Bill Watch: Best laid plans often go awry

On the eve of the last regular committee deadline for many bills, some legislation appears to have been derailed by feuding between the House and Senate. These bills might still be saved by some creative reinterpretation of legislative rules, but it’s a reminder that we can’t take a smooth process for granted, even in a Legislature dominated by one party.

With this week’s deadline passed, the work of most standing committees has ended (though the House Appropriations and Budget Committee has one more week to review Senate bills). Attention now moves to the full chambers, where bills need to pass by April 25th. They’ll then go to the governor, or, if they passed in different versions from their original chambers, there will be negotiations to accept amendments or go to conference committee to iron out the differences. As legislators in each chamber try to get their priorities through the opposite chamber, we may continue to see jockeying over which bills get heard.

Tax and Budget

Several tax bills that would have had a significant fiscal impact died with this week’s deadline. These include HB 2502 (Speaker McCall and Sen. Montgomery), which offered a tax credit for teachers’ out-of-pocket school supplies; HB 2294 (Rep. Wright and Sen. Jech), which provided a 3 percent vendor discount from the sales tax, and HB 2355 (Rep. Chad Caldwell and Sen. David), which exempted used vehicles from the sales tax.

An amended version of SB 407 (Sen. Rader and Rep. Echols), which expands the cap on the Equal Opportunity Scholarship tax credit, narrowly passed the House Appropriations committee this week. The latest version of the bill, which will likely end up in conference committee, raises the total scholarship tax credit cap to $30 million from $5 million and makes donations to public school foundations eligible for the tax credit. Other tax bills that have passed out of committee and now head to the floor include: HB 2667 (Rep. Wallace and Sen. Paxton), which allows more people to deduct their gambling losses; SB 310 (Sen. Simpson and Rep. Miller), which raises the sales tax exemption for surviving spouses of disabled veterans; SB 746 (Sen. Smalley and Rep. Pfeiffer), which creates an income tax credit for qualified software of cybersecurity experts; and HB 2511 (Speaker McCall and Sen. Thompson), which in its latest version, creates a $25,000 non-refundable income tax credit for doctors practicing in rural areas.

On the budget side, it was a mixed week for state employees. The Senate Appropriations committee approved HB 2622 (Rep. Humphrey and Sen. Murdock), which gives a $2 hourly raise to Corrections employees. However, HB 2673 (Rep. Wallace and Sen. Thompson), which would have provided a $2,500 raise to all state employees, failed to get heard. A state employee pay raise could still be part of a final budget agreement.  The news was even less encouraging for retirees. The version of HB 2304 (Rep. Frix and Sen. Pemberton) that passed the House would have provided a 4 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for retirees in all seven of the state’s retirement systems. The version considered by the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee provides for a 2 percent COLA and refers the bill for an actuarial study, which means it could not be taken up and passed until 2020.

Education

A number of important education bills passed committee before this week’s deadline. Among these was the most attention grabbing bill this year, HB 1780 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Treat), which would increase teacher salaries by $1,200, passed committee. Also approved in committee was SB 441 (Sen. Quinn and Rep. Baker), which would require schools to meet performance and cost-savings measures in order to implement 4-day school weeks. SB 193 (Sen. Pemberton and Rep. McBride) would extend the moratorium on class size limits and other standards established through HB 1017. HB 2336 would loosen training requirements for staff to carry a handgun in schools.

Meanwhile, other bills failed to make it through this latest hurdle. Unfortunately, HB 1247 was laid over in committee, but its language to increase financial transparency and accountability for organizations that issue scholarship tax credits was added to SB 407, the bill mentioned above (see Budget and Tax) that also expands those credits.

Finally, three bills that would have addressed issues related to virtual charter schools are now dead. SB 143 (Sen. Stanislawski and Rep. Fincher) would have subjected virtual charter schools to the same financial reporting requirements as traditional public schools, SB 147 (Sen. Stanislawski and Rep. Bush) would have required reporting of student credit deficiency, and SB 148 (Sen. Stanislawski and Rep. Fincher) would have restricted virtual charter school enrollment to specific times during the year. 

Criminal Justice

The next few weeks will be critical to legislative efforts to end prison growth and lower Oklahoma’s world-leading incarceration rate this year. Many key bills passed out of committee before the deadline this week, but several reforms were refused a committee hearing. Positive progress continues, but numerous challenges remain to criminal justice bills before these measures have a chance to be signed by the Governor. Here are a few of the bills we are following.

HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen Bice), which makes the impact of State Question 780 retroactive, was voted out of the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. Like most of the justice bills which have moved forward this session, HB 1269 had its title stricken. This means negotiations on the final language of this and most other criminal justice bills are still ongoing.

HB 1100 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Bice), which reforms drug possession sentences, HB 2218 (Rep. May and Sen Jech), which updates supervision and reentry practices, and HB 2009 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Coleman), which reforms sentence enhancement laws, each passed Senate Appropriations this week.

HB 1294 (Rep. Miller and Sen. Coleman), a bail reform measure, SB 421 (Sen. Bice and Rep. Mize), which reforms the definition of possession with intent to distribute, HB 1019 (Rep. Pae and Rep. Howard), which updates the court discovery process and HB 2458 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen Hicks), a warrant reform measure, were each denied committee votes.  While these bills are dead for now, it is possible that some of these measures could become part of an overall criminal justice reform package negotiated by legislative leaders and the Governor.

Economic Opportunity

HB 2134 (Rep. Munson and Sen. Pugh), a bill to make occupational licenses more accessible to the justice-involved, was not heard by the Senate Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee this week. The bill would have prohibited licensing boards and agencies from using “blanket bans” to prevent individuals with a criminal record from getting an occupational license, and instead, require the licensing entity to list specific criminal histories related to the occupation that would disqualify an individual. It would also have created a waiver process for individuals who have a disqualifying history but can demonstrate that mitigating circumstances or rehabilitation mean they are no longer a threat to public safety.

But there is a bit of good news here — though HB 2134 is now dead, HB 1373, an occupational licensing bill with similar provisions, remains alive. HB 1373 also removes the blanket bans but does not include the rehabilitation waiver.

Health Care

The last week has been a mixed bag for health care bills. HB 1053 (Rep. McEntire and Sen. Treat), SB 943 (Sen. Treat and Rep. McCall), and SB 993 (Sen. Dahm and Rep. Moore), all of which would remove needed regulations around a dangerous set of health insurance products, have cleared their respective committees and are waiting to be heard on the floor of the opposite chamber. SB 993 is on the House agenda for Monday, April 15. HB 1132 (Rep. Bennett and Sen. Murdock), which would have restored the Uncompensated Care Fund for Oklahoma’s community health centers, was not heard before appropriations deadline and thus is out of the running. 
 
In happier news, SB 509 (Sen. Rader and Rep. Munson), which requires health insurance providers to establish guidelines regarding the use of step therapy, has cleared both chambers and awaits Gov. Stitt’s signature. HB 1750 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Thompson), which would have cleared the way for a strange and untested county-level Medicaid expansion, and HJR 1017 (Rep. Pfeiffer and Sen. Paxton), which would have substantially reconfigured TSET, also were not heard and thus failed deadline.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy) is a non-partisan independent policy think-tank. OK Policy promotes adequate, fair, and fiscally responsible funding of public services and expanded opportunity for all Oklahomans by providing timely and credible information, analysis, and ideas.

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