Week 13 - Legislative Session Update

 

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.

 

Alcohol Modernization

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.

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.

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 4 - Legislative Session Update

Tax Incentive Commission Meets, Begins Review of Nearly $2 Billion

 The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission met this week 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.

House  Committee Approves Final Capitol Restoration Plan

 The House Appropriations and Budget Committee this week approved a plan to complete the restoration of the Oklahoma state Capitol. The measure, authored by 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.

Legislation to serve as vehicle for pay raise for Oklahoma teachers passes committee

Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation Wednesday to serve as a potential vehicle for a pay raise for public school teachers across the state.

The measure, House Bill 3129, passed a vote of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The bill is now eligible to be voted on by the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives.

 House Bill 3129 represents the intent of lawmakers to come to a consensus on funding mechanisms for a teacher pay raise. Funding options considered since the start of the legislative session include tax credit reform, tax exemption reform, spending reforms and other efforts to better allocate existing resources. 

On Feb. 16, a coalition led by University of Oklahoma Pres. David Boren announced it had begun gathering signatures to place on the ballot a proposal to increase Oklahoma’s combined state-and-local sales tax burden to 9.7 percent, which would be the highest in the U.S., in part to fund teacher pay raises.

Lawmakers said Wednesday many potential funding mechanisms are being considered as alternatives for providing recurring financing for a teacher salary increase.

Committee members said a salary increase would help retain quality educators. A teacher pay increase has been one of the priorities expressed most often by constituents in all corners of the state, according to legislators.

 Bill Aimed at Reforming Process for Selecting Judges Heads to House Floor

 A bill that would reform the process for nominating judges for the governor to appoint to judicial vacancies passed out of a House committee this week and now awaits consideration on the House floor.   

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 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 bill would also require the JNC, upon a vacancy in 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 Governor’s appointment would require Senate approval, much like the Federal process and most other gubernatorial appointees.

Upon a vacancy in a district level court, the JNC would continue to review applicants and send three names to the governor for consideration as the commission does now. The only change to the process for district and associate district judges is clarifying the JNC send the names of all qualified applicants if there are only three or fewer applications.

The measure passed out of committee by a vote of 4-2 and now proceeds to the House floor where it will await consideration by the full House.

Protection for Oklahoma Retailers Passes House Committee

A House bill passed this week in committee is the latest effort to close a loophole which hurts retailers in Oklahoma. 

House Bill 2531, named the “Oklahoma Retail Protection Act,” was presented by Representative Chad Caldwell this week and would amend current law to allow the state to collect sales tax on transactions between a buyer from Oklahoma and out of state online retail sites. Oklahoma retailers have voiced complaints that Internet companies that don’t collect sales taxes have an unfair business advantage.  Businesses which have a physical presence in the state must collect and remit sales tax while out of state retailers do not.  Under current state law, Oklahomans are required to keep track of their purchases from out of state retailers and pay a use tax on their state tax return each year. Many taxpayers are unaware of this provision and it is rarely enforced as only 4 percent of taxpayers remit this tax each year. 

The bill passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee 15-6 and is available for consideration by the whole House.

House Approves 9-1-1 Legislation

Legislation to reform and shore up the state 9-1-1 system was approved this week by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 3126, by state Rep. Josh Cockroft, increases the transparency and accountability for 9-1-1 fees and provides state coordination for improved 9-1-1 service delivery. The measure also replaces the funding that has been lost due to the drop in the use of landline phones with an increase to the individual 9-1-1 fee on each cellular contract. That fee would increase from 50 cents to 75 cents and is estimated to result in approximately $28 million.

Over the past decade, traditional landline fees have dipped an average of 45 percent due to users dropping their landline contracts. Over the same period of time, cellular fees have held steady resulting in a net loss for all systems. Currently, fees tend to disproportionately go to urban rather than rural municipalities, because they are tied to where calls are made, rather than where the individual calling resides, Cockroft said. 

Under the legislation, all 9-1-1 operations will be coordinated through a statewide director in the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. The legislation also:

  • Requires annual audits and reports from each dispatch center go to the Statewide 9-1-1 State Advisory Board.
  • Redirects the funding from fees to the dispatch center where the individual using 9-1-1 resides rather than where the contract was purchased;
  • Requires the fees to be paid to the Oklahoma Tax Commission and be distributed by the state advisory board; and
  • Requires the state advisory board to seek out efficiencies and cost savings.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 57-34 and will now advance to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.

Bipartisan Bill Providing Insurance Mandate for Autism Coverage Heads to Full House

A bipartisan measure authored by more than 30 House Republicans and Democrats that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children cleared a House committee today.

House Bill 2962, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, 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 House Insurance Committee by a vote of 6-4 and now heads to the full House for consideration. 

Committee approves Task Force on Grocery Store Access

A House committee approved legislation this week to create a task force to examine the problem of healthy food access in both rural and urban communities with challenges for grocery retailers.

House Bill 2650, by Rep. Seneca Scott, creates the Task Force on Grocery Store Access. It was approved by a unanimous, bipartisan vote in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Scott said that both urban neighborhoods and rural communities face challenges in attracting and retaining grocery stores. In urban areas, the challenges include constraints on physical space, urban design requirements and resident expectations of both the look and options available at the store. Both types of communities must have a grocery store that is more custom-tailored to their customer base.

Scott noted the recent closing of Wal-Mart locations in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

The legislation is now available for a hearing by the full Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Rep. Derby Introduces Liquor Modernization Measure

 State Rep. David Derby has introduced a measure that will allow voters to modernize Oklahoma’s liquor laws.

House Joint Resolution 1052, if approved by voters in the form of a state question, would simplify the marketing and sales of alcoholic beverages in the state by creating a three-tier system of manufacturers, wholesale distributors and liquor retailers.

The measure gives state legislators time to correct the many statutes involved if the state question is approved, Derby said. If they fail to make the necessary corrections, statutes in conflict with the new constitutional law would be rendered null and void.

 

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.