This session, the Legislature will have several opportunities to improve the lives of hard-working Oklahomans and their families. Legislators have filed bills to create second chances for the justice-involved, make sure workers have paid time off to care for their own health and the health of their loved ones, and restore the full value of the Earned Income Tax Credit. All of these would be great steps toward creating an Oklahoma that appropriately values and fairly rewards the labor of its citizens.
Occupational licenses could soon be more accessible
Today nearly 30 percent of the American workforce needs a license to do their job, and though Oklahoma’s occupational licensing requirements aren’t as extensive as some states, there are areas where we could improve. Last year, an advisory commission was established to review occupational licensing requirements in the state. The commission worked through the fall, and some of its recommended changes to licensing requirements in Oklahoma have been proposed as legislation this year. HB 1373 (Rep. Taylor) and HB 2134 (Rep. Munson) would prohibit blanket bans of individuals with a criminal history — only crimes that are violent or sexual in nature or that relate directly to the duties of the particular job or occupation could automatically disqualify an individual from a license. SB 101 (Sen. Bergstrom) would set the same requirement for a handful of occupations. Any of these bills would be good news for the justice-involved, ensuring that one mistake does not derail their opportunity to support themselves and their families.
Several bills filed to restore refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit
In 2016, as part of a plan to cut the state budget during a shortfall, the Legislature slashed the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by making the credit non-refundable. This decision meant that more than 200,000 working Oklahomans lost some or all of the benefit of this credit. In the last two sessions, the legislature has come close to restoring this important credit for working families, and there seems to be some stronger momentum this session. A total of nine bills have been filed that would restore the refundability of the credit, including one (SB 659 by Sen. Montgomery) that would increase the value of the credit from 5 percent of the federal EITC to 7.5 percent.
Bills could boost workers with better pay and benefits
Two bills have been introduced that would raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma — SB 102 (Sen. Young) would increase the minimum wage to $10.50, and SB 788 (Sen. Hicks) would increase it to $10.00. There are also five bills (HB 1131, HB 2466, SB 713, SB 753, and SB 789) that would remove the preemption on local governments raising the minimum wage within their jurisdictions. HB 2462 (Rep. Dunnington) and SB 645 (Sen. Floyd ) would prohibit employers from discriminating in payment of wages based on gender. And SB 649 (Sen. Floyd) would prohibit employers from punishing workers who voluntarily talk with others about their own wages.
There are also bills that would make sure that working Oklahomans would have paid leave days to take care of their own illness or care for a new child or sick relative. HB 2463 (Rep. Dunnington) would require all private employers to allow their employees to earn paid sick leave, while HB 2464 (Rep. Dunnington) and SB 478 (Sen. Dossett) would ensure that Oklahoma workers who need to take family leave can receive partial pay while they’re away from their jobs.
Concerning changes proposed for SNAP
Unfortunately, there are also some potentially damaging proposals this year as well — especially for struggling Oklahomans who need help putting food on the table. HB 1994 (Rep. Nollan) would require the electronic benefit transfer cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to have a photo of the member on the card. This costly and unnecessary measure would be ineffective in fighting SNAP’s already low fraud rates. SB 1025 (Sen. Rosino) would require SNAP participants who are not already working to take part in “workfare,” or unpaid volunteer work. This new requirement would be costly for the state to administer, and it’s unnecessary since most adults who use SNAP and can work already do work. Finally, SB 1028 (Sen. Rosino) would require SNAP participants to cooperate with child support enforcement in order to continue in the program. This could place participants in danger if they fear emotional or physical abuse from their child’s other parent.