Pictured: Save Women's Sports Bill Signing
Legislation Moving through Oklahoma Legislature
By Steve ByasThe deadline for lawmakers to submit legislation for the Second Regular Session of the 58th Legislature was January 20. The Oklahoma House of Representatives filed 1,482 bills, 18 House Joint Resolutions, and 2 House Concurrent Resolutions for the 2022 session. In addition, 1,656 House Bills and 45 House Joint Resolutions remain eligible for consideration from last year. Members of the Oklahoma State Senate filed 774 Senate Bills and 23 Senate Joint Resolutions for the legislative session. The Senate bills and resolutions are in addition to the 771 bills and 25 SJRs carried over from the previous session.
After legislation is filed, it had to be reported out of Committee in the chamber of origin (House or Senate) by March 3rd. The deadline for Third Reading (and passage) of Bills in the Chamber of Origin was March 17. If approved in the chamber of origin, legislation had to be reported out of Committee in the opposite chamber by April 14. The Deadline for Third Reading of Bills from the Opposite Chamber was April 28. These deadlines do not apply to appropriations bills. Resolutions and Concurrent Resolutions can be filed throughout the session. Upon a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the membership of both chambers, a measure can be exempt from all cutoff dates in both chambers. Legislation must receive final approval in both chambers by the end of the session which must occur no later than May 27 . Here is a look at just a few of the bills.
Save Women’s Sports Act
Senate Bill 2, also known as the Save Women’s Sports Act, prohibits anyone of the male sex from playing on athletic teams designated for females, women, or girls. The legislation, by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin), evolved after males, claiming to be females, began to be allowed to compete in women’s sports. Recently, transgender athlete Lia Thomas dominated the NCAA women’s swimming championships. Previously known as Will Thomas, the swimmer had the benefit of higher testosterone levels, enhanced lung capacity, and larger hands and feet, lending to increased strength and a distinct advantage against biological females in the competition.
In the Senate debate on the bill, Sen. Bergstrom shared that he is passionate about this issue because of his daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters who have and will compete in women’s sports. “We must protect our female students across this state from losing out on educational opportunities and scholarships because they are competing against men identifying as women,” Bergstrom said. “How is it fair for our children – our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and cousins – to compete against someone who has a very distinct biological advantage over them? The bottom line is it isn’t, and we must address this issue now and protect our female students from men infiltrating women’s sports programs.”
The bill originally passed the Senate on March 1, 2021. It was amended and passed the House 73-19 on April 19, 2021 and was returned the Senate. This year, the Senate approved the House amendments and passed the bill 37-7on March 24, 2022. It was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on March 30, 2022.
On April 12, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 612 giving Oklahoma the most restrictive abortion law among the states. The new law makes it a felony to perform an abortion. If convicted, a doctor would face up to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine. “I promised Oklahomans that I would sign every pro-life bill that hit my desk, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” the governor said. “We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.” The pro-life bill bans all abortions in Oklahoma except if the mother’s life is at risk.
The Senate passed the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), last year, but it was not acted on by the House. The vote was 38-9 on March 10, 2021. On April 5 of this year, it passed the House 70-14, with only one Republican, state Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa) joining Democrats in voting against it.
About 4,000 unborn babies are aborted every year in Oklahoma, with more women coming from Texas for abortions since the Texas heartbeat law went into effect last September. Stitt said the bill “will take care” of Texans crossing state borders to obtain abortions. SB612 goes into effect on the 91st day after the Legislature adjourns sine die.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood pledged to challenge the law. Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said that he looks forward to “defending this law” from the anticipated legal challenges.
Consumer Energy Choice Act
The Consumer Energy Choice Act prohibits cities, towns, and counties from adopting rules that limit consumer access to energy sources. Senate Bill 1352 was authored by Sen. Zack Taylor, (R-Seminole) and Rep. Brad Boles (R-Marlow). “Oklahomans have the right to quality and affordable energy options, and no municipality should be able to stand in the way of this choice,” Taylor said. “This measure protects consumer options and expands access to all fuel and energy types available.”
“Energy policies should be determined at the state level,” Boles said. “Oklahomans should not have their fuel choices that power their vehicles limited by the government. We should let the free market work according to consumer demands, and consumers should have affordable energy sources of their choice..”
The legislation prevents a patchwork of energy regulation within Oklahoma, which other states are struggling to address after some cities and counties across the country have banned certain types of fuel, creating confusion for energy companies trying to offer services and consumers wishing to access those services.
The measure passed the Senate 38-6 on March 24, 2022 and the House 77-5 on April 19. It was approved by Gov. Stitt on April 21, 2022.
Large-scale Economic Activity and Development Act
House Bill 4455 creates the Large-scale Economic Activity and Development (LEAD) Act of 2022, aimed at securing a massive manufacturing facility to Oklahoma which will create a minimum of 4,000 direct jobs. The facility is believed to be a Panasonic Vehicle Battery Plant. Once indirect jobs are factored in, that number could more than double, to up to10,000 jobs. Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) is the Senate principal author of the measure. The House author is Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston), chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Sen. Thompson said the Legislature would frontload $698 million into the LEAD fund. In order for a company to receive the 17 percent rebate payment, which would be disbursed at a rate of 3.4 percent a year for five years, the company would have to make a minimum capital investment of $3.6 billion, and create a minimum of 500 jobs the first year, 1,000 by the second year, 2,500 by the third year, then 4,000 by the fourth year, and must maintain them into year five. The legislation also establishes metrics for a subsidiary company to receive rebates, which include a minimum capital investment of $500 million.
The measure passed the House 81-17 on April 19, 2022, and the Senate 41-5 and April 21, 2022. It was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt on April 25, 2022.
No Nonbinary Birth Certificates
Senate Bill 1100, by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Sheila Dills (R-Tulsa), prohibits the designation of “nonbinary” as an option on birth certificates issued by Oklahoma. The legislation codifies that the biological sex designation be listed as either male or female, outlawing the use of “X” or any other symbol to represent a nonbinary designation. People who consider themselves nonbinary do not identify as either male or female. The issue surfaced in the state last year when Gov. Kevin Stitt directed the Oklahoma State Department of Health to stop amending birth certificates to show nonbinary as the sex of the person.
“This measure is a direct response to our state’s health department adding nonbinary as an option on birth certificates,” Bergstrom said, “How has our society sunk so low that it is seriously an argument if someone is a boy or a girl?” Rep. Dills said, “People are free to believe whatever they want about their identity, but science has determined people are either biologically male or female at birth,” Rep. Dills said. “We want clarity and truth on official state documents. Information should be based on established medical fact and not an ever-changing social dialogue.”
The measure passed the Senate 38-7 on March 24, 2022, and the House 75-16 on April 21, 2022. It was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt on April 26, 2022.
School Freedom Legislation
The Oklahoma Empowerment Act (Senate Bill 1647), by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), failed to advance on a 22-24 vote on March 23, 2022. This was the boldest attempt to enact School Freedom legislation in Oklahoma. It would have provided an Oklahoma Empowerment Account for most students eligible to enroll in a public school, which could be used to pay for a range of education services, including private school tuition. The base funding provided would be $3,619 per student. The bill was opposed by the state teacher’s union, the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), which mounted an intense lobbying effort against the bill.
Teacher Shortage in Oklahoma
Senate Bill 1119, by Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) and Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew), would help adjunct and highly-qualified substitute teachers fill the void created by the teacher shortage. The legislation would remove the 270-hour limitation that adjunct teachers may teach per semester in a classroom. The measure passed the Senate 35-9on March 23, 2022 and the House 68-25 on April 26, 2022 and was sent to the Governor for consideration.
Protect Firearm Entities
House Bill 3144, by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) and Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt), would disallow the state of Oklahoma to contract with any company that discriminates against the firearms industry. “This is a constitutionally protected industry, and the majority of Oklahomans are very much in favor of protecting Second Amendment rights,” West said. “Yet there are those in the firearms business being discriminated against based solely on the nature of their product.” West said a 2013 program codenamed Operation Chokepoint under the Obama Administration, aimed to deny “disfavored” industries essential services such as banking, payment processing, and insurance. The firearms industry was the primary target of the operation. While the program was ended by the Trump Administration in 2016, West said many of America’s largest companies have since privatized the effort.
West said this was one of the pieces of legislation that came out of an interim study he held last summer, which examined ways to attract firearms manufacturers to locate in the state. The legislation was requested by the firearms industry trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and is supported by the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
The measure provides that a governmental entity may not enter into a contract with a company for the purchase of goods or services unless the contract contains a written verification from the company that it does not have a practice, policy, guidance, or directive that discriminates against a firearm entity or firearm trade association based solely on firearms. The bill further specifies that the company will not discriminate during the term of the contract.
The measure passed the House 72-17 on March 23,2022. It was amended and passed the Senate 37-8 on April 27, 2022 and returned to the House for consideration of the amended version.
Eliminating State Grocery Sales Tax
Senate Bill 1495, by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), effectively eliminates the state grocery tax by lowering the rate from 4.5 percent to zero percent. The bill does not prohibit cities or counties from levying their own grocery tax. “The grocery tax is a regressive tax that harms working families the most, and eliminating this tax has the potential to save working families hundreds of dollars each year, ” said Treat.
Just 13 states, including Oklahoma and nearby Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, levy a state grocery sales tax. If approved, Oklahoma would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in exempting groceries from sales taxes.
The measure passed the Senate 45-1 on March 23, 2022. It was amended and passed the House 89-1 on April 28, 2022 and returned to the Senate for consideration of the amendments.
Under Senate Bill 1541, Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond), anyone operating an autonomous vehicle must have an approved public safety and law enforcement interaction plan with the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS). Additionally, the bill puts in place standards for how these vehicles can safely operate. Nineteen states have created explicit regulations enabling driverless deployment, while 22 more allow autonomous vehicle testing through either legislation, executive order or other policy. Twelve other states have adopted language similar to the bills. The bill is supported by the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association.
“Oklahoma is the only state on the I-40 corridor that isn’t already allowing AVs. That places our state at an economic and public safety disadvantage,” Rosino said. “With approximately 300,000 completely autonomous commercial deliveries that have already been made without incident, we know this is safe. This legislation will make sure we know who is operating AVs and make sure they have proper insurance and safety protocols.
Senate Bill 1541 passed the Senate 44-1 on March 7, 2022 and the House 84-0 on April 27, 2022 and was sent to the Governor for consideration.
Voter ID Constitutional Amendment
Senate Joint Resolution 48, by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka), would send to a vote of the people a legislative referendum to add the voter identification requirement currently in state statute to the Oklahoma Constitution. The measure would maintain the Legislature’s ability to enact bills to specify the requirements for proof of identity for voting.
“Putting voter identification requirements that currently are only in statute into the state Constitution safeguards the integrity of our election process for generations to come. Adding voter ID requirements to the Constitution also can aid in increasing voter turnout by assuring Oklahomans their votes will be counted, and that our elections will continue to be safe and secure,” said Treat. The measure passed the Senate 41-7 on March 22, 2022. It received a Do Pass from the House Rules Committee on April 12, 2022 and awaited action by the full House.
Only U.S. Citizens/State Residents Vote
Senate Joint Resolution 27, by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair)and Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), would clarify that only citizens of the United States are eligible to participate in elections. “We must protect the integrity of the ballot,” Bergstrom said. “In addition to the attacks by liberals on such basic requirements as requiring a valid form of identification to vote, there is now a concerted effort to undermine the value of citizens’ votes by allowing non-citizens to vote in elections. This ballot initiative simply says that only U.S. citizens who are residents of Oklahoma may vote in Oklahoma elections.” The measure seeks to amend Section 1 of Article 23 of the Oklahoma Constitution to clarify voting qualifications. If approved by both chambers, SJR 27 would be placed on the November 2022 general election ballot. The measure passed the Senate 37- 7 March 23, 2022 and received a Do Pass from the House Rules Committee on April 12, 2022 and awaited action by the full House.
Voting Integrity Bills
Rep. Eric Roberts (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow) authored three voting integrity bills designed to make the election process more secure, reliable and efficient.
House Bill 3364 requires online absentee ballot requests to include identification in addition to a voter’s name and birth date. Identification may include their driver’s license number, state identification number, or the last four of their Social Security number. Under the bill, voters who registered prior to the requirement for additional identification information may submit a paper absentee ballot request or reregister to vote with the additional identification. It passed the House 77-18 March 9, 2022. It was amended and passed the House 37-8 on April 28, 2022 and was returned to the Senate for consideration of the amended version.
House Bill 3365 requires the cancellation of the voter registration if the associated driver’s license was surrendered to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety upon the voter being issued a driver’s license in another state. It also adds a new group of voters to the address confirmation process, which is performed in odd-numbered years. Voters with the same address of residence as five or more other voters will be sent an address confirmation.
The bill also requires voter registration cards be mailed to the physical registration address if the address is valid for mail delivery. If the physical address is not valid for mail delivery, then the designated mailing address will continue to be used. If voter registration cards are returned as undeliverable, then the voter will be required to complete an address confirmation before receiving a ballot in the next eligible election that they vote in. The measure passed the House 76 -13 on March 14, 2022. It was amended and passed the House 37-8 on April 28, 2022 and was returned to the Senate for consideration of the amended version.
House Bill 3366 requires that Oklahoma death certificates include the last four of the decedent’s Social Security number and either their driver’s license number or state identification number. The addition of identification greatly increases the accuracy of matching. The voter registration cannot be removed unless a definite match for the death certificate is located. The measure passed the House 71-13 on March 15, 2022. It was sent to the Senate, but no action was taken.
Investigate Election Fraud
House Bill 2974, authored by Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) and Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair), requires the Oklahoma State Election Board to perform an annual query to determine how many individuals are registered at the same residential address. If more than ten registered voters share a single residential address, the State Election Board must provide a list to the secretary of the county election board who will notify the county’s district attorney to investigate for potential criminal violations. The query, which would be performed by June 1 each year, exempts voters registered at nursing homes, veterans centers, medical facilities and multiunit housing, as well as uniformed or overseas voters.
“This is what Oklahomans all over the state are asking for – they’re wanting more election integrity,” Olsen said while debating in favor of the bill. The measure passed the House 66-23 on March 8. It was amended and passed the 34-9 Senate on April 26, 2022 and was returned to he House for consideration of the amendments..
Involuntary Denial of Food and Fluids
Senate Bill 1596, by Sen. Brent Howard (R-Altus) and Rep. Preston Stinson (R-Edmond), would modify the protections which have safeguarded vulnerable individuals from being victims of death by starvation or dehydration against their will. Under the bill, patients could be denied medically assisted feeding and hydration. The legislation authorizes health care providers to “decline to comply with an individual instruction or health care decision that requires health care contrary to generally accepted standards.”
Many in the medical community hold that under “generally accepted health care standards” individuals with what is regarded as an inadequate “quality of life” ought not be provided life-preserving treatment despite its being directed by the patient or the patient’s agent or surrogate. The measure passed the Senate 41-3 on March 15, 2022 and the House 84-3 on April 26, 2022 and was sent to the Governor for consideration.
Oklahoma Heartbeat Act
Senate Bill 1503, by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and Rep. Todd Russ (R-Cordell), creates the Oklahoma Heartbeat Act, which would allow a private civil action to be brought against anyone performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, except in a medical emergency. The bill is nearly identical to the Texas heartbeat law, which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to go into effect. That law has significantly reduced abortions in the state of Texas. “The Texas law has already saved the lives of many unborn children. We can achieve the same result in Oklahoma with SB 1503,” Daniels said. The measure passed 33-11on March 10, 2022 and the House 68-12 on April 28, 2022 and was sent to the Governor for consideration..
Abortion Lawsuit Bill
House Bill 4327, by Rep. Wendi Stearman (R-Collinsville) and Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), provides for civil lawsuits against those who performs an abortion, much like the Texas heartbeat law. However, this bill goes one step further and sets the abortion restriction at conception, rather than when a heartbeat is detected. It also provides for civil lawsuits against anyone who knowingly engages in conduct to aid or abet an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the cost of an abortion through insurance or otherwise. It passed the House by a vote of 78 to 19 on March 22. It was amended and passed the Senate 35-10 on April 28, 20222 and was returned to the House for consideration of the amendments.
Right to Garden Act
House Bill 2979, by Rep. Rick West (R-Heavener) and Sen. George Burns (R-Pollard), creates the Oklahoma Right to Garden Act and prohibits local governments from regulating gardens on residential properties. The measure does not preclude local governments from regulating water use, fertilizer use or control of invasive species.
“The right to grow food for yourself or your family regardless of where you live is a primal right that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and it should not be prohibited by esthetics, discrimination or governments,” West said. “This has never been more important as people are experiencing very real food shortages with major supply chain issues, and the price of fuel and inflation are driving up prices at the grocery store.”
West said while no municipality currently in Oklahoma prevents the right to grow a family garden, he’s not convinced regulations or prohibitions couldn’t come in the future. He’s especially concerned about potential federal overreach in this area with the rise in concerning executive orders from the Biden Administration. The measure passed the House 51-43 on March 21, 2022. After it went to the Senate, it failed in the House Rules Committee on April 13, 2022.