

 

Week 9 - Legislative Session Update

Measure to Eliminate End-of-Instruction Exams to be Considered This Week

A bi-partisan measure that would eliminate high-stakes end-of-instruction tests for Oklahoma students has been scheduled for conference committee this week in the House.

House Bill 1622, authored in 2015 by state Rep. David Derby and held over at the end of last session, would eliminate all K through 12 common education tests not required by the federal government. There are currently 26 standardized tests for K through 12 instruction in Oklahoma. This measure would end nine of those tests.

"This is a bill that several legislators have provided input for since the end of last session," said Derby, R-Owasso. "It reflects many of the concerns that teachers and superintendents have expressed to us repeatedly about over-testing students. They believe students are being way overtested, and that instruction time is being wasted on preparing students for these exams that could be used in more efficient and effective ways."

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Conference Committee on Common Education.

State Rep. Michael Rogers, a former principal, said the ending those tests makes sense.

"Colleges don't measure those tests when they are reviewing applicants, so it simply doesn't make sense to burden our students, our teachers and our school districts with the time and cost of these exams," said Rogers, R-Broken Arrow. "We've heard from teachers that these exams are too burdensome, so why are we doing more than what is federally required? We certainly need to go in different direction, and this measure is a good first step down that path." 

State Rep. Lee Denney echoed those sentiments.

"We need to test students, because testing is valuable, but we need to test what matters for our students' long-term success," said Denney, R-Cushing. "Most EOIs are time consuming and are not adequately preparing our students for college. This bill will give our teachers more instruction time and save the state millions in mandated testing costs." 

A bi-partisan coalition of lawmakers praised Rep. Derby's efforts: 

"Teachers, administrators and parents across the state have complained about burdensome testing - especially the EOI's," said state Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada. "It is my hope that we can work together to address their concerns, working with Superintendent Hofmeister to develop of more effective and better received plan." 

"I applaud Rep Derby's work on HB 1622," said state Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester. "This legislation removes the requirements of some of the testing and returns a lot of the testing issue to local control."

"Our current testing program decreases valuable instruction during classrooms hours," said state Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow. "Our teachers need to be teaching subject matter, instead of 'teaching to the test'."

"EOI's are not required to enter college or any collegiate programs so why bother with them in the first place?," asked state Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan. "It is nonsense to use essential classroom teaching time testing kids when the tests have no beneficial purpose. 

"Teachers need to be allowed to work on curriculum, creating learning environments that students enjoy and look forward to. Parents should be free to enjoy their kids in the evenings and focus on their learning material in a more relaxed and fun way. Kids learn better when they are stress free. Regular testing establishes what kids are learning and what needs to be addressed with individual students. EOI testing causes a great deal stress for teachers, parents, and most of all our students. It's simply not necessary."

New academic standards go into effect

On Monday, March 28, Senate leaders decided not to hear a House resolution to approve new academic standards with instructions for state education officials to make minor corrections before implementation. This means that they will go into automatic effect without those instructions. If changes are made, they will be subject to legislative approval. If the standards are left as is, then they will be the new standards for Oklahoma.

These new standards are part of a process begun in 2014 after legislators voted to overturn Common Core Standards. Under the 2014 law, the state education board was to create new standards with input from K-12 schools, higher education institutions and CareerTech. In February of this year, the Legislature received a copy of these new standards. The Legislature had until Monday, March 28, to act on the standards. When Senate leaders chose not to act, they took effect.

Senate committee votes against Medicaid reduction plan

Legislation to allow the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to cut non-pregnant, able-bodied adults from the Medicaid rolls failed this week by a Senate committee.

House Bill 2665 requires the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to promulgate rules that eliminate benefits for any non-pregnant, able-bodied adult less than 65 years of age. Doing so, may require federal approval, which the agency will have to request in order to comply with all provisions of the measure.

With regular cuts to health care spending, ensuring benefits go to those that need them most is a necessity, according to proponents of the measure. Examples of those who need it most include 500,000 children living in poverty and 200,000 aged, blind and disabled individuals.

The bill failed on a vote of 5 to 3.

Senate committee approves autism coverage mandate

Legislation requiring health benefit plans to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in individuals less than 9 years of age was approved by a Senate committee.

House Bill 2962 requires a health benefit plan to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals less than nine years of age, or if an individual is not diagnosed or treated until after three years of age, and requires the coverage be provided for at least six years, provided that the individual continually and consistently shows sufficient progress and improvement as determined by the health care provider. The bill establishes requirements for the coverage. The bill also requires the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in individuals less than nine years of age, or if an individual is not diagnosed or treated until after three years of age, and requires the coverage be provided for at least six years, provided that the individual continually and consistently shows sufficient progress and improvement as determined by the health care provider. The bill establishes requirements for the coverage.

The legislation now awaits consideration by the full Senate. If approved with title on, it will go to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

House committee approves Bill of Rights Monument Display Act

The House Tourism and International Relations Committee unanimously approved the Bill of Rights Monument Display Act Monday.

Senate Bill 14 authorizes the State Capitol Preservation Commission or its designee to permit and arrange for the placement on the Capitol grounds of a monument displaying the Bill of Rights. The bill requires the monument to be designed, constructed, and placed on the grounds by private entities at no expense to the state. The bill authorizes the State Capitol Preservation Commission or designee to assist private entities in selecting a location for the monument and arranging a suitable time for its placement.

The location of the monument is yet to be determined.

Bill Allows Military ID to Serve as Valid Permit for Firearm Carry

The House this week passed a bill that would allow active duty servicemen and women to use their military IDs as a valid permit for carrying a firearm.

Senate Bill 735, by Sen. Kimberly David, R-Porter, and Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso, would allow a person 21 years or older who is on active military duty, National Guard duty, regular military or National Guard reserve duty or has retired or been honorably discharged from military service to carry a concealed or unconcealed firearm if the person presents a valid military identification card in lieu of a handgun license.

The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.

Measure Increasing Penalty for Stolen Valor Clears Committee

Those who fraudulently hold themselves out to be a veteran or active military member in order to obtain benefits would be subject to an increased fine under a bill that passed out of Senate committee this week.

House Bill 2450, by state Rep. James Leewright, would increase the fine from $100 to $1000 for impersonating a member of the Armed Forces by wearing any decoration or medals awarded to members of the Armed Forces.

Leewright said the issue of stolen valor has increased dramatically since the 9/11 attacks and the military response that followed it, as Americans have openly honored active and veteran military personnel.

Most people who impersonate a military member want to share in that honor, while others just want to take advantage of military discounts and free services offered to veterans and active duty personnel, he said.

The bill passed out of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and now awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

 

 

Week 8 - Legislative Session Update

 

Governor Signs Bills Providing Supplemental Funding for Education, Corrections

Gov. Mary Fallin this week signed to measures that would release supplemental funding from the states Rainy Day Fund to the Oklahoma Department of Education and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections so those departments can carry out core functions through the end of the current fiscal year.

The Legislature released $51 million to the Oklahoma State Department of Education and $27.5 million to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The bills come after an agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman to offset budget cuts to these two state agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year.

 

House Approves Updated Curriculum Standards, But Requires Changes

The Oklahoma House of Representatives this week approved redrafted academic standards for the state's K-12 education system with instructions to the state Board of Education to make some minor tweaks.

The House adopted House Joint Resolution 1070, which approved the new curriculum standards but with the requirement the Board of Education make minor but substantive changes to some of the redrafted standards before they are implemented prior to the 2016-2017 school year. The resolution requires the Board to compile a list of "clarifications, revisions, improvements and additions" to the new standards that have been suggested by the South Central Comprehensive Center at the University of Oklahoma and various other "outside reviewers" and to implement those changes into the redrafted standards.  

The deadline to pass HJR 1070 in the Senate is Monday. If no action is taken, any revisions to the new academic standards by the State Board of Education will have to come back to the Legislature for an additional 30-day review process. With passage of HJR 1070, the board can quickly make revisions, submit a report of these changes and not have to come back to the Legislature for approval. 

 

Rules Committee Approves Constitutional Amendment to Lengthen Term Limits

The House Rules Committee approved a constitutional amendment to extend term limits for statewide elected officials from eight to 12 years. Senate Joint Resolution 45, if approved by the full House will go to the November 2016 ballot and let voters decide whether or not they want to extend the term limits for their elected representatives and senators.

Proponents of the amendment note that while term limits are appropriate, a longer length of time would ensure more institutional memory and knowledge of the process and past policy decisions.

SJR45 was approved by a unanimous vote of 9-0 and now proceeds to the full House for consideration.

 

Oklahoma Astronaut Tom Stafford Honored with Portrait in Capitol

One of the state's most famous sons was honored on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week with the unveiling of a portrait that will hang in the House lobby.

Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Thomas P. Stafford, former Air Force test pilot and astronaut, was presented with the portrait by state Rep. Harold Wright.

Stafford was born in and graduated from high school in Weatherford before attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  He was commissioned as an officer in the Air Force in 1952 flying the F-86D Sabre and later serving as a flight instructor. In 1962, Stafford was selected by NASA to participate in the Gemini and Apollo space projects. Stafford manned six flights into space, which included serving as Commander of Apollo 10, the second manned mission to orbit the moon. He later commanded the Air Force Test Flight Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Norman artist Mike Wimmer was commissioned to paint the portrait.

United States Supreme Court Rejects State Lawsuit Over Colorado's Marijuana Laws

In a 6-2 ruling this week the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state's request to join Nebraska in a lawsuit against Colorado. The states were arguing that Colorado's laws legalizing the use of marijuana harmed surrounding states when those drugs flowed across their borders and put stress on their law enforcement resources.

 

Week 7 - Legislative Session Update

 

Legislature Pares Down Bills from 3,500 to 830

Lawmakers in the Legislature began the 2016 legislative session with nearly 3,500 bills and joint resolutions to consider. At the halfway point, lawmakers have trimmed down that list to 831 active bills and resolutions. The House reached the floor deadline on March 10 with 399 bills and resolutions, while the Senate had 434 bill and resolutions still alive in the legislative process.

Release of Rainy Day Funds to be considered

The House on Monday is expected to hear Senate Bill 1571, which would release $27.5 million of the State's Rainy Day Fund to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections as supplemental funding so the department can carry out core functions.

The House is also expected to hear Senate Bill 1572, which would release $51 million to the Oklahoma State Department of Education from the Rainy Day Fund.

The bills come after an agreement between Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman to offset budget cuts to these two state agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Hickman said, "Last year we had $611 million less to build our budget than the year before and we didn't cut funding for our public schools. That meant higher cuts to other agencies in order to not cut education, but protecting education as a priority was the tough decision the Republican leadership of this state made. This agreement today builds on the commitment to the students in schools across our state, as well as on our commitment to public safety and ensuring a safe Oklahoma."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said the funding hopefully prevent schools from taking such drastic measures as going to four-day school weeks. 

Joe Allbaugh, interim DOC director, said the emergency funds will help allow his agency to maintain essential services, make payroll, pay for contracted services and avoid a reduction in staffing in order to continue to protect the public.

 

 

 

Week 6 - Legislative Session Update

House Passes Bond to Complete Final Phase of Capitol Restoration

The House of Representatives this week passed a plan to complete the restoration of the state Capitol building.

House Bill 3168, authored by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman (R-Fairview), would allow the state to issue up to $125 million in bonds to complete the Capitol Restoration Project, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to be finished by 2022.

Under House Bill 3168, the bond would not be let until 2018 when other state bonds are paid off and those revenues will be directed to the Capitol bonds meaning no new state dollars will be needed as a current $350 million infrastructure bond funded by tobacco tax revenues will expire. 

House Passes Bipartisan Bill Providing Insurance Mandate for Autism Coverage

The House of Representatives passed a bipartisan measure this week that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children.

House Bill 2962, by state Rep. Jason Nelson and co-authored by a bipartisan coalition of more than 30 House Republicans and Democrats, would require a health benefit plan offered in Oklahoma to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of an autism spectrum disorder in children. The bill would limit the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000, but would place no limits on number of visits.

The Legislature last considered an autism insurance reform bill in 2008. Nelson said since then 43 states have implemented some form of reform to health plans to provide treatment for autism disorders.

House Bill 2962 passed by a vote of 76-20 and now heads to the Senate for consideration. 

House Passes Smart on Crime Reform Bills

A slate of bills aimed at improving public safety and reducing Oklahoma’s overcrowded prisons by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, giving prosecutors more discretion in filing charges and expanding eligibility for drug courts easily passed out of the House of Representatives this week.

The four bills were authored by state Rep. Pam Peterson and emerged from the Oklahoma Justice Reform Steering Committee, established last year to develop ideas for reforming the way the state deals with non-violent offenders, drug abusers and criminals with mental health issues.

House Bill 2472 would give district attorneys discretion to file any crime as a misdemeanor, except those requiring a sentence of 85 percent or more upon conviction, after considering the nature of the offense, the age, background and criminal history of the defendant, the character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant and the best interests of justice.

House Bill 2479 would adjust mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for felony drug possession. Under current law, mandatory minimum and maximum sentences are 2-10 years for a first offense, 4-20 years for a second offense and 4-20 years for a third offense. This bill would adjust those sentences to 0-5 years for a first offense, 0-10 years for a second offense and 4-15 years for a third offense.

House Bill 2751 would increase the threshold from $500 to $1000 to be charged with a felony property crime.

House Bill 2753 would expand eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing to more defendants. Under current law, a defendant must have a previous felony conviction to be eligible for those alternative sentencing programs.

The members of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Steering Committee included Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Jeff Hickman, Senate President Pro-Tempore Brian Bingman, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The subcommittee included numerous district attorneys and judges along with Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz and Adam Luck, state director of Right On Crime.

House Bill 2472 passed by a vote of 63-27, House Bill 2749 passed by a vote of 76-15, House Bill 2751 passed by a vote of 80-8 and House Bill 2753 passed by a vote of 90-0. All four bills will now proceed to the Senate for consideration.

House approves constitutional amendment to nix language cited in Ten Commandments monument ruling

The Oklahoma House of Representatives today voted to allow Oklahomans to amend the state constitution and eliminate a portion of law cited in the ruling against the display of a Ten Commandments monument on Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.

House Joint Resolution 1062, by state Rep. Randy Grau, removes a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides that “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion.”

The proposed constitutional amendment was approved by a vote of 86-10 and now proceeds to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration. If approved by the Senate, a state question will be submitted to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot. 

Measure Would Expand Employment Opportunities for Former Felons

A bill that would allow convicted felons to seek employment in fields requiring a license passed out of the House of Representatives this week.

House bill 2585, by state Rep. Mark Lepak, would prohibit a person from being disqualified from a trade or occupation requiring a license solely because of a previous felony conviction – unless that conviction is directly related to the trade or occupation.

The bill includes a method for determining whether a prior conviction is directly related to the trade or occupation for which the license is sought. The measure also requires a licensing board to notify an applicant of a license denial or application disqualification and provides for an appeals process.

House Bill 2585 passed out of the House by a vote of 59-31 and now moves to the Senate for consideration.

 

House approves legislation to add nursing homes to rural areas

Legislation allowing rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to become owners passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week by a vote of 86-0.

House Bill 2549, by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, modifies the definition of the term "owner" in the Nursing Home Care Act to include a facility's "managing entity." The measure is intended to allow for a greater number of nursing homes in rural areas.

Cox said many times family members must consider placing a loved one in a nursing home far from home because of the limited number of beds in rural areas. His legislation makes it easier for rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to become owners of the facilities.

Cox has practiced emergency medicine at a rural hospital and is a member of numerous medical organizations. He serves as chairman of the House Committee on Public Health.

Week 5 - Legislative Session Update

House Passes Measure Sending Judicial Reform to Vote of the People

A bill that would ask voters in November to change the process for nominating appellate judges to fill judicial vacancies passed the House of Representatives this week.

House Bill 3162, known as the “Oklahoma Appellate Courts Accountability Act” and introduced by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, would place a state question on the ballot to allow voters to change the section of the state Constitution that sets forth the authority of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).

The bill would require the JNC, upon a vacancy in one of the state’s appellate-level courts – the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals or Court of Civil Appeals, – to send a list of all applicants to the governor who meet the “constitutional and statutory qualifications” for judicial office, rather than only sending three applicants. The JNC can then choose to score each applicant on a 0-10 scale and provide that information to the Governor.

Upon nomination by the governor, the nominee would then be confirmed by a select committee of five House members appointed by the House Speaker and five Senate members appointed by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The minority party in each chamber would be guaranteed at least one appointment from the House and one appointment from the Senate to the select committee. 

The current process for selecting District, Associate District and Special Judges would remain unchanged under the proposal. 

The JNC is a fifteen-member panel that receives and reviews all applications for judicial vacancies in all district and appellate level courts in Oklahoma and submits a list of three applicants to the governor for consideration. Six members of the panel are appointed by the governor, six members are selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA), one member is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one member is selected by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. The final member is selected by the other members of the JNC. 

Under Hickman’s proposal, all appointees to the JNC by the governor, Speaker of the House and Pro-Tempore of the Senate would serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority until replaced. The term limits of the six members appointed by the OBA and at-large selection would remain unchanged.

The measure passed out of the House by a vote of 58-34 and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

  

House approves legislation to improve alternative teaching certification

Legislation that would improve the alternative teaching certification process was approved this week by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

Current law requires a candidate for alternative certification to have a college GPA of 2.5 on a 4.0 scale before even being allowed to begin pursuit of an alternative certification degree.

House Bill 3025, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, would remove the GPA requirement, but leave in place certification testing.

Unfortunately, a national teacher shortage has hit Oklahoma especially hard, Jordan said. 

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised the bill’s passage.

 

House Passes Bill Requiring Concussion Training for Secondary School Officials, Coaches

Legislation requiring schools to develop comprehensive concussion protocols and require annual training for officials and coaches passed off the House floor this week. 

House Bill 2760, by state Rep. Dan Kirby, would require the Oklahoma Department of Health to create a concussion management section on its website to provide guidelines for school districts to use to develop policies and procedures for use when an athlete has sustained or is suspected to have sustained a concussion during practice or a game.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that the number of reported concussions among high school athletes has more than doubled during the last 10 years. 

Those guidelines can include, but are not limited to, a concussion and head injury information sheet for officials, coaches, athletes and parents, “Return to Learn” guidelines for teachers as students with head injuries return to the classroom, “Graduated Stepwise Return to Athletic Participation” guidelines for game officials and coaches as athletes with head injuries return to athletic participation and links to free online concussion training from the CDC, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) or other comparable resources. 

House Bill 2760 passed off the House floor by a vote of 65-26 and now moves to the Senate for consideration. 

 

House approves insurance verification reform

Legislation that would keep some motorists with insurance from receiving a fine when they fail to carry their insurance verification form was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week. 

House Bill 2473, by state Rep. Ken Walker, would remove the penalty for failure to show proof of insurance in instances in which an officer is able to verify a person’s insurance. He said that law enforcement currently has access to a person’s insurance coverage when they look up the person’s tag or vehicle identification number. 

The legislation was approved by a vote of 80-13.

Walker said that law enforcement has expressed concerns that there would be instances in which online insurance verification would not have a motorist on file. He noted that his legislation allows for a fine in instances where law enforcement cannot verify insurance through a database.

The legislation now heads to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

 

Oklahoma House recognizes ‘schools of character’

Schools recognized for their character programs were honored this week by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

State Rep. Ken Walker, who serves on the board of OKcharacter.org, said that schools are increasingly recognizing the value they can provide by adding character programs to the services they provide to Oklahoma children.

Don Raleigh, superintendent of Pryor Public Schools, said the school district is in the fifth year of a Leader in Me program. The school district has been recognized at the state and national level for its character program.

Malinda Lindsey, principal of the Muskogee Early Childhood Center, said the staff is very excited to be recognized at the state Capitol. 

Sheril Morgan, director for National Schools of Character, said that when young people spend so much time with educators, character education cannot be neglected. 

OKcharacter.org is an organization with free resources for any school or school district in Oklahoma. Apply to the organization for the new cycle beginning June 30, 2016, for information on how to be recognized as a school of character.

 

Measure Aimed at Eradicating Feral Hog Population Clears Committee

A measure aimed at reducing the number of feral hogs in Oklahoma passed out of a House committee recently. 

 House Bill 1068, by state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, would allow for nighttime hunting and headlight hunting of feral swine on private land if the hunter has permission from the landowner and has registered with the Department of Wildlife Conservation. 

 The Samuel Roberts Noble Research Foundation has estimated the feral hog population in Oklahoma to be as high as 1.6 million, with hogs verified in all 77 counties. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture has reported that feral hogs can carry up to 30 different diseases.

The bill would also require the Department of Wildlife to develop an online permitting process for the nighttime feral swine permit for private land

 House Wildlife Committee by a vote of 4-1 and now heads to the House floor for consideration.

 

ALSO IN THE NEWS

  • State Treasurer Ken Miller reported Thursday, February’ gross revenue collections continued to fall for the 10th consecutive month,.  February receipts of $758.5 million were down by $90 million or 10% compared to February of last year.
  • HB1471 authored by Rep. Justin Wood is a measure that prohibits minors from using a tanning device in a tanning facility. The bill passed by a vote of 55 to 42.
  • HB2491 authored by Rep. Ann Coody is a measure that requires the Department of Human Services to notify the designated federal authorities at the federal military installation where the active duty service member is assigned and that the Department has received a report that such child may be abused, neglected or drug-endangered if the child is a member of an active duty military family. The bill passed by a vote of 90 to 5.
  • HB2816 authored by Rep. Ken Walker is a measure that prohibits elected officials within the three months prior to an election from using or allowing the use of their name, image, likeness or voice in a public service announcement or in an advertisement or other promotional message created or purchased using public funds. The bill exempts situations involving declared state disasters or emergencies. The bill passed by a vote of 97 to 0.
  • HB2822 authored by Rep. Denney is a measure which requires the State Board of Education to grant an alternative placement teaching certificate to a person who has made application to the Board Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. The bill passed the floor 98-0.
  • The JCR to SB1570 which was a measure carried by Rep. LePak and authored by Rep. Dennis Ray Casey, and Rep. Earl Sears, transfers all property of the Will Rogers Memorial Commission to the Oklahoma Historical Society and places the governance of the commission under the governance of the Oklahoma Historical Society.  It passed the House floor Wednesday morning
  • On Wednesday morning the House Rules committee, without discussion or debate, voted unanimously to strike title from 11 measuresThey were: HB1802,2287,2434,2553,2719,2719,2962,3104,3142,HJR1045, HJR1052.