Bill Watch: JCAB is now the room where it happens

Correction: A previous version of this post inaccurately described HB 1100, HB 2009, and HB 2310 as passing with their titles on. The post has been edited to correct their status. 

Last week marked another major deadline for this year’s Legislature. Bills had until last Thursday to pass the full chamber opposite from where they originated. Now all bills that passed both chambers in identical form have gone to the governor, while the Legislature moves on to ironing out differences in bills that passed the chambers in different forms. Consensus can be reached either by the first chamber accepting all of the second chamber’s amendments or by sending the bill to a conference committee.

The exception to this rule (there is almost always an exception) is that new bills can be brought up in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB), with the support of the chairs of that committee, the House Speaker, or the Senate President Pro Tem. If a deal is reached later in session to, for example, restore the EITC or expand health coverage, we’ll likely see the bill language introduced in JCAB.

Here’s what happened last week with the key bills that we’re following:

Budget and Taxes

Last week, Governor Still signed the first appropriations bill of this session, HB 2676, that provided $30 million to the County Roads and Bridges Improvement Fund from the General Revenue Fund.  Once an overall budget agreement is reached between House and Senate leaders and the Governor in the weeks ahead, a General Appropriations bill will be written and run through JCAB, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, along with other bills related to the budget and taxes. These will likely include pay raises for state employees and, possibly, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees.

On the tax side, the most notable development last week was the failure of SB 407 (Sen. Rader and Rep. Echols). The bill, that would have expanded the cap on the Equal Opportunity Scholarship tax credit from $5 million to $30 million, was not heard on the House floor after it became clear that a majority of members were committed to voting against it. Meanwhile, several tax credit bills with significant revenue impacts remain alive with their titles stricken, which means they are headed to a conference committee. These include HB 2667 (Rep. Wallace and Sen. Paxton), which allows more people to deduct their gambling losses; HB 2355 (Rep. Chad Caldwell and Sen. David), which exempts used vehicles from the sales tax; and SB 746 (Sen. Smalley and Rep. Pfeiffer), which creates an income tax credit for qualified software or cybersecurity experts. Meanwhile, a pair of active bills — HB 2352 and SB 513, both authored by Rep. Caldwell and Sen. Bice — would amend Oklahoma law to conform with last year’s Supreme Court case by requiring all remote sellers to collect Oklahoma tax. The Oklahoma Tax Commission has been unable to estimate how much additional tax revenue could be generated by these bills.

Criminal Justice

Last week represented another major step forward for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. Some of the signature reforms aimed at lowering Oklahoma’s world-leading incarceration rate survived Thursday’s deadline. Now the focus of reform efforts will turn towards several bills that passed with the title stricken. These bills will be part of the conference committee negotiations in coming weeks, and several important elements of these measures will be impacted by decisions made related to the budget. Here are a few of the key bills we’re following.

HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen Bice), which makes the impact of State Question 780  retroactive, passed the Senate with broad support, but with the title stricken. Now that final elements of the bill will be decided in the conference committee process, it will be critical to see if the bills’ original language survives or if lawmakers substitute a less efficient process to resentence those formerly sentenced for felonies under current law. It will also be important to see how much money lawmakers appropriate for the county mental health and substance abuse treatment called for by State Question 781.

SB 252 (Sen. Thompson and Rep. Kannady), the most significant Oklahoma bail reform measure in decades, passed the House with bipartisan support last week. There is still a great deal of debate about many key provisions of this law, which also passed with the title stricken. Reform advocates should watch the next few weeks of conference committee debate carefully for changes to core parts of the bill. If budget negotiations result in greater funding for public defenders in Oklahoma, then that would contribute to the likelihood that this bill reaches the Governor’s desk intact.

HB 2218 (Rep. May and Sen. Jech) and  HB 2273 (Rep. West and Sen Jech), which both reform parole, probation, and supervision practices, both passed with title stricken last week. The budget negotiations to lower the Oklahoma justice system’s reliance on court fines and fees will be important to the final versions of each of these measures.

 HB 1100 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Bice), which reforms drug possession sentences, HB 2009 ( Rep. Mize and Sen. Coleman), which reforms sentence enhancements, and HB 2310 (Rep. Frix and Sen. Bice), which reforms jury verdict and sentencing practices, each continued in negotiations through the conference process. Hopefully, these critical reforms are only weeks away from becoming law.

Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma will be trading short-term payday loans for longer-term installment loans next summer, as SB 720 (Sen. Leewright and Rep. Kannady) was signed by Gov. Stitt last week. These new installment loans will have longer-terms (they can be taken out for up to 12 months and will not need to be repaid in a single payment like payday loans) but they are still a very high-cost product, with annual interest rate of 204 percent. This change is not a real solution to the problem of economic insecurity in our state.

On a more positive note, occupational licensing reform is still moving forward in the Legislature. That could be a boost for some Oklahomans who are currently disqualified from getting many occupational licenses because they have a criminal record. HB 1373 (Rep. Taylor and Sen. Daniels) would prohibit licensing agencies and boards from using “blanket bans” to deny a license to anyone with any record and instead require them to list specific crimes related to the occupation that would be disqualifying. This reform could be a real economic boost for the justice-involved in Oklahoma.

It is also still possible that restoring the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could happen this session.  Though none of the nine bills that would have restored the credit to its full value were considered, an agreement on the EITC could still be included in the final budget deal that is still being negotiated. To help us make sure that happens, go to oksays.com to get more information about the EITC in your area and send a quick note to your legislators.

Education

The most attention-grabbing bill that survived a long and heated debate on the House floor last week was SB 441 (Sen. Quinn and Rep. Baker). Initially, this bill sought to restrict 4-day school weeks by requiring districts to meet student performance and cost savings measures to maintain the 4-day schedule. However, last week, the House amended the bill to include a $1,200 teacher pay increase. The bill passed 68-30 after over an hour of debate, with opponents arguing that the bill would become another unfunded mandate for cash strapped schools. 

Another important bill that passed deadline is HB 1395 (Rep. Dills and Sen. Pemberton). Among a couple other new oversights, the bill would hold virtual charter schools to the same financial reporting requirements as brick and mortar schools. This would include producing detailed reports about payments made to contract management companies. 

SB 193 (Sen. Pemberton and Rep. McBride) also passed the House this week. This bill would extend the moratorium on penalties for failure to meet certain requirements in HB1017, including exceeding class size limits. In addition, SB 926 (Sen. Floyd and Rep. Bush), which would require sex education curriculum to include information about consent, was signed by Gov. Stitt. 

Two other bills were laid over and failed deadline. SB 362 (Sen. Stanislawski and Rep. Baker) would have made important adjustments to the state aid funding formula such as increasing the weight given to economically disadvantaged students. HB 2336 (Rep. Roberts and Sen. Bullard) also died, and it would have loosened training requirements for staff to carry a handgun in schools.

Health Care

Last week was something of a mixed bag for health care. Bills to drop needed regulations around some dangerous health insurance products advanced, including one to the Governor’s desk. If signed, SB 943 (Sen. Treat and Rep. McCall) will dramatically loosen restrictions around association health plans (AHPs), which have a history of fraud and insolvency. A similar bill, HB 1053 (Rep. McEntire and Sen. Treat), recently cleared the Senate with title off but is unlikely to advance further.
 
On a similar note, SB 993 (Sen. Dahm and Rep. Moore) has House amendments pending. The bill would increase availability of skimpy, unreliable health coverage in the from of short-term limited-duration health plans. Short-term limited-duration plans don’t have to cover important services that real health insurance does, such as prescription medication or substance use disorder treatment. This leaves Oklahomans’ health, finances, and lives at risk because they may find that their health coverage is worthless when they need it most. 
 
However, there may yet be reason for optimism this session. Legislators are aware that this spring is likely their last chance to act before a ballot initiative gets underway to expand Medicaid. Expansion legislation may yet be introduced through the budget process, although reports of a legislative working group meeting this summer suggest that the odds of legislation being passed this session are slim. 

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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