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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg

This week we’re launching a new weekly update to our blog that previews some of the bills we’re watching in the Oklahoma Legislature over the next week. Throughout the week, we’ll continuing sharing advocacy alerts with ways that you can take action on key bills. Although there’s always potential for surprises in the legislative process, we hope this update will help you to be better prepared and informed about these key decisions being made for our state.

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Everything you should know about Oklahoma’s special sessions

Governor Mary Fallin called two special sessions of the Legislature in 2017-18.  The first was aimed at filling a $215 million hole to the budgets of three health agencies – the Department of Mental Health and Substance Services, Department of Human Services, and Oklahoma Health Care Authority – that was triggered by the Supreme Court decision striking down the smoking cessation fee passed in May. The Governor  also insisted that special session provide long-term budget solutions. The second special session began in December 2017 and then ran concurrently with the 2018 regular session from February through mid-April. In late March and early April, the House and Senate passed a series of revenue and funding measures aimed at providing raises for teachers and other workers, as well as boosting operating support for schools. The second special session adjourned on April 19th.

This page will continue to be updated to reflect the most recent developments.

 (Last Updated: April 20, 2018, 9:00 am)

Quick Summary

The first eight-week special session convened on Monday September 25th and adjourned on Friday November 17th. After efforts to pass a “grand bargain” revenue plan fell short, Gov. Fallin used her line-item veto authority to veto all but five sections of the General Appropriations bill, stating that the bill “does not provide a long-term solution to the recurring budget deficits”. The non-vetoed section provided enough revenue to avert imminent cuts to the three health agencies. The Governor announced she would call a new special session “in the near future.”

In December, lawmakers convened in the second special session and passed supplemental funding measures for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Department of Human Services. Special session reconvened on February 5th, concurrently with regular session, to address a series of bills that emerged from the Step Up Oklahoma plan. Following the failure of the main Step Up revenue bill, HB 1033xx, legislative leaders turned to closing out the FY 2018 budget by introducing a new General Appropriations bill, HB 1020xx, that filled most of the remaining shortfall for the three health agencies by spreading $46 million in cuts across all appropriated agencies.

On March 26th, the House passed a set of bills that give teachers and other school employees and state workers a pay raise, as well as increasing operating support for schools. Most of these increases will be funded with new revenue approved in HB 1010xx, which passed the both chambers with enough votes to clear the three-quarters supermajority requirement for revenue bills. The Legislature also passed pay raise bills and the FY 2019 education appropriation bill. The Senate subsequently voted to approve bills that expanded collections from online sales and from tribal gaming, while repealing a new lodging tax that was part of HB 1010xx. A group opposed to tax increases, Oklahoma Taxpayers United!, has announced plans for a veto referendum to challenge HB 1010xx.

The Senate adjourned special Session on April 17th and the House followed suit April 19th.

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Oklahoma’s 2018 legislative session begins today. Our updated Legislative Primer will help you follow what’s happening.

by | February 5th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Matters | Comments (1)

What are the steps for a bill to become law? Who chairs key legislative committees and who serves in the governor’s cabinet? What does it mean to “strike the title” of a bill? As the 2018 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more.

Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2018 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. You are welcome to download, print, and share the Legislative Primer with anyone who may need it to figure out what’s happening at the Capitol.

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Statement: Disappointing results and hope for the future in this year’s legislative session

Oklahoma Policy Institute released the following statement on the final results of Oklahoma’s 2017 regular legislative session:

If we look only at the bills that made it through the full legislative process to be signed by the governor, most Oklahomans would view this year’s legislative session as a disappointment. Lawmakers entered the session knowing they needed to confront big problems — like uncompetitive pay that is draining away our most skilled teachers and state workers; a failing, hugely expensive criminal justice system; long waiting lists for mental health treatment, at-home disability care, and other key health services; and a budget that every year falls further behind what’s needed to keep our state prosperous and safe. As the session limps to a close, lawmakers have failed to address any of these problems.

This failure is especially disappointing when we consider the promises made earlier in the year. Throughout legislative session, lawmakers repeated again and again that they would find funding to provide a teacher raise. Governor Fallin, legislative leaders, and experts in the community and law enforcement came together to develop a strong, well-thought-out agenda for criminal justice reform. Hundreds of advocates and lawmakers came to the table with practical revenue solutions to fund essential services and fix Oklahoma’s long-term budget outlook.

By these efforts, we came close to achieving big advances for Oklahoma families, only to crash against obstruction and gridlock in the final days of session. What emerged was a last-minute budget with more damaging cuts as well as legally questionable revenue measures. Most of the burden of this year’s budget shortfall was once again pushed onto low- and middle-income families while sparing the wealthiest households and corporate interests. The last chance for a teacher raise this year was derailed by the Senate’s refusal to cap itemized deductions for very wealthy households. This problematic budget was forced through with little time for Oklahomans to see what was in it or voice their concerns.

Amid these failures, we see an undercurrent of hope for Oklahoma’s future. This year, more than ever before, numerous informed, engaged Oklahomans regularly came to the Capitol or worked within their communities to advocate for better state policies. Popular outcry was key to stopping Oklahoma from moving backwards by allowing an expansion of predatory lending practices or rolling back the smart on crime reforms of State Question 780. Revenue ideas that had never been seriously considered before, despite years of failing budgets, were on the table in final negotiations. Legislative leadership ultimately failed to reach a bipartisan deal on the budget or prevent one member from derailing the work of the majority on criminal justice. But beneath that leadership failure is a rising group of lawmakers and regular Oklahomans who are eager to do better.

Better policies fell barely short of the finish line this year. We are excited to work with the lawmakers and other Oklahomans who are ready to carry that progress over the line, next year and beyond.

A new way to get our action alerts

by | April 26th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Matters, OK Policy | Comments (0)

Events can move fast in the Oklahoma Legislature, especially in the last weeks of May just before adjournment. New bills or amendments – or even the entire state budget – can be introduced and rushed through before constituents have much chance to speak out.

At OK Policy, we try to provide the information you need when it matters most for our state. We share key facts and advocacy alerts through e-mail, social media, and website updates throughout the week. Now we’re excited to offer another way for you to get informed when it’s important to take action right away. You can sign up to get text message alerts to your mobile phone.

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Be prepared for the 2017 session with the new Legislative Primer

by | January 26th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Matters | Comments (5)

How many bills were filed this year? What are the steps for a bill to become law? Who’s in Governor Fallin’s cabinet? As the 2017 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more.

Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2017 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. You are welcome to download, print, and distribute the Legislative Primer to anyone who may need it to figure out what’s happening at the Capitol.

We also invite you to check out “What’s That?”, our online glossary of terms related to Oklahoma politics and government, and the newly updated Online Budget Guide, an in-depth resource for understanding how our state and local governments collect and spend money. 

We hope these tools will help to empower your advocacy for a better Oklahoma. If you’re interested in getting more involved with other grassroots advocates for better budget and tax policies in Oklahoma, we invite you to sign up at Together Oklahoma.

Yes, non-profits can (and should) lobby

Family in PalmIf you want to know about the stock market, you ask a broker. If you want to know what that weird noise is when you turn on your car, you ask a mechanic. If you want to know how public policy is affecting regular people in Oklahoma, you ask someone who works for a non-profit organization.

Unfortunately, many non-profits remain hesitant about sharing their expertise with lawmakers and the public. They may believe that their non-profit status prohibits them from engaging with the legislative process, or they may simply not know what the rules are so they are hesitant about entering a poorly understood legal grey area.

In fact, non-profits can (and should) lobby. According to the National Council of non-profits, “Federal tax laws already allow every charitable non-profit to engage in some legislative lobbying activities. There are spending limits and technicalities that curb non-profits from spending all of their time and money engaged in legislative lobbying, but knowing your rights ensures your organization’s participation in the public policy process.”

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No less than 20 measures filed to change Oklahoma’s judicial system this year (Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

One might assume that with a near $1 billion budget deficit for next year added to revenue failures in the current fiscal year demanding their attention, legislators would have little inclination to consider non-budget structural changes to state government. One would be wrong. There have been no less than 20 measures filed in the House and Senate to make changes in the way Oklahoma’s Judicial Branch works. A short summary of the bills demonstrates the direction some legislators want to take the state.

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Demystify Oklahoma’s policy process with the 2016 Legislative Primer

by | February 1st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (3)

LegislativePrimer2016How many bills made it into law last year? What do legislators get paid? Who’s in Governor Fallin’s cabinet? As the 2016 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more.

Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2016 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. You are welcome to download, print, and distribute the Legislative Primer to anyone who may need it to figure out what’s happening at the Capitol. We also invite you to check out “What’s That?”, our online glossary of more than 50 terms related to Oklahoma politics and government, from “Ad-Valorem Tax” to “Woolly-Booger.”

We hope these tools will help to empower your advocacy for a better Oklahoma. If you have any questions or suggestions for ways we can better inform Oklahomans, let us know.

Two insider takes on the 2015 legislative session

by | July 1st, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Matters | Comments (1)

Editor’s note: We came across these two thoughtful takes on the 2015 session, with a particular emphasis on the budget, from Senate Republican Mike Mazzei and House Democrat Ben Loring. Their assessments offer some stark contrasts but also some surprising agreement.  The articles are posted here with the authors’ permission.

Sen. Mike Mazzei: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Mike Mazzeimazzei_bio has represented Senate District 25 since 2004. This summary was originally posted for his followers on his Facebook page.

Halleluiah! The 2015 Legislative Session ended one week early and after some time of reflection, I can now provide some highlights for my annual “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” report.

The Good – In spite of a $611 million deficit, we managed to avoid reducing K-12 education funding from the previous year. We also initiated some tax reform by eliminating the five-year property tax exemption for new wind power facilities for an annual savings of $45 million. For hopefully more tax reform in the future, we established a new evaluation system to analyze every tax incentive in the tax code over a four- year cycle. Tulsa won a big victory with approval of a financing package for the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, which according to my analysis, would provide significant net economic benefits to both Tulsa and the state. And finally, we joined almost every other state in the nation to ban texting while driving.

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