Bill Watch: You’re all dead to me!

Oklahoma’s legislative session speeds forward at a punishing pace; bills that don’t move forward are left behind and, quickly, left for dead. Yesterday we arrived at the deadline for all bills to be heard and passed out of committee in their chamber of origin. Any bill that did not pass out of committee is now dead for this session (for various exceptions to this rule, see our 2019 Legislative Primer, especially slide #15). Bills that have passed out of committee will now have two more weeks, until March 14th, to pass out of their chamber of origin.

As of today, 1,020 bills and resolutions remain active out of the 2,836 total measures introduced thus far this session. This translates to a 37 percent survival rate. We should note, however, that very few bills are truly dead. Bills that were not heard in 2019 remain eligible for consideration in 2020. Also, it is always possible that bills that are not heard early in session can reemerge as committee substitutes for other bills or as leadership bills later in session. 

At the start of session, our policy staff spotlighted some of the key bills we would be following most closely in the areas of taxes and budget, health care, education, criminal justice, and economic opportunity. In this update, we stop to mourn or celebrate some of the key pieces of legislation that missed the deadline and have been relegated to the sidelines, if not the graveyard, this session. In coming weeks, our updates will focus on bills that remain in play.

Education

Two bills that would have adjusted funding allocations for various charter schools failed to make it through committee. SB 153 (Sen. Stanislawski) would have given additional funding to brick and mortar charter schools for building improvements. In contrast, SB 212 (Sen. Stanislawski) would have decreased the formula weight used to calculate state aid for virtual charter schools after their first year in operation. Meanwhile, a slew of bills (HB 2522, SB 82, SB 52, SB761) that would have increased oversight and transparency for virtual charter schools have died. 

SB 360 (Sen. Daniels) would have expanded vouchers used to pay for private school tuition to children with an incarcerated parent, but it did not pass committee. However, a similar bill authored by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (SB 901) to expand vouchers for homeless students passed narrowly out of committee and advanced to the Senate floor. 
 
Unfortunately, SB 452 (Sen. Ikley-Freeman) was defeated in the Senate Education committee. This bill would have allowed schools to use restorative discipline practices in lieu of out-of-school suspension for students in grades six through twelve who assault or attempt physical bodily injury to school employees. Restorative practices have been shown to effectively address root causes of poor student behavior and reduce racial disparities in school discipline. 

Economic Security

Higher wages and paid leave time won’t be coming to working Oklahomans this session. Neither of the bills that would have raised Oklahoma’s minimum wage (SB 102 and SB 788) was heard by the Senate Business, Commerce, and Tourism Committee.  All five bills (HB 1131, HB 2466, SB 713, SB 753, and SB 789) that would have removed the state preemption on local governments raising their own minimum wage were also passed over by committees. Workers also won’t be getting paid sick leave (HB 2463) or paid family leave (HB 2464 and SB 478) as all three of these bills failed to be heard by their assigned committees.

In better news, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will continue to serve low-income families that struggle to put food on the table – all four bills that would have imposed new restrictions on SNAP participation failed the committee deadline. HB 1994 (Rep. Nollan) would have required electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards have a photo on them. Two bills (HB 1960 and SB 1025) would have required SNAP members who aren’t already working – a minority of adults on SNAP – to participate in expensive new “workfare” programs. HB 1960 and SB 1028 would have required SNAP participants to cooperate with child support enforcement in order to continue in the program, potentially placing some participants in danger of emotional or physical abuse.  

Criminal Justice 

Criminal justice reform maintains positive momentum after the first few weeks of the legislative session, but most criminal justice bills had their titles stricken in passing out of committee. This means that the language in the bills will likely change before any of these measures becomes law.

 SB 276 (Sen. Young), a bill to apply retroactively the lesser sentences for drug possession and minor property crimes of SQ 780, failed to be brought up for a vote by the Judiciary committee, but two other retroactivity bills, HB 1269 (Rep. Dunnington and Rep. Echols) and SB 357 (Sen. Bice) moved forward.

Two bail reform measures, SB 974 (Sen. Young) and HB 2083 (Rep. Dollens), also were denied a hearing in committee. However, SB 252 (Sen. Thompson and Sen. Kannady) and HB 1037 (Rep. Walke) were successfully voted out of committee. HB 2188 (Rep. Brewer) would have prohibited incarceration simply for a failure to pay fines and fees, but the bill wasn’t taken up by committee. The language from the court fines and fees reform measure HB 2279 (Rep. West) was incorporated into HB 2218 (Rep. May) and the new bill passed out of committee. 

Finally, SB 253 (Sen. Young), and HB 1097(Sen. Osburn) were designed to add racial or community impact statements to criminal justice legislation, but both failed to get out of committee this week. However, HB 1855  (Rep. Hill), which will also provide lawmakers evidence of the impact of criminal justice legislation on different communities in Oklahoma, will move forward.

Health Care

Of the raft of bills to expand health coverage, just one was heard in committee. SB 605 (Sen. McCortney), which directed the state Medicaid agency to develop a plan to cover low-income adults through commercial insurance plans, cleared the Senate Retirement and Insurance committee 9-0. It was then assigned to Senate Appropriations, but despite advocacy by both patient advocates and providers, SB 605 was not heard before committee deadline. However, lawmakers still have the opportunity to develop a coverage expansion bill through the budget process. Governor Stitt and legislative leadership have endorsed developing an Oklahoma-specific plan, but members will need to hear from constituents about what that plan should entail. 
 
Unfortunately, of the bills filed to de-regulate dangerous junk health coverage, just one, SB 505 (Sen. Newhouse), failed deadline. HB 1053 (Rep. McEntire) and SB 943 (Sen. Treat), which would expose more enrollees to association health plans, and SB 993 (Sen. Dahm), which would cut regulations on short-term limited-duration health plans, all cleared their respective committees and will next advance to the House or Senate floor. 

Taxes and Budget

As noted in our overview, this is looking like a quiet year on the tax front, with little appetite among lawmakers to consider outright tax cuts or tax increases. For example, neither of two bills to scrap the sales tax on motor vehicles, SB 2 and SB 6 was heard in the Senate Fiance committee, even though SB 2 was authored by Kim David, the second-highest ranking member in the Senate. Very few measures to change tax rates were even introduced, with one bill by House Democratic leader Emily Virgin to restore a higher top marginal tax rate not heard. 

Unfortunately, various measures that would have improved tax fairness fell by the wayside, including two bills to repeal or narrow the exemption for capital gains income, three bills to adopt combined corporate reporting, and all nine bills to restore the refundable state earned income tax credit that lawmakers eliminated in 2016. Nor did any of the measures to revisit the three-quarters supermajority requirement on revenue bills get a hearing. Interestingly, while Governor Stitt has emphasized his interest in increasing how much the state sets aside in savings, a measure to raise the cap on the State Rainy Day Fund (HJR 1005) was not heard, while an effort to set aside a portion of gross production revenues in a new permanent fund (SJR 11) was defeated by a Senate committee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy) is a non-partisan independent policy think-tank. OK Policy promotes adequate, fair, and fiscally responsible funding of public services and expanded opportunity for all Oklahomans by providing timely and credible information, analysis, and ideas.

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