Where are they now? Bills we followed this session (Part 2)

Photo by Joanna Poe / CC BY-A 2.0
Photo by Joanna Poe / CC BY-A 2.0

Last week on the blog, we talked about what happened with key bills related to education and criminal justice in this year’s legislative session. In this post, we’ll look at what happened around tax breaks, elections reform, and attempts to call for a U.S. constitutional convention.

Tax Reform

  • At OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit, presenters from the Pew Charitable Trust previewed a project they had been working on with Governor Fallin’s administration to recommend a process for evaluating Oklahoma’s numerous tax breaks to see if they are justified and working as intended. That effort culminated in the passage of SB 806, which instructs lawmakers to include a statement of one or more measurable goals for any tax incentive created in 2016 or later, as well as HB 2182, which creates a commission tasked with evaluating all tax incentives on the books at least once every four years. Neither of these bills affected any tax breaks currently on the books, so they did not help with this year’s budget shortfall. They may help Oklahoma rein in unnecessary tax breaks down the line, but that still depends on lawmakers taking action based on the commission’s findings.
  • Lawmakers did take action to end a couple of tax breaks for wind power facilities. SB 498 ends eligibility for the five-year ad valorem manufacturing exemption for new wind power facilities, effective January 2017, and SB 502 prohibits wind power facilities from claiming a tax credit under the Investment/New Jobs program. Earlier this year, we shared a series of four posts by advocates debating for and against tax incentives for the wind industry. Our Director David Blatt also discussed how wind power incentives were being treated very differently from much more expensive tax breaks for oil and gas production.
  • Despite a lot of rhetoric this session about getting a handle on tax breaks, one potentially large, completely unproven tax giveaway made it far in the Legislative process. HB 1747 would give a five-year exemption from the personal income tax to anyone who relocates to a county within Oklahoma that is projected to have population declines. In a couple of posts, we explained how the tax break could become just another giveaway for behavior that would have happened anyway and showed that a very similar program in Kansas is failing to turn around population declines. Versions of the bill were approved in both the House and Senate, but conference committees were unable to come to an agreement on final language.


Early in the session, Senator David Holt introduced an ambitious package of nine voting and elections reform bills. His proposals included several of the recommendations in our report on Repairing Oklahoma’s Broken Democracy, where we described growing signs of a breakdown of electoral participation in Oklahoma. By the end of the session, just a few of these reforms made it into law. While the most ambitious ideas didn’t make it through this year, Oklahoma made positive steps to encourage voter participation and improve our election system.

  • Perhaps the most significant of Sen. Holt’s successful reforms is SB 313, which instructs the Oklahoma Election Board to create a system for Oklahomans to register to vote online. With this law, Oklahoma will join 19 other states offering online registration. A guest post on our blog by government Professor Rachael Cobb discussed the many benefits of online voter registration and its potential to increase voter turnout.
  • Another of Sen. Holt’s proposals that made it into law is SB 312, which consolidates all local candidate elections to single cycles in the spring or fall. By combining local races into just a few dates every year, the bill seeks to help voters know when to expect an election and avoid the extremely low-turnout elections that can happen when only one minor local office is on the ballot.
  • A couple of election reforms beyond those introduced by Sen. Holt also made it into law this year. SB 173 by Sen. Jack Fry eliminates the 20-ballot limit for a single notary public to notarize absentee ballots an individual notary public can approve, though it maintains the limit for notary publics working at public assistance or Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
  • HB 2181 by House Speaker Jeff Hickman reduces the number of registered voters’ signatures required to get a third party on the ballot from 5% to 3% of the most recent gubernatorial election. Oklahoma’s high barriers to third parties has meant that Oklahoma has been the only state in the nation to limit voters to just two choices from President for several elections. Oklahoma’s Libertarian and Green parties announced they will be launching a joint signature drive to get candidates from both parties on the ballot for the 2016 elections.

Constitutional Convention

This year a push by former Senator Tom Coburn and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) tried to get the Legislature to call for a new U.S. Constitutional Convention. Those working for a Constitutional Convention seek to enact a balanced budget amendment, federal term limits, and other changes to the Constitution. We warned that once a Convention is called, neither the states nor Congress have the power to limit its actions, creating the risk of destabilizing the nation’s entire founding document and system of government. Calls for a Constitutional Convention were introduced as SB 53/SJR 4 and HB 1804/HJR 1018, but none of the bills or resolutions made it through both chambers. They could potentially return next session, and Rep. Gary Banz has requested an interim study to continue pushing this issue.

And The Rest…

Unlike many previous years, Oklahoma did not see many bills this session to impose harsh restrictions on immigrants or open new holes in the safety net for low-income Oklahomans. The few bills that did try to do that this session did not make it far in the Legislative process. Lawmakers also made positive reforms in a number of areas, including criminal justice, elections, and oversight of tax breaks.

Unfortunately, this year’s successes were overshadowed by a large and growing budget crisis. The budget approved by lawmakers this year continues Oklahoma’s repeated years of severe budget cuts or flat funding that is doing serious damage to our prosperity, security, and quality of life. They also allowed another tax cut to take effect in 2016 that will add hundreds of millions to our budget shortfall while providing just $29 to the average Oklahoma family. Next year, we hope to continue the state’s progress in key policy reforms, but most importantly, we need a more responsible budget approach that finds the money to invest in making those policies work.

Learn More // Do More


Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.