The 1st session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature has adjourned, and the deadline is passed for Governor Fallin to sign or veto bills. Out of 2,450 bills introduced since the beginning of session, just 411 bills, or about 17 percent, made it into law. Governor Fallin vetoed 14 bills, and the rest remain dormant or were defeated in the Legislature.
Each year after the session wraps up, we provide a summary of what happened to legislation that we discussed during the year (see 2011 and 2012). Besides the state budget bill, which you can learn more about here, here’s how this year’s crop of bills fared:
This year’s income tax debate began with two competing proposals in the Senate and House. The Senate bill, SB 585, would have lowered the top income tax rate to 4.75 percent in 2015, while restricting or eliminating a number of tax credits and deductions. The initial House plan, based on a proposal by Governor Fallin to cut the top rate immediately to 5 percent without making any changes to tax credits or exemptions, was put forward as HB 2032. After the Senate plan was defeated 11-2 in a House committee, disputes between the two Chambers threatened to derail the tax cut entirely, much like what happened at the end of last year. However, they were able to agree on a compromise that delays tax cuts until 2015, reduces the top rate to 5 percent initially and 4.85 percent if revenues grow enough in 2016. The final bill also allocated funds to make repairs to the state Capitol building, which has opened it up to a court challenge for violating the single-subject rule.
A separate proposal by Sen. Patrick Anderson, SB 240, would have replaced Oklahoma’s current income tax brackets with a flat tax of 2.95 percent and eliminated all deductions, credits, and exemptions. We explained how it would be a large tax increase for low to moderate income families, to pay for a tax cut on upper incomes.
SB 431 by Sen. Mike Mazzei would have permanently repealed Oklahoma’s franchise tax, which provides a “backstop” to ensure that corporations exploiting loopholes to avoid paying income taxes still pay something to support public services. It passed the Senate but was not heard on the House floor, which means that the franchise tax, which has been suspended the past three years, will go back into effect on July 1st.
HJR 1011 by Rep. Elise Hall would have changed the state constitution to lower the amount by which legislative appropriations can grow from one year to the next. We explained why this bill was a solution in search of a problem, and it could create new problems by preventing Oklahoma from rebounding after a recession. The Joint Resolution passed a House committee, but it was not allowed a vote on the House or Senate floor. A pair of proposals in HB 2195 and SJR 10 by House Speaker TW Shannon and Sen. Josh Brecheen would create a debt limit for Oklahoma by restricting how much the state could borrow through bonds. We explained why the proposals to limit Oklahoma’s debt could actually make it more expensive, and why running government like a business means taking on debt. HB 2195 ultimately passed and was signed by Governor Fallin. The final version limits debt service payments to 5 percent of General Revenues, just slightly above Oklahoma’s current payments of 4.2 percent.
HB 1063 by Rep. Mark McCullough sought to suspend most of Oklahoma’s home visiting programs for pregnant women and young children. In a guest post for the OK Policy Blog, Paul Shinn explained that these programs are proven to reduce child abuse, improve childen’s development, and are worth preserving. The bill was approved in the House Public Health committee but never made it to the House floor, but legislators said they would form a working group to assess the programs. HB 1552, also by Rep. McCullough, would move the entire statewide Medicaid population, including seniors and persons with disabilities who are receiving long-term care, into managed care plans. We explained why how Oklahoma had already tried this idea on a smaller scale in the past, and it didn’t work. The bill passed the House with the title removed, but did not receive a hearing in a Senate committee.
Out of numerous bill targeting low-income Oklahomans introduced at the beginning of session, five were signed into law. HB 1909 by Speaker Shannon backed Oklahoma out of a federal waiver that had allowed Oklahomans in areas where the unemployment rate was 10 percent or higher to receive food stamps without meeting the 20 hour work requirement. The bill initially would have established a work requirement of 35 hour to receive food stamps, but it was pared back after lawmakers realized it would violate federal law. SB 667 prohibited the use of food stamp cards at gaming establishments, liquor stores, and strip clubs. SB 887 by Sen. David Holt makes it a crime to transfer food stamps to anyone who was not the original recipient.
HB 1792 by Rep. Mike Christian allows law enforcement to seize the license plate of anyone driving without mandatory minimum insurance. Drivers must pay $125 to retrieve the license, and until they purchase coverage, they are automatically enrolled in an “Oklahoma Temporary Motorist Liability Plan” requiring payments to be made to the county sheriff. HB 1908 by Speaker Shannon diverts funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to pay for an advertising campaign to promote marriage. We previously explained why marriage promotion won’t end poverty.
A few bills targeting the poor didn’t make it through the Legislature. SB 959 by Sen. Rob Standridge, which would have required law enforcement officers to ask people arrested for possession of a controlled substance if they currently receive TANF, food stamps, Medicaid, or house assistance. HB 2014 by Rep. Sean Roberts would have made drug felons ineligible to receive food stamps for life. HB 2017 would made families save more than $5,000 ineligible for food stamps.
HB 2057 by Rep. Scott Inman would have required private businesses that provide debit cards for distributing public benefits to report how much they were receiving in fees from Oklahomans using the cards. We discussed how the state’s move to send out debit cards instead of paper checks is pushing new fees onto low income Oklahomans. The bill passed the House and Senate but died in conference committee.
A guest blog by Zachary Knight discussed HB 2134 and SB 668, two bills that would reduce the required number of signatures for a third party candidate to get on the ballot in Oklahoma. Neither bill was allowed a vote on the House floor. Another guest post by Sapulpa Superintendent Kevin Burr discussed a bill to allow teachers to bring guns to the classroom. HB 1062 by Rep. Mark McCullough passed the House but was not given a vote in a Senate committee.