Yesterday, the Oklahoma Legislature adjourned sine die from special session. The tax increases approved in special session to pay for a teacher raise and other increases in school funding will go into effect 90 days after
that sine die date they were signed by Governor Fallin, unless they are delayed by a veto petition. Legislative leaders also said they will try to pass a budget in the next couple weeks so that the regular Legislative session can end early, adjourning in the first week of May. That means just a few legislative days remain for any bills still alive but not yet passed to make it through.
Budget and Taxes
The 2017-18 special session finally wrapped up this week with House passage of HB 1014xx, that allocates increased motor fuel tax revenue to the ROADS Fund beginning in FY 2020 in exchange for income tax revenues that will be directed to the General Revenue fund.
Attention now turns to the FY 2019 budget, which Republican leaders expect to move ahead with quickly so they can adjourn session in early May. Soon after a budget agreement is announced, a General Appropriations bill and other budget bills will likely be heard in the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB). Common education has already been appropriated $2.9 billion in HB 3705, which is a nearly a 20 percent increase from FY 2018. Overall, lawmakers should have about $7.6 billion to spend in FY 2019. There are likely to be no cuts to most agency budgets in FY 2019 and slight increases for health, human service, and public safety agencies.
Two measures that could affect future budgets are headed to conference committee. SJR 35 provides for a vote of the people this November on a constitutional amendment to create a new reserve fund for 5 percent of gross production taxes. A companion bill, HB 1401, is expected to spell out the details of how this new reserve fund would work. Meanwhile, a measure pushed by Senate leadership, SB 1569, that would have imposed automatic cuts on dedicated revenue streams in the case of future budget shortfalls, ran into opposition and failed to advance from a House committee this week.
As lawmakers move toward an early end to the legislative session, just a few significant education policy bills remain under consideration.
This week the Senate voted down HB 3081, which would have aligned Oklahoma’s rules on restraint and seclusion of kids in public schools with the best practices recommended by the U.S. Department of Education. Without this bill, Oklahoma will remain one of just a few states with no law protecting students’ rights when it comes to restraint and seclusion. The bill’s Senate author, Sen. Rob Strandridge, served a notice of reconsideration for the bill and it has been added to the Senate’s agenda so it may come back for another vote.
A House bill that had originally modified descriptors of student performance levels reported from state standardized testing was changed on the Senate floor to do two new, apparently unrelated things. In amended version, HB 3221 now requires that information about Juneteenth commemorating emancipation of
enslaved African Americans be included in the social studies curriculum for all students. It also mandates that all school districts implement computer-based standardized testing, unless they obtain special approval from the State Board of Education to offer printed assessments. This new language now returns to the House.
Health and Human Services
HB 2932, which would authorize the Health Care Authority to kick low-income parents off their SoonerCare health coverage if they don’t work enough hours, passed the Senate 31-11 on Wednesday. It next returns to the House for approval of Senate amendments. HB 3036, which would give the Governor authority to hire and fire the head of the state Department of Health, awaits being heard in the Senate. It’s the only survivor out of a slew of bills that would transfer appointment authority for the heads of state health agencies.
At long last, the Justice Reform Task Force bills advanced towards final approval. HB 2281 (property crime sentencing reform) and HB 2286 (parole reform) passed the House and now need only a final vote in the Senate; SB 649 (habitual offender reform), SB 650 (expungement), SB 689 (evidence-based supervision), SB 786 (burglary sentencing reforms), and SB 793 (drug crime sentencing reductions) all passed the Senate and need only a vote in the House. Once that happens, the bills will head to the Governor, who is expected to sign them.
This week, the House could also hear SB 1098, a bill that would create a commission, made up mostly of district attorneys and law enforcement officers, to recommend changes to sentencing laws. After the struggles of the Justice Reform Task Force to pass its strong reform legislation through, this commission is an unnecessary step, and it’s particularly worrisome given the commission’s makeup and the lack of a focus on evidence-based policy or reducing incarceration.
SB 1203, a bill that would reduce fines and fees for speeding tickets less than 10 MPH under the speed limit, passed the House Public Safety Committee last week and must be passed by the House this week to survive. HB 2881, a bill originally intended to remove district attorneys’ ability to prevent people from entering a drug court program, was amended and now does nothing to improve access. SB 1120, a bill to restrict medical marijuana access, is eligible for a full House vote but is unlikely to move further after having its enacting clause removed.
Good news and bad news for economic security bills. SB 1581, creating a paid family and medical leave bank for state employees, was reported out of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee and can now be taken up by the full chamber. Sadly, SB 1527 (strengthening state laws against wage discrimination based on gender) was not heard by its assigned committee and can no longer move forward.
Two occupational licensing reform bills are still waiting to be considered. SB 1475, which would create a commission to review occupational licensing requirements, is awaiting action by the House. And HB 2771, creating a database of all licensing requirements in the state, is waiting to be taken up by the Senate.