Caring for Caregivers Act had a difficult road to passage; it shouldn’t have been so hard (Capitol Update)

The Caring for Caregivers Act, requested by Oklahoma AARP and championed by Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, passed last session. The act creates a tax credit up to 50 percent of eligible caregiver costs, capped at $2,000 per year for most participants and $3,000 per year for those caring for veterans or people with a dementia-related diagnosis. Eligible expenses include home modifications such as installing a ramp, durable medical equipment, assistive technologies, hiring a home-care aide, respite care, adult day care, and personal care attendants.    

Looking at the history of the proposal, its passage wasn’t easy. To try to ensure success, the proposal was introduced at the beginning of session in both the House and the Senate. Sen. Montgomery introduced Senate Bill 577, which was double assigned to the Senate Finance Committee, then to Appropriations. The bill never received a hearing in the Finance Committee and died when the first deadline passed in March. 

Rep. West introduced House Bill 1368, which found more fertile ground in the House. It was assigned to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, which reported the bill out of committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation. The bill passed the House floor and went to the Senate where it was double assigned, again to Senate Finance and then Appropriations. HB 1368 was heard in both committees and received “Do Pass” recommendations. The bill passed the Senate after being amended and was sent to conference committee where it died in conference on May 26, the last day of session.

However, on May 23 the original language contained in both SB 577 and HB 1368 was inserted into HB 1029xx filed in the Special Session by Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, chairmen of the appropriations committees. The bill passed the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget the same day and passed the House 97-0 the next day on May 24. It bypassed the Senate JCAB Committee and was assigned direct to the floor where it passed the Senate 33-11.

The Caring for Caregivers Act in the form of HB 1029xx became one of several proposals that were moved into special session bills, along with the budget, at the end of session so the legislature would have the opportunity to override a veto by the governor. HB 1368 had not passed within five days of the end of session, so the governor could have vetoed it with no opportunity for the legislature to override. Was this necessary? No one knows but the governor. But the fact that he failed to sign HB 1029xx and let it go into effect without his signature indicates it was a good decision to take the decision out of his hands. There may have also been a question of whether HB 1368 would get a Senate floor hearing. 

The interesting thing about following the legislature is that sometimes a legislator’s best work is done behind closed doors. That would likely apply here. An important inflection point that kept the Caring for Caregivers Act proposal alive was when HB 1368 was heard in the Senate Finance Committee even though SB 577 earlier failed to receive a hearing. Someone worked hard to get that done. Also, getting the proposal moved to the special session where it had leadership endorsement was likely the product of House/Senate negotiations. Another huge accomplishment. There was certainly some well-placed opposition to the proposal in the Senate, evidenced by the fact that six committee chairmen and the majority floor leader were among 11 votes against the bill. It would be a fair guess that getting the proposal onto the special session list was chargeable against the House side of the ledger. 

Anyone who has ever been a caregiver would consider this tax credit a no-brainer. In fact, it doesn’t begin to cover the financial burden to a family of caregiving for a loved one. But something is better than nothing. It’s a start. It really shouldn’t have been that hard to get done. 


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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