Last week, we reported that just over 1,000 bills and resolutions had survived the initial committee deadline and were still alive. The ranks of surviving bills will be thinned once again by next Thursday, March 14th, the deadline by which bills must pass out of their chamber of origin to avoid being booted off the island (for various exceptions to this rule, see our 2019 Legislative Primer).
This coming week will see the sausage-grinding machine speed up considerably, as hundreds of measures vie for hearings during what are expected to be long days and nights on the House and Senate floor. Here are some key bills OK Policy continues to track closely in the areas of criminal justice, education, economic security, and taxes.
Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis is a major focus of legislative efforts at the Capitol. Ending prison growth this year is the key priority of justice reform advocates this session. Here are a few of the criminal justice reform bills we’re following most closely:
- HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Rep. Echols) and SB 357 (Sen. Bice) would make the provisions of SQ 780 retroactive for those who previously received felony sentences for drug and property crimes now classified as misdemeanors. The language of both bills is currently being amended with the goal of reaching the floor for a vote by the full House or Senate before next Thursday’s deadline.
- SB 252 (Sen. Thompson) is the most significant bail reform measure likely to advance to the Senate floor for a vote.
- HB 2218 (Rep. May) and SB 618 (Sen. Jech) are fines and fees reform bills which could undo some of the damage of court debt on Oklahoma families. With HB 2273 (Rep. West) and SB 616 (Sen. Jech), both of which build on last session’s parole reforms, these bills will help create better incentives for Oklahomans on probation or parole.
- Finally, HB 1855 (Rep. Hill), will provide lawmakers evidence of the impact of criminal justice legislation on historically marginalized communities in Oklahoma. This bill has a solid chance of reaching the House floor for a vote before next Thursday’s deadline.
Legislative leaders have shown little enthusiasm for tax cuts this year and, as noted in last week’s summary, no outright tax cut bills made it out of committee this session. However, a number of bills that would expand existing tax breaks or create new ones, some of which would have a considerable fiscal impact, passed their initial committee hurdles and remain alive. The five tax credit bills with the largest fiscal impacts, according to estimates prepared by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, are:
- HB 2621, by Majority Leader Jon Echols, expands the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship tax credit, currently capped at $5 million, to a maximum of $60 million (a Senate version of the bill, SB 407, raises the cap to $20 million);
- HB 2355 (Rep. Caldwell) allows for the use of a trade-in to reduce the sales tax liability when purchasing a motor vehicle and is projected to have a $53.2 million fiscal impact;
- HB 2502, authored by Speaker Charles McCall, would allow teachers a $1,000 tax credit for educational expenses and would cost $51.1 million;
- HB 2294, by Speaker Pro Tem Harold Wright, would allow vendors to claim a 3 percent deduction on sales tax remittances, with a projected fiscal impact of $32.8 million;
- HB 2667, by Appropriations Chair Kevin Wallace, would allow for gambling losses to be excluded from the cap of itemized deductions and would lead to a loss of $17.8 million in state revenues.
Of these five bills, HB 2667 and HB 2294 have already passed the full House; the others would need to be heard next week. These five bills together would lead to annual revenue loss of over $200 million, while several other tax credit bills have projected revenue losses ranging from to a few thousand dollars to $5 million.
Most education bills sat quietly this week waiting to be heard on the floor by the House or Senate. These include both SB 441 (Sen. Quinn) and SB 579 (Sen. Stanislawski), which would effectively eliminate the option of four-day school weeks for most districts. SB 153 (Sen. Stanislawski) would increase state aid to brick and mortar charter schools for building expenses. Currently, charter schools do not receive local tax dollars, which traditional public schools use for capital improvement projects. HB 1989 (Rep. Nollan) is also waiting to be taken up by the full chamber, and it would allow for schools to use restorative discipline practices in lieu of out-of-school suspension. SB 11 (Sen. McCortney) changes the cutoff date for students entering pre-K. Currently, children must turn four by September 1st; the committee substitute of the bill moves the date to August 1st.
Another important education measure is HB 1780 (Rep. McCall and Sen. Treat), which would authorize a $1,200 teacher pay increase. Last week, it passed the full House 94-0. It’s unclear whether the Senate will take up the measure prior to an overall budget agreement later in session.
We continue to be optimistic about advancing economic security this session. Rep. Taylor’s bill (HB 1373) to reform occupational licensing and make these professions more available to some people with a justice-involved history passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 96-2 this week. A similar measure, HB 2134, authored by Rep. Munson, awaits consideration by the full House next week. And even though all nine bills to restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) failed committee deadlines last week, the push to make the credit work better for working families isn’t dead yet. Restoring the EITC could still be included in a final budget deal later this spring.
Meanwhile, SB 720 (Sen. Leewright), a bill that would do away with payday loans in Oklahoma and replace them with longer term and higher dollar installment loans, has been approved by the Senate and is awaiting a committee assignment in the House. SB 720 marks an improvement over HB 1913, the installment loan bill that Gov. Fallin vetoed in 2017 that would have stacked a new loan product on top of payday loans and other short-term loans. However, SB 720 still allows an annual interest rate of 204 percent, which mean that many borrowers, who are already struggling financially, will find it difficult, if not impossible, to make their payments.
News broke this week that the Governor and House and Senate leadership had reached a compromise around agency head and board appointments. In the compromise, the Governor will be able to select and remove agency directors of five state agencies (Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections, and the Office of Juvenile Affairs). In addition, each agency will have a nine-member Board, with five members appointed by the Governor, while the Speaker of the House and Pro Tem in the Senate will appoint two board members each. All Board members will serve at the will of the appointing authority. Agency Boards will retain their current responsibility, with the exception of hiring and firing agency directors. However, as currently written, core competencies of the Boards may not be preserved – for instance, HB 2483 removes statutory language regarding Board member background and expertise for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Of the five bills, the House measures have all crossed over and cleared Senate committee, advancing next to the Senate floor. The two Senate measures have been assigned to House committees and are expected to be heard next week.