In our weekly Bill Watch post, we discuss what happened and what to look for in the bills we’re following most closely in the Oklahoma Legislature. Next Thursday (April 19th) is the deadline for Senate bills assigned to make it through the House Appropriations and Budget committee. As of yesterday, all other bills are dead unless they have passed one chamber and their assigned committee in the opposite chamber (except some special cases that are exempt from the deadlines). See our advocacy alerts page for more ways to take action on these issues. 

Budget and Taxes

As the teacher walkout comes to an end, attention next week will likely focus on ironing out the details of the FY 2019 budget. It appears that House and Senate leadership and the Governor’s office are close to an agreement. Common education has already been appropriated $2.9 billion in HB 3705, which was approved at the same time as pay raises and revenue measures in late March. Overall, lawmakers should have about $7.6 billion to spend. There are likely to be no cuts to agency budgets in FY 2019 and slight increases for health, human service, and public safety agencies.
 
Most bills to generate additional revenue now seem to be off the table for this session, including SB 1086, which would have repealed the capital gains tax exemption. Proposals for curbing tax incentives for the wind industry remain under consideration, including SB 888, which in its committee substitute version would make the zero-emission tax credit non-refundable. SB 888 narrowly passed the House Appropriations and Budget committee last week and can now be considered by the full House.
Several bills that would affect future budgets passed out of committee this week and will be eligible for floor votes. SJR 35 proposes a vote of the people on a constitutional amendment to create a new reserve fund for a portion of gross production taxes. HB 1401 creates the Oklahoma Legacy Fund, which would receive 20 percent of gross production tax revenues under certain conditions. Meanwhile, HB 2991, which would have the Oklahoma Tax Commission prepare a biannual study of the tax system showing the tax incidence of each income group, failed to get a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee and is now dead.

Education

While overall education funding appears to have settled at where it is going to be in the FY 2019 budget, a few significant policy bills remain alive that could affect the budgets of many schools.

One bill, SB 936, was transformed in the House Common Education Committee by the request of Speaker McCall. With completely new language, SB 936 now prohibits schools from counting benefits towards meeting the minimum salary schedule for teachers’ compensation. Currently some schools pay less than the state minimums in take-home pay, with the difference made up in health benefits. House staff says this change will not have any fiscal impact on the state budget or appropriations. However, it would require some schools to increase teachers’ take-home pay if it is not meeting state minimums, and this pay increase would have to come out of other parts of the district’s budget. SB 936 next goes to the full House.

Also passing out of committee this week was SJR 70, a constitutional amendment that would allow money currently reserved for school building security, maintenance, and utilities to be used for general operations. This bill next goes to the full House. Final passage in the Legislature would send SJR 70 to a vote of the people as a state question.

Health and Human Services

This week, HB 2932, which would allow the state to terminate SoonerCare coverage for low-income parents who don’t work enough hours per week, cleared Senate Appropriations and has been added to the Senate agenda for Monday. An identical Senate bill, SB 1179, has until Thursday to be heard on the House Appropriations and Budget committee. 

Meanwhile, a bill to transfer appointment authority for the head of the state Department of Health to the Governor passed Senate Appropriations on Wednesday and moves next to the full Senate. HB 3036 is the only survivor of a slate of bills filed this year transferring appointment authority for the state’s health care agencies.

Unfortunately, HB 2758 and HB 2754, which would have created and funded a respite care program for caregivers of people with developmental disabilities, died when they weren’t heard in committee by Thursday’s deadline. 

Criminal Justice

Next week, the Legislature could take the final steps to approve the Justice Reform Task Force bills in their amended forms. SB 689 (probation reform), SB 650 (expungement reform), and SB 649 (habitual offender law reform), HB 2286 (parole reform), and HB 2281 (property crime sentencing reform) have all cleared their conference committees and need to pass both chambers before heading to the Governor. Passing these bills is critical to beginning Oklahoma’s justice reform process, but they leave Oklahoma much more to do in the years to come.

SB 1021, a bill to make public defenders more accessible for those who post bail, passed the House Judiciary committee and moves to the House floor, and HB 2881, which removes the District Attorney’s ability to block defendants from drug court, is eligible for a full Senate vote. SB 1120, a bill that would put major restrictions on medical marijuana if SQ 788 passes, passed the House Judiciary committee on Wednesday and is eligible for a full House vote, and HB 3468, which would set up a regulatory agency for medical marijuana, can be heard by the full Senate.

Economic Security

Occupational licensing reform hit a roadblock last week – HB 2894, a bill that would prohibit blanket bans on individuals with a criminal background getting an occupational license, was not heard by the Senate Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee before the deadline and now cannot move forward.  But two other occupational licensing reforms are still moving. SB 1475 and HB 2771 have passed committee and can now be taken up by the full House and Senate, respectively.

Efforts to bring transparency back to payday lending in Oklahoma also fell short this week.  SB 1572 would have required regular reporting on payday lending trends in the state, but the House Judiciary Committee failed to take up the bill by the deadline, effectively killing the bill.

On a positive note, two bills with the potential to boost working families are scheduled to be considered by the House Appropriations and Budget Committee next week. SB 1581 would create a paid family leave bank for state workers. SB 1527 would slightly strengthen Oklahoma’s wage discrimination laws by prohibiting some employers from firing workers for asking their co-workers about their wages. Both bills are on the committee’s agenda on Monday.