In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to email@example.com. You can sign up here to receive In The Know each morning by e-mail.
Today you should know that a number of major bills passed out of committee in the Oklahoma House and Senate. In the House, a bill to repeal the Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act passed 9-7 in the General Government Committee, with Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, voting as an ex officio member to ensure that it passed.
House Speaker Kris Steele’s bill to reduce incarceration in Oklahoma by increasing community sentencing and measures such as GPS tracking was approved unanimously in committee. House members also approved two bills seeking to limit property tax increases, which if approved by the full legislature will go to a vote of the people.
In the Senate, a committee approved a bill limiting lawsuit damages for pain and suffering to $250,000. The measure is a top priority of the business lobby but is receiving criticism from both progressives and tea party groups.
More below the jump.
In The News
Bill to repeal collective bargaining in Oklahoma goes to House
A bill that would repeal the state’s entire municipal employee collective bargaining act for nonuniformed workers narrowly passed a House committee Wednesday. If passed, the measure would kick out a 2004 law that allowed nonuniformed employees of cities with at least 35,000 residents to form a union. Rep. Steve Martin, author of House Bill 1593, said later his intent was not to affect the four cities — including the state’s two largest cities — that had collective bargaining agreements with nonuniformed workers before the 2004 bill passed. Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and Muskogee had agreements before the 2004 law.
It is targeted for the nine other cities that the 2004 law forced to enter collective bargaining agreements with nonuniformed workers, he said. The law required cities and towns with more than 35,000, but didn’t apply to county or state employees.
Read more from thie NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-bill-takes-aim-at-municipal-collective-bargaining-law/article/3543404.
See also: Union threatens strike over bill on Fox 25.
Panel OKs bill to ease number of prisoners
House Speaker Kris Steele’s proposal to ease Oklahoma’s growing inmate population by diverting low-risk criminals from prison was unanimously approved Wednesday by a legislative committee and now heads to the full House for a vote. Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate for women in the country and is in the top 5 for men, and Steele, the new Republican leader of the House, has said overhauling the state’s criminal sentencing practices is one of his top priorities. “Our prisons are near capacity,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Currently, if someone is convicted and considered a danger to society, there is virtually no place to put them.” Steele’s measure would expand the number of criminals eligible for programs like community sentencing, where offenders continue to live and work in the community but must participate in programs that address problems they may have, like drug and alcohol treatment, anger management or job training. His bill also would increase eligibility for electronic monitoring programs, where inmates are released early from prison but tracked through a global positioning system, or GPS, device attached to the inmate.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110224_16_A11_OKLAHO427788.
Senate approves limit on lawsuit damages
The state Senate voted Wednesday for a bill that would put a $250,000 cap on damages for so-called pain and suffering in lawsuits. Senate Bill 863 by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, passed by a vote of 29-18. It now heads to the House. Critics said during the lengthy debate on the bill that the cap on noneconomic damages would strip victims of their rights. Supporters said the dollar amount was merely a starting point for negotiations on the bill. Sykes said the bill would not cap damages in cases of wrongful death and would not alter what a plaintiff could receive for economic damages such as lost income or payment of medical bills.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110224_16_A11_OKLAHO389955.
See also: The Pain Game by Brittany Novotny; OK Senate approves lawsuit-reform bill despite concerns over constitutionality on Red Dirt Report.
Oklahoma House approves property tax restraints
A House panel approved two measures Wednesday that are intended to prevent annual increases in property taxes. House Joint Resolution 1001 would allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether to place a 3 percent annual cap that would limit future property tax increases. HJR 1002 would allow voters to decide whether to put a permanent freeze on property tax levels for people over 65 years old for as long as they own their homes. If both measures win approval in the House of Representatives and the Senate, they would be placed on the November 2012 general election ballot, said Rep. David Dank, the author of both proposals.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-panel-approves-property-tax-restraints/article/3543382.
See also: Fact Sheet: Property Taxes in Oklahoma from the Oklahoma Policy Institute
Breaking down the Board of Equalization revenue numbers
The State Board of Equalization met yesterday to certify revised revenue estimates and appropriations authority for the upcoming year’s budget. Not yawning yet? Then do we have a 6-minute video blog post for you!
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/breaking-down-the-board-of-equalization-revenue-numbers/.
Bill would toughen DUI laws
An Edmond legislator is calling for tougher driving-under-the-influence laws in the wake of an accident that killed a 20-year-old Oklahoma State University student. Speaking at a Capitol press conference Wednesday afternoon, Republican state Sen. Clark Jolley said a legislative proposal would tighten the state’s DUI laws and take another step toward getting drunken drivers off the road. The measure, the Erin Elizabeth Swezey Act, would require anyone convicted of a DUI to have an ignition interlock device installed in his or her vehicle for at least two years. … Drivers convicted of a second DUI would be required to have the device in their car for five years; subsequent offenses would up that requirement to eight years. … Jolley said the measure also would require that the words “DUI Conviction” be stamped on a driver’s license for as long as the person was required to have the interlock device.
Read more from this Journal Record article at http://journalrecord.com/2011/02/23/state-senator-calls-for-tougher-dui-laws-after-fatal-accident-capitol/.
Oklahoma Gazette: The quality of our city government is in peril
Oklahoma City’s incredible record of accomplishments during the past decade could be jeopardized by the outcome of the Oklahoma City Council election on Tuesday. Voters should carefully examine the backgrounds and qualifications of the candidates before voting, because the differences among them are profound.
Candidates from three of the four wards appear to have the support of political interests that seek to reverse the will citizens expressed in MAPS and to assert political agendas. … The council’s strength comes from its nonpartisan nature, a willingness of civically engaged citizens to serve, and a focus on issues and initiatives within the scope of city government. Bringing partisan and extreme elements into our city government would be devastating.
Read more from this Oklahoma Gazette editorial at http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-10861-you-better-vote-tuesday_.html.
See also: Progress, not partisan politics in The Journal Record.
Oklahomans can file their taxes for free
There’s a free way for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans to file their income taxes. Oklahoma Free File is a partnership between the Tax Commission and several private tax software companies. It allows eligible Oklahomans to choose an online tax preparation program to file both their state and federal taxes for free. Eligibility depends on which program you choose, but includes those who have an adjusted gross income of less than $58,000, those who served active military duty in 2010, and those eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Read more from NewsOn6 at http://www.newson6.com/Global/story.asp?S=14087123.
Quote of the Day
If they repeal the collective bargaining in the state of Oklahoma, you’re going to have the exact same thing that’s happening in Wisconsin.
–Williams Bryles, president of AFSCME local 2406 for OKC metro workers, on a House bill that seeks to repeal the Municipal Employees Collective Bargaining Act.
Number of the Day
Annual per capita spending on fast food in Oklahoma in 2007.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau via 24/7 Wall St.
Report: Walmart state and local tax avoidance exceeds $400 million annually
Walmart’s U.S. operations deprive state and local governments of more than $400 million a year through a variety of tax avoidance schemes, according to a report released today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC. The report, Shifting the Burden for Vital Public Services, is available at no cost on the Good Jobs First website at www.goodjobsfirst.org. “Walmart likes to claim that its stores are an economic boon to local communities,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and author of the report. “But the fact is that the company tries hard to reduce the revenue stream going to state and local governments.”
Read more from Good Jobs First at http://clawback.org/2011/02/23/report-walmart-state-and-local-tax-avoidance-exceeds-400-million-annually.
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