On Wednesday, Republican leaders announced they had reached agreement on an $8.3 billion state budget. That budget was approved in House and Senate committees yesterday and should go to final vote in both chambers today and early next week. In a statement, we shared that the budget brings welcome progress in a few areas but also includes many missed opportunities.
We’ll have a much deeper dive on the budget soon. In the meantime, here’s what happened this week on other bills we’re following:
Oklahomans will soon learn the ultimate fate of the historic justice reform bills that have advanced this session. A number of significant bills moved forward from conference committee this week, and many appear poised for floor passage with the opportunity to be signed into law by the Governor. Budget numbers emerged this week as well. Millions in new appropriations for District Attorneys, more pay for Corrections Officers, and investments in mental health and substance abuse treatment to fulfill the mandate voters created with State Question 781 are all signals of positive change for the state. The exact details of these budget allocations will be vital to ending Oklahoma’s counter-productive reliance on fines and fees and to stopping the growth of our overcrowded prisons.
HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Sen. Bice), which makes the impact of State Question 780 retroactive, passed out of conference with new language this week. The amendment uses the Parole Board process to release the roughly 700 to 1,000 people currently in prison for simple possession starting in December or January. The bill also utilizes the expungement process to remove the lifelong consequences of felony convictions for tens of thousands of Oklahomans sentenced under previous law.
SB 252 (Sen. Thompson and Rep. Kannady), the bail reform measure aimed at reducing the number of people jailed because they can’t afford to pay bail, also moved forward in the conference process with an amendment. The new language of the bill retains the measure’s core reforms, making it likely to pass from the floor to be signed by the Governor.
SB 616 (Sen. Jech and Rep. West) and HB 2273 (Rep. West and Sen. Jech), which reform probation, parole, and supervision practices, have both advanced in the conference process. Critical details are still being negotiated for SB 616, but both bills appear headed in some version to full votes on the floor.
HB 1100 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Bice), which reforms possession with intent to distribute laws, and HB 2009 (Rep. Mize and Sen. Coleman), which reforms sentence enhancements, both moved forward in the conference committee process this week. Now both bills await floor hearings.
This week Gov. Stitt signed HB 1373 (Rep. Taylor and Sen. Daniels), and that means that occupational licenses will soon be more accessible in Oklahoma. This bill prohibits the use of blanket bans and vague character requirements to prevent individuals with a felony in their past from getting an occupational license. Instead, licensing boards and agencies will now have to develop lists of specific crimes and records that would disqualify someone from the license, and those lists can only include things that are directly relevant to the occupation. Given that individuals who have been justice-involved are five times more likely to be unemployed, this legislation is a positive step forward in removing barriers to employment for this population.
This week the governor vetoed two education bills. HB 1018 (Rep. McEntire and Sen. Pugh) would have updated Oklahoma’s HIV/AIDS curriculum to remove outdated language which states that engaging in “homosexual activity…is now known to be primarily responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.” The bill also would have required the curriculum to comply with the Parents’ Bill of Rights. The bill passed with bipartisan support, but Governor Stitt vetoed the bill on Monday stating that replacing the statutory language was unnecessary and that current law already requires the curriculum to reflect newly discovered medical facts.
Governor Stitt also vetoed HB 1940 (Rep. Strom and Sen. Hicks), which would have ensured that students were not counted absent for school-approved activities. Gov. Stitt contended that the bill would have caused confusion about who has the authority to define what constitutes a “valid excuse.”
Lastly, SB 193 (Sen. Pemberton and Rep. McBride), which extends the moratorium on penalties for exceeding class size limits, still awaits a vote in conference committee. The bill has been amended to reinstate requirements for media expenditures and textbook committees next year if base formula funding is $50 million above 2019 funding levels. The current language would also reinstate class size limits for kindergarten and first grade in 2021 if base formula funding is $100 million above 2020 levels.
Gov. Stitt built a new barrier to better health in Oklahoma by signing SB 993 (Sen. Dahm and Rep. Moore). SB 993 cuts important regulations around a dangerous class of shoddy health coverage products. These short-term health plans don’t have to cover major classes of health care services, such as substance use disorder treatment or maternity care, and can deny coverage or charge higher premiums for the 1 in 3 Oklahomans with a preexisting conditions. Because they don’t actually have to cover health services, or can cap how much they’ll cover, these plans can be much cheaper than real health insurance coverage – but consumers often don’t understand these plans’ limitations. Making short-term plans more accessible create serious risk for Oklahomans’ health, finances, and lives.