With the FY 2019 budget now passed, lawmakers are moving to finish all other legislative work and adjourn by the end of the week. Just a few significant bills remain alive to be reconciled between House and Senate versions.
Budget and Taxes
Last week the Legislature disposed of its main order of business as it heads toward adjournment by approving SB 1600, the FY 2019 General Appropriations bill, which increases state funding by $601 million, or 7.9 percent, for the upcoming year. The bill now awaits action by the Governor, who has the authority to veto individual sections of the bill.
Several additional budget measures await final consideration this week. Of particular note, SB 1583 raises the threshold on how much money must be collected by the General Revenue Fund before deposits can be made into the Revenue Stabilization Fund from $5.7 billion to $6.6 billion. Without this change, it is likely that a deposit of several hundred million dollars would be made to the reserve fund in FY 2020, as we discussed.
The Legislature may also take action on one of two measures that would cap tax credits for wind producers. SB 888 does away with the refundable portion of the zero emission tax credit, while HB 3716 would allow wind credits that exceed tax liability in a given year to be used against future tax liability over a twenty-year period.
Under the new FY 2019 budget, Oklahoma schools should receive enough funding to pay for a significant teacher salary increase. However, outside of what is dedicated for teacher pay, the budget provides only a small amount of added revenue for restoring programs, reducing class sizes, and making up for years of cuts to schools.
A resolution that’s near final passage in the Legislature, SJR 70, would put a state question on that ballot that could give local schools more flexibility in how they use their funding — but at the potential cost of delaying necessary maintenance and building repairs. Another bill that would impact school finances, SB 929, is on the Senate agenda to be heard as soon as today. This bill would update Oklahoma’s language and definitions for students with disabilities to reflect modern understanding of these conditions. The bill for the first time adds language and funding formula weights for the conditions of autism, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments. Oklahoma’s current state aid definitions are outdated, so this is a necessary change, though it is likely to create winners and losers when aid is distributed among districts using the new definitions.
Health and Human Services
HB 2932, which would kick low-income parents off Medicaid for failing to work a prescribed number of hours per week, is waiting for the House to approve Senate amendments. If approved, the bill would advance to Governor Fallin for her signature or veto.
A handful of bills directing key state health agencies in spending their appropriations were introduced late last week. SB 1605 and HB 3707 direct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to increase payment rates to specified providers. HB 3708 instructs the Department of Human Services to direct $2 million towards reducing the developmental disabilities services waiting list, boost provider rates, and establish a respite care waiver. It also orders the agency to reverse previous cuts to the foster and adoption subsidy, increase child welfare workers’ salaries, increase child abuse funding, and direct additional federal matching funds to specific priorities.
After two sessions of back and forth, Governor Fallin signed seven major criminal justice reform bills this week. Though the bills were passed in a weakened form, they are a critical first step toward slowing the growth in our prison population.
Unfortunately, another bill that’s near passage in the Legislature would be a big step back. SB 1221, a bill intended to improve the Pardon and Parole Board by requiring two members have experience in mental health or substance abuse services, was amended to include a process by which juvenile offenders can be sentenced to life in prison. The bill plainly ignores a 2012 Supreme Court decision that declared life sentences for juveniles unconstitutional, as well as an abundance of research into the effects of aging on the minds of juvenile offenders.
Lawmakers are also considering a bill that could set the stage for undoing the hard work of criminal justice reformers. SB 1098, a bill to create a commission on sentencing laws, made up mostly of District Attorneys and law enforcement officials, passed the House but must pass the Senate again after being amended. Without any stated goals of considering data or reducing incarceration, the commission would likely move the debate around criminal justice reform in the wrong direction.
Paid family and medical leave may soon be available for most state workers. SB 1581, creating a paid leave bank for state workers has been passed by the legislature and sent to Governor Fallin.
In efforts to reform occupational licensing, outcomes are mixed. HB 2771, which would have created an online database of all occupational licensing requirements in the state, was not taken up in the Senate last week before the deadline and is now dead for this session. But SB 1475, creating a commission to review licensing requirements, is still alive. The bill was amended by the House during its consideration, and is now back on the Senate’s agenda this week.