Session Update with Four Weeks Until Adjournment Sine Die
With just four weeks left before the deadline to adjourn sine die, the fate of most bills and resolutions has been decided. The majority of bills that are still active at this point in the process have been sent to the governor’s desk and have either been signed into law or are currently awaiting her signature, while some measures are still in conference committees, awaiting a resolution.
Budget negotiations continue and lawmakers will spend a large portion of their remaining time in the legislative session working on crafting the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
In the meantime, it would be helpful to provide a session overview of some legislative highlights to this point in the session.
Criminal Justice Reform
Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bills into Law
Governor Fallin signed into law this week several 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.
Additional Criminal Justice Reform Bills Under Consideration
Two corrections measures authored by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, one aimed at protecting citizens from just released violent offenders and one that would allow other offenders to re-enter society owing less money to the state, are being considered in conference committee.
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.
Legislature Passes Supplemental Funding for Corrections
The Legislature this year authorized the withdrawal of monies from the Rainy Day Fund to assist state prisons with the revenue failure created by the oil bust in Oklahoma.
Senate Bill 1571 appropriated $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to cover medical and contracted services for inmate population increases. The State Board of Corrections approved a supplemental request for $38.7 million after the second revenue failure earlier this month. Supplemental funding is allocated for the current fiscal year ending June 30.
Governor Signs Law Requiring DNA Samples Upon Felony Arrests
A bill that would allow law enforcement to collect DNA from anyone arrested for a felony crime was signed into law by the governor 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.
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.
Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Plan into Law
The governor this week signed into law a plan that would help reform the state’s controversial civil asset forfeiture program.
Senate Bill 1113, by state Rep. Randy Grau, would allow victims who have had assets wrongly seized to recover attorney fees. Grau said many victims have not fought unjust asset forfeitures because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer. With the passage of this reform enabling the recovery of attorney fees, some lawyers may look at the merits of a particular case and be more willing to take such individuals on as clients.
Education Standards and Reform
Legislature Passes Supplemental Funding to Assist Public Schools
The Legislature this year authorized the withdrawal of monies from the Rainy Day Fund to assist schools with the revenue failure created by the oil bust in Oklahoma.
Senate Bill 1572 appropriated $51 million to the State Department of Education for financial support of public schools and to pay the full cost of health insurance for teachers, administrators and support personnel.
The supplemental funding was necessary to ensure schools have the resources to complete the school year then have time to plan ahead for next year. As a priority for the Republican majority in the House, public schools did not receive a budget cut last year when the Legislature had $611 million less to appropriate than the prior year. In FY’15, the Legislature cut funding to many other agencies to increase school funding by $145 million.
Legislature Approved New Academic Standards for K-12 Education
The Legislature this year approved new academic standards for the state’s K-12 education system.
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. That means 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.
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.
Mental Health, Healthcare and Insurance
Legislation to Add Nursing Homes in Rural Areas in Conference Committee
Legislation that would allow rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to own them is currently being considered in conference committee.
House Bill 2549, by Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, would modify 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 would make it easier for rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to become owners of the facilities.
Autism Mandate for Insurance Coverage Bill Sent to Governor
A measure that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children has been sent to the governor to await her signature.
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.
Measure to Help Mentally Ill Get Treatment Becomes Law
A bill that would allow family members to petition courts to order those with mental illness to treatment programs was signed into law by the governor this week.
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.
House Passes Alcohol Modernization Bill
A measure that would allow Oklahomans to modernize the state’s alcohol sales laws and purchase full-strength, cold beer and wine is being considered in conference committee.
Senate Joint Resolution 68, by state Rep. Glen Mulready, 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.
Capitol Restoration Bond
House Passes Bond to Complete Final Phase of Capitol Restoration
The House of Representatives passed a plan this session 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.
The measure is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate.
Corporation Commission and Seismic Activity
Governor’s Provides Emergency Funding to Corporation Commission
Gov. Mary Fallin this session issued an emergency order to provide $1.387 million from the state emergency fund to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey for technology improvements and research on seismic activity.
The emergency funds allocated by the governor will allow the OCC to proceed with much-needed computer updates and hire two contract geologists and other staff to work on seismic issues.
Governor Signs Measure Clarifying Authority of Corporation Commission
The governor last week signed into law a bill that clarifies the authority of the Corporation Commission to regulate disposal wells in areas of increased seismic activity.
House Bill 3158, by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, clarifies the statutory authority of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to regulate all activities within its jurisdiction, particularly in emergency situations to take whatever action it deems necessary without so much as a hearing.
Second Amendment and Veterans Issues
Constitutional Open Carry Bill Under Consideration
Legislation that would allow Oklahomans to openly carry a firearm without a permit is awaiting consideration in conference committee.
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.
Measure Increasing Penalty for Stolen Valor Becomes Law
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 was signed into law by the governor 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.
Governor Signs Bill Allowing Courts to Consider PTSD in Sentencing Offenders
The governor signed into law this week 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.
Bill to Expand Property Exemptions for Veterans Signed into Law
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.
Uninsured Motorist and DUI Enforcement
Governor Signs Measure Removing Requirement to Show Proof of Insurance Upon Traffic Stop
Legislation that would keep some motorists with insurance from receiving a fine when they fail to carry their insurance verification form was signed into law by the governor recently.
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.
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.
Bill Allowing Use of Automated License Plate Readers Under Consideration
Legislation under consideration in conference committee this week 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.
Legislation To Aid Prosecutors In Keeping Drunk Drivers Off The Road Was Signed Into Law By The Governor
A bill aimed at cracking down on repeat drunk driving offenders was signed into law recently by the governor.
House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, 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).
Ten Commandments and Bill of Rights Monuments
Voters to Have Say in Return of 10 Commandments to State Capitol
A bill that would allow voters to determine whether to return the 10 Commandments monument to the state Capitol passed out of the Legislature and will now go to the Secretary of State to be added to the November ballot.
Senate Joint Resolution 72, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon), would place a question on the November ballot to allow voters to remove the “Blaine Amendment” from the state Constitution.
The “Blaine Amendment” is Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, and it prohibits the appropriation of public money or property for sectarian or religious purposes. The Oklahoma Supreme Court relied on that section in ruling that the 10 Commandments monument violated the Constitution and ordered the Legislature to remove the monument last year.
Governor Signs Measure to Place Bill of Rights Monument on Capitol Grounds
The governor signed into law the Bill of Rights Monument Display Act last week.
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.
Tax Incentive Evaluation Commission
Tax Incentive Commission Meets, Begins Review of Nearly $2 Billion
The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission met this session to begin reviewing more than $1.7 billion in annual tax credits, rebates and incentives in the most comprehensive effort ever undertaken to determine their effectiveness.
The Commission was established under House Bill 2182 by the late state Rep. David Dank, a Republican from Oklahoma City, with the goal of examining how the tax credits and incentives are being used and whether some should be eliminated or reformed. After Rep. Dank passed away during the legislative session, Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman spearheaded the effort to get the law passed.
The Commission is required to review each incentive once every four years, starting with the costliest incentives, and report its findings to the Legislature and governor each year. The Commission is made up of five voting and three non-voting members, including a private sector auditor, a professor of economics, a lay person, a certified public accountant and a representative from the Oklahoma Professional Economic Development Council. Hickman appointed Ron Brown, president and chief executive officer of the CSI Group, a private investigation company with experience in tracking down missing people and assets, to the Commission in January.
The members of the committee will work with outside experts to analyze the data.