We have one week to go before the next big deadline in the Legislature. Legislative committees have until Thursday, April 11th for bills from the opposite chamber (with the exception that bills in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee have until April 18th). Those that don’t receive a vote by the deadline will go dormant until next year.
This is a time when the most optimistic early days of session can give way to tension between the two chambers, and we learn which bills may have been popular in one chamber but not have the support to make it through the other. Some bills may even have been passed out of one chamber to please a constituency, with the tacit understanding that they would be buried in the other.
It also means that many of the bills that are still alive after next week will have made it at least three-fourths of the way through the legislative process. Passage won’t be assured, but they’ll have demonstrated significant support in both the House and Senate
Tax and Budget
As we pass the half-way mark of session, House and Senate leaders, along with the Governor’s office, have begun serious discussions about the FY 2020 budget. No budget agreement is expected soon, but the amount of money that lawmakers will have available to appropriate will be shaped in part by what happens to bills with a fiscal impact.
On the revenue side, we previously discussed several bills that would expand existing tax breaks or create new ones. So far, of these bills, only HB 2667 (Rep. Wallace and Sen. Paxton), which allows more people to deduct their gambling losses, has passed out of committee. Several other big-ticket tax bills, including HB 2502 (Speaker McCall and Sen. Montgomery), which offers a tax credit for teachers’ out-of-pocket school supplies; HB 2294 (Rep. Wright and Sen. Jech), which provides a 3 percent vendor discount from the sales tax, and HB 2355 (Rep. Chad Caldwell and Sen. David), which exempts used vehicles from the sales tax, have not been heard in committee. The most controversial tax bill, SB 407 (Sen. Rader and Rep. Echols) which expands the cap on the Equal Opportunity Scholarship tax credit from $5 million to $20 million, is expected to be heard next week by the House Appropriations and Budget committee.
On the spending side, several bills remain alive that would boost salaries and benefits for state employees. So far, neither HB 2673 (Rep. Wallace and Sen. Thompson) which provides a $2,500 raise to all state employees, nor HB 2622 (Rep. Humphrey and Sen. Murdock) which gives a $2 hourly raise to Corrections employees, has been heard in committee. However, several state employee compensation bills have received favorable committee votes, including HB 1376 (Rep. Taylor and Sen. Montgomery) which effectively raises the minimum wage for state employees; HB 2465 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen. Rosino) which makes more state workers eligible for overtime pay, and HB 1953 (Rep. Dustin Roberts and Sen. Sharp) which allows state employees to be paid for accrued annual leave (see the Education section below for a discussion of teacher compensation bills).
Finally, a bill that has received considerable attention is HB 2304 (Rep. Frix and Sen. Pemberton) which would provide a 4 percent COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) for retirees in all seven of the state’s retirement systems, who have now gone over a decade without a boost in benefits. There is not yet a consensus on how a 4 percent COLA, which has a price tag of over $800 million, would be funded.
Many of the education bills we have been watching most closely this session will keep us in suspense for another week. HB 1780 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Treat), which would give teachers a $1,200 pay increase, has yet to be heard in the Senate education committee. HB 2470 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Thompson) was laid over. HB 2470 would increase the taxable monthly compensation for teachers who opt out of flexible benefits from $69.10 to $300.00 per month.
In addition, SB 362 (Sen. Stanislawski and Rep. Baker) is still waiting to be heard in committee. This bill would make a number of changes to the state aid funding formula including removing salary incentive aid and changing the category “bilingual” to “English language learner”. SB 362 would also increase the weight used to calculate state aid for economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, and students with speech and language impairments.
SB 441 (Sen. Quinn and Rep. Baker) has also stalled in the House. SB 441 would limit schools’ ability to go to 4-day school weeks. It was sent to the Rules committee last week.
Fortunately, two promising bills have made it through this next deadline. HB 1395 (Rep. Dills and Sen. Pemberton) would hold virtual charter schools to the same financial reporting requirements and audits as traditional public schools and place the same restrictions on teacher transfers to virtual charter schools. SB 926 (Sen. Floyd and Rep. Bush) also passed committee; it would require sex education curriculum to include information about consent.
This week, serious opposition to several criminal justice reform measures emerged in the Legislature. In recent sessions, this is the point when the impact of key reforms has been watered down through the amendment process. Reform advocates have united around protecting a number of important bills which passed committee this week and several others which must be passed out of committee in the coming week to have a chance of reaching the Governor’s desk.
SB 252 (Sen. Thompson and Rep. Kannady), the most significant Oklahoma bail reform measure in decades, narrowly passed the House Judiciary committee this week by two votes (9-7). A number of important reforms passed the Public Safety committee. However, several of those bills still have to pass the Appropriations committee. This means that one more committee vote remains before they can proceed to a full floor vote. These bills include HB 1100 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Bice) and SB 421 (Sen. Bice and Rep. Mize), which reform statutes pertaining to possession with the intent to distribute, HB 2009 ( Rep. Mize and Sen. Coleman), which reforms sentence enhancements, and HB 2273 (Rep. West and Sen Jech), which reforms parole and supervision practices. Each of these bills must be voted out of the Appropriations committee before that committee’s deadline in two weeks.
A key reform that still needs to pass out of committee before the Senate Appropriations committee deadline is HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen Bice), which makes the impact of State Question 780 retroactive. This legislation is a signature part of reform efforts aimed at stopping prison growth in Oklahoma this year.
We warned last week that some legislators wanted to drop needed consumer protections around some health insurance-type products. One of those bills, SB 993, passed committee and is scheduled to be heard on the floor. The other two (HB 1053 by Rep. McEntire and Sen. Treat, SB 943 by Sen. Treat and Rep. McCall) have been stalled in committee for the last few weeks. It’s not clear if that is due to last week’s court decision that found the Trump Administration’s rule allowing states to expand Association Health Plans unlawful. Both bills are attempting to expand these plans.
Speaking of bad news, HB 1750 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Thompson), which would lay the framework for a bizarre and unprecedented county-level health coverage expansion, is on the agenda for the Senate Health and Human Services committee meeting on Monday. Meanwhile, HJR 1017 (Rep. Pfeiffer and Sen. Paxton), which would dramatically reduce TSET and redirect tobacco settlement dollars to a different fund, has been assigned to Senate Rules. HB 1132 (Rep. Bennett and Sen. Murdock), which would rebuild the Uncompensated Care Fund, the payer of last resort for Oklahoma’s federally-qualified community health centers, cleared the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Health and Human Services, although without its title. It proceeds next to the Senate floor.
HB 1373 (Rep. Taylor and Sen. Daniels), a bill that would make occupational licenses more attainable for the justice involved, was unanimously approved by the Senate Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee last week. This bill has faced little opposition so far, and we are optimistic about its chances of becoming law. Making it easier for individuals with a record to successfully re-integrate into their communities and support their families is an important part of building our economic stability as a state. Another bill that would make reforms to occupational licensing, HB 2134 (Rep. Munson and Sen. Pugh), has not received a hearing in the Senate Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee.
A bill that would substitute higher dollar, longer-term installment loans for payday loans in Oklahoma (SB 720) was also approved by committee last week. Though this bill is an improvement over the last installment loan proposal (HB 1913, which was vetoed by Gov. Fallin in 2017), there are still several areas of concern in the bill that need to be addressed, including an annual interest rate of 204 percent that would make these loans unaffordable for many struggling Oklahomans and spin them into a cycle of debt.