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Today is the deadline for any bills that pass this session to make it through their House of origin.
More than 25 House Republicans switched their votes from Tuesday and passed a $350k cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits. They also voted to create a closing fund that would make payments to businesses that relocate in Oklahoma. The House declined to take the right to binding arbitration away from police and firefighters, but they did vote to eliminate the Municipal Employee Collective Bargaining Act, which requires cities with populations larger than 35,000 to allow their employees to collectively bargain.
The Senate voted unanimously to overhaul the Teachers Retirement System, including increasing how long a teacher must work before becoming eligible for retirement.
The Senate approved a sweeping immigration bill that would allow confiscation of property connected to undocumented immigration and prohibit immigrant students from paying in-state tuition. An amendment by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, successfully took out a section of the bill that would allow law enforcement to ask for proof of immigration status at traffic stops, but two other amendments by Jolley to reduce the scope of the bill did not pass. The Senate also voted to create a tax credit that would subsidize 50 percent of an invidual’s or corporation’s donation to a private school scholarship fund. Public schools will be allowed to use an additional $16 million in stimulus money for textbooks and salaries.
The OK Policy Blog discusses how a measure recently passed by the Senate to change several elected state officials into appointees of the governor could be good for democracy. The House passed a bill to allow open carry without a license, but it was amended to be limited only to those who have obtained a protective order. Many House members approved the amendment without realizing what it would do. Legislative attempts to restrict state employee birth dates from being released as public records are on hold while the Oklahoma Supreme Court considers the issue.
These stories and more below the jump.
In The News
House reverses its vote on pain and suffering damages, passes closing fund
House leadership slogged to victory on two leading elements of the Republican legislative agenda during a contentious session that stretched far into Wednesday night. In a dramatic reversal, all but a handful of the 39 Republicans who voted against a key piece of lawsuit-reform legislation on Tuesday reversed field Wednesday, putting it through by a vote of 57-40 as Democrats jeered them for flip-flopping. The bill caps so-called pain-and-suffering damages at $350,000 except in cases of gross negligence, malicious intent, fraud and recklessness. A floor amendment removed language that provided an exception for those suffering permanent injury or disfigurement. The House also approved, largely on party lines, the formation of a so-called “closing fund” – but did not put any money into it. When implemented, the fund could be used at the discretion of the governor and the state Department of Commerce to lure businesses to the state.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110317_16_A1_OKLAHO672845.
Public employee unions win 1, lose 1 in House
Public employee unions got a split decision Wednesday night in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The House backed off stripping police and firefighters of the right to binding arbitration but voted to repeal the Oklahoma Municipal Employee Collective Bargaining Act. The act requires cities of at least 35,000 population to allow nonuniformed employees to collectively bargain. Its repeal would not be expected to affect the city of Tulsa, which recognizes collective-bargaining rights by city ordinance.
Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=16&articleid=20110317_16_A4_OKLAHO171828.
Senate OKs plan to overhaul teachers’ pensions
New Oklahoma teachers would have to wait longer before becoming eligible for the state pension system and before they could retire under legislation unanimously approved Wednesday in the Senate. The Senate approved the measure 45-0 as part of an effort to shore up the estimated $16.5 billion in unfunded liability among the state’s five major pension systems. … The bill increases the number of years a new teacher must work to become eligible to participate in the Teachers Retirement System from five to eight years. It also increases from 62 to 65 the age at which a new teacher would become eligible for retirement.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-senate-oks-plan-to-overhaul-teachers-pensions/article/3549337.
Oklahoma Senate Republicans argue about immigration
Senate Republicans sparred over immigration Wednesday, signaling an ongoing divide within the party over how the state should address illegal immigration. Debate over Senate Bill 908, a sweeping crackdown against illegal immigrants, saw Republicans argue against one another whether to repeal some of the most contentious parts of the bill, which passed 29-15. … Republican Sen. Clark Jolley filed an amendment that repealed the part of the bill that would have allowed police to request identification from people if there is “probable cause” they are an illegal immigrant. Jolley, an Edmond attorney, called it “fatally flawed” and possibly unconstitutional.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-senate-republicans-argue-about-immigration/article/3549338.
Politics for architects, or how fewer elections can be good for democracy
This week the Senate narrowly approved a bill to change how several state officials get their jobs. Under SB622, the State Treasurer, Labor Commissioner, Insurance Commissioner, State Superintendent, and the three-member Corporation Commission would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate instead of being elected. Statewide elections would still be held for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Auditor and Inspector, and Attorney General. If approved by the House, the measure will go before voters as a state question. The bill does not specify how soon it would go into effect after being approved by voters or what would happen to existing officeholders. It does eliminate term limits for the appointed positions (which were put in place only last year through SQ 747), so governors could choose to appoint officeholders across multiple administrations.
Read more from the OK Policy Blog at https://okpolicy.org/politics-for-architects-or-how-fewer-elections-can-be-good-for-democracy/.
See also: Let’s appoint from The Tulsa World
Senate passes tax credit for donations to private school scholarship funds
The Oklahoma state Senate today (Wednesday, March 16) approved Senate Bill 969, the tuition scholarship bill sponsored by Senator Dan Newberry of Tulsa. … Deemed the “Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act,” S.B. 969 would allow individuals or companies to receive a tax credit when contributing to a scholarship-granting organization. Limited to a 50% credit annually, amounts would be for contributions up to $1,000 per individual or $2,000 for married couples who file jointly. Corporate filers would receive a 50% credit up to $100,000. Scholarships could be used to cover tuition at accredited private schools, and costs of fees and transportation.
Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at http://capitolbeatok.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3854390.
House passes amended open carry bill
House members who backed a bill that would have allowed the open carrying of guns were outmaneuvered Wednesday night by opponents who changed the measure to permit only those who have sought or have been granted a protective order to carry guns openly. Rep. John Bennett, a freshman legislator, said he received some bad advice from other members who supported the measure, to accept the amendment to his bill. Bennett’s measure, House Bill 1657 would have allowed anyone who has a reasonable fear of bodily harm to openly carry a gun. His measure would not require anyone to get a concealed handgun permit to openly carry a gun.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-passes-amended-open-carry-bill/article/3549517.
See also: Shootout at the Okie Corral? on Okie Funk
Oklahoma’s stimulus funding finds home in school districts in the nick of time
With two weeks to spare before school districts must finalize their 2009-10 audits, the state has come up with a plan for $16 million in unaccounted-for stimulus funding. “My sense from the school districts I talked with about this … is they were just grateful to finally get direction on it,” said Jill Geiger, budget director for the state Finance Office. School districts were left in limbo for almost seven months while they awaited a decision from the state about how to report stimulus funds originally allocated to schools in August 2009.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/oklahomas-stimulus-funding-finds-home-in-school-districts-in-the-nick-of-time/article/3549510.
State employee birth date issue in limbo as Supreme Court considers appeals
A pending case before the Oklahoma Supreme Court about the disclosure of state employee birth dates has led to little enthusiasm at the Legislature to add employee exemptions to the Open Records Act. Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, sponsored legislation for the second year in a row to exempt the birth dates and employee identification numbers of public employees from the Open Records Act. His latest measure, House Bill 2097, did not make it out of a House committee. … Other groups involved in the fight last year are taking a wait-and-see attitude on legislation until the Supreme Court rules.
Read more from this NewsOK article at http://newsok.com/sunshine-week-state-employee-birth-date-issue-in-limbo-as-oklahoma-supreme-court-considers-appeals/article/3549328.
Quote of the Day
They caught us off guard at 11:30 at night. We thought it had the word ‘or’ in it.
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahomans who carpooled to work in 2002.
Public servants as Public Enemy #1
One of the most disturbing legacies of the Great Recession has been its effect on the idea of public service — from the federal level to smaller localities and from elected and appointed leaders to school teachers. We used to think of senior government employees as “public servants,” and only a few years ago, we were fretting that there weren’t enough qualified younger people in the pipeline to replace them as they retired. We got so worried about the quality of education that we started paying teachers more and actively recruiting the best and brightest to serve in programs like Teach for America. After the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building 16 years ago, public employees were viewed sympathetically.
Read more from Governing at http://www.governing.com/columns/potomac-chronicle/Public-Servants-Public-Enemy-1.html.
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