Oklahoma Legislature Considers Legislation
Article V Convention of the States
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) won approval of two measures that call for amending the U.S. Constitution. Bergstrom is the Senate principal author of House Joint Resolution 1017 and House Joint Resolution 1032, which were approved by the full Senate on April 20. Each resolution submits an official application to Congress to call an Article V Convention of the States to consider proposed amendments to the constitution. For the convention to be held, 34 states must mush make calls for it. Amendments approved by the convention would need to be approved by 38 states, just like amendments submitted by the U.S. Congress. While the legislators submitting both measures are no doubt well-intentioned, there are problems associated with calling for a constitutional convention. See the column by Steve Byas elsewhere in this edition of The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.
HJR 1032 by Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) submits an official application to Congress to call an Article V Convention of the States to establish congressional term limits. “Americans, and especially Oklahomans, are fed up with career politicians on Capitol Hill. Recent polls show that more than 80 percent of voters support term limits for members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives,” Bergstrom said. The proposal was passed by the House 59-34 on March 21 and the Senate 31-11 on April 20. It was sent to the governor.
HJR 1017 by Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) is the reauthorization of a call for a balanced budget amendment. The existing authorization expires at the end of this year. “The runaway spending in Washington has consequences. Too many to list, but one day there will be a reckoning and it will be our children, our grandchildren and our economy that will pay the price,” Bergstrom said. Critics note that balancing the budget can be done by cutting spending or raising taxes. It passed the House 72-21 March 22 and the Senate 34-9 on April 20. It was sent to the governor.
Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act
Senate Bill 404 by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) establishes the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act which deems any exclusion of a person or entity from participation in or receipt of governmental funds, benefits, programs, or exemption based solely on religious character or affiliation. Democrats opposing the bill said that if it becomes law, it could open the door for state-funded religious charter schools. Recently, state AG Gentner Drummond retracted an opinion from his predecessor which would have allowed for state-funded religious charter schools. It passed the Senate 38-7 on March 7 and the House 64-27 on April 25. It was sent to the governor for consideration on April 26.
Women’s Bill of Rights
House Bill 1449, the Women’s Bill of Rights, authored by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) and Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) clarifies how people of both biological sexes are treated under state law by defining “sex” as a person’s biological sex, whether male or female, at birth. It forbids unfair sex discrimination, but allows for recognition of the differences between sex on issues related to biology, privacy, safety or fairness. “There are legitimate reasons to distinguish between the sexes in places like on the sports field, prisons, locker rooms, restrooms and domestic violence shelters,” Hasenbeck said. The measure clarifies that “equal” in reference to sex will not be construed to mean same or identical and that differentiating between the sexes will not necessarily be construed as treating the sexes unequally.
Several Democrats criticized the bill. Rep. Jared Deck (D-Norman) said this bill doesn’t provide protections for all Oklahomans. “Statistically speaking, there are thousands of Oklahomans who were born with intersex traits. HB 1449 excludes protections for those folks and could forces families to reveal private medical information merely to use a bathroom.” Deck said. Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City), the first non-binary member of the Legislature, said: “It is not the government’s job to legislate your identity. We cannot legislate two-spirit, transgender, non-binary folks out of existence – just one where we cannot live in. We deserve the same rights as all other Oklahomans.”
It passed the House 76-19. It was amended and received a Reported Do Pass from Senate General Government Committee and awaited a vote in the full Senate.
Gender Transition Services for Minors
House Bill 2177 was authored by Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore), Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), and Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant). It would prohibit healthcare professionals from providing, attempting to provide or providing a referral for puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and gender reassignment surgeries for minors. “This legislation is about protecting our children from those who would seek to profit from their gender confusion,” West said. “As a state, we must not be partner to irreversible health practices that permanently change the bodies of our children before they are of an age where they can fully understand the consequences of their decisions.” The legislation allows exceptions for minors with a medically verifiable disorder. The bill also prohibits insurance coverage for gender transition services performed within the state on any minor or adult. “Common sense tells us that the decisions people make as a teenager may be shortsighted and later regretted, especially in regard to a major action like these irreversible procedures,” Olsen said. “Even one child who undergoes a life-altering procedure and later laments their decision is one too many.” The measure, which would go into effect immediately upon being signed into law, but grants a six-month time period to taper off any minor currently on hormone therapy. It passed the House 80-18 on February 28, but failed to get a hearing in the two Senate committees that it was assigned before the legislative deadline.
Banning Gender Transition of Children
Senate Bill 613 by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and Rep. Toni Hasenback (R-Elgin) prohibits any healthcare provider from providing gender transition procedures to any child. Any person found to have violated this prohibition shall be guilty of a felony and subject to license revocation, a fine not to exceed $100,000.00, and/or a term of imprisonment not to exceed 10 years. The measure also provides that the parent or legal guardian of a child subjected to gender transition procedures may bring a civil action against the healthcare provider who provided such treatment. The child who received the procedure may also bring an action upon reaching the age of majority. The court is authorized to award compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, or any other appropriate relief. It passed the Senate 40-8 on February 15. It was amended and passed the House 73-18 on April 26. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Protecting PreK-5 Students from Sexual Content
House Bill 2546 by Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) and Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) would prohibit any classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades preK-5. Any classroom instruction on these topics in grades 6-12 must be age appropriate for students. “Conversations about a young child’s sexual orientation or gender are best addressed between the child and their parents,” O’Donnell said. O’Donnell said a parent could still choose to involve an educator in these discussions, but the measure would preclude broader classroom instruction on these matters. O’Donnell said the bill is similar to Florida’s Parental Rights Act passed last year. It passed the House 79-19 on March 21, but failed to get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee before the legislative deadline.
Rate Books in Public School Libraries
Senate Bill 397 by Sen. Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) and Rep. Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle) would establish a system to rate books in public schools and libraries. “This bill will further efforts to protect children in Oklahoma by only allowing them to access books from libraries that are appropriate for their age,” Hamilton said. Books would be organized into sections labeled elementary, junior high, Under 16 or juniors and seniors. Hamilton said the ultimate goal is to protect young children from inappropriate reading material and give parents peace of mind that their kids cannot access adult content. Certain materials would only be available to a student if he or she has presented a librarian, teacher, or other school staff with written consent from a parent or legal guardian. The House author. It was amended and passed the House 69-13 on April 27. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Civil Rights School Curriculum
House Bill 1397, authored by Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Tulsa) and Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) would require the State Department of Education to develop a curriculum about the civil rights movement from 1954 to 1968, the natural law and natural rights principles, and the tactics of non-violent resistance employed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The course may be taught as a stand-alone unit, or integrated into pre-existing course work. There shall be an additional unit of instruction studying other acts of discriminatory injustice, such as genocide, committed elsewhere around the globe. Most Democrats opposed the bill because the time frame excludes 1619 and other periods associated with slavery. Some conservatives also opposed the bill for other reasons. It passed the House 55-42 on March 22 and the Senate 35-9 on April 25. It was sent to the governor on April 26 for consideration.
Education Tax Credits
House Bill 1935 by House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) would create the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act. The tax credit could be used by parents with a household income of less than $250,000.00 whose child is enrolled in a private school program accredited by the State Department of Education. Parents may use the income tax credit for expenses related to such enrollment and beginning July 1, 2023. The credit awarded to each individual is capped at $7,500.00 per student for those enrolled in private schooling and $1,000.00 for homeschooled students. It passed the House 75-25 on February 22 and was amended and passed the Senate 40-7 on March 30. The Senate amendments were rejected on April 17 and a Conference Committee was named to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Fentanyl Testing Strips
House Bill 1987 by Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) would exclude drug testing strips for fentanyl or fentanyl related compounds from being classified as drug paraphernalia. “Fentanyl testing strips are an easy, smart way to give people at risk of fentanyl exposure more information to help keep them safe,” Rep. Dollens said. “These strips are reliable and can be a real lifesaver, providing users with a simple way to check for the presence of fentanyl. By testing for the drug, people can take steps to protect themselves and reduce their risk of overdose and death.” In 2019, there were 47 fentanyl overdose deaths. In 2022, the number of deaths skyrocketed to 300, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN). It passed the House 58-22 on March 23 and the Senate 45-0 on April 25. It was sent to the governor on April 26 for consideration.
Penalties for Controlled Dangerous Substances
Senate Bill 108 by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow) would help communities confront the growing issue of illegal drugs in Oklahoma while at the same time providing options for those who are trapped by addiction. The bill amends the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act and reforms criminal law related to drug possession. “Throughout my district I have had community leaders describe the damage being done to individuals, families and communities by drugs, whether it’s meth, heroin or prescription opioids,” Bergstrom said. “They point to the weakening of the law in 2016 that made possession of these dangerous drugs a misdemeanor.”
Bergstrom pointed out that addictions don’t tend to decrease over time but usually worsen. “Because of that, those with addictions are more likely to make destructive choices as the addiction worsens, whether stealing to fund their needs, damaging relationships, or, worse, putting others, like children, in danger,” Bergstrom said. “My legislation strengthens penalties for repeat drug offenders who refuse to get help while recognizing the root of these crimes by requiring access to rehabilitation programs for those who want to escape this downward cycle.” The legislation provides that three or more convictions for dangerous drugs, not marijuana, can see the charge escalate to a felony. However, a way to avoid the felony conviction would be to complete a program such as drug court or drug rehabilitation. The bill passed the Senate 36-9 on March 22. It was amended and passed the House 71-11 on April 26. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Under 16 to Wear a Seat Belts
Senate Bill 681 by Sen. Roland Pederson (R-Burlington) and Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow) would require any backseat passenger that is 16 years old or younger to wear a properly fastened seat belt. “Oklahoma is the only state that does not require children over the age of 8 to wear seat belts in the backseat,” Pederson said. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children. The National Highway Safety Office reported that in 2020, 38% of children under 12 who were killed in crashes were not buckled. It passed the Senate 27-17 on March 21. It received a Do Pass from the House Public Safety Committee and awaited a vote in the full House.
Contraceptive Drugs and Treatments
Senate Bill 368 by Senator Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) and Rep. Toni Hasenback (R-Elgin) specifies that the laws in this state pertaining to abortion shall not be construed to prohibit, restrict, limit, or otherwise affect the provision of contraceptive drugs, surgeries, or other treatments by a duly authorized healthcare provider. While the bill’s proponents say the bill is intended to protect the use of contraceptive drugs and other healthcare, in reality it would protect abortifacient drugs that are improperly categorized, labeled, and marketed as “contraceptive,” even though they are used to abort a pregnancy. The bill passed the Senate 40-7 on March 22. It was amended and passed the House 90-0 on April 27. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Protect the Use of Internal Combustion Engines
Senate Bill 202 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) would create a protection for the use of internal combustion engines. The bill states that the use of internal combustion engines including those used for technology, equipment, mechanical systems, transportation, or gas-fueled stoves cannot be prohibited by the state of Oklahoma or any of its political subdivisions. “The state of California banned the production of internal combustion engines after the year 2035 in an effort to force a switch to electric cars or `cleaner’ transportation options,” Dahm said. “A week later, fully unaware of the irony, they asked citizens to refrain from charging their electric cars to lessen the strain on the grid.” The bill passed the Senate 32-10 on March 22. It was amended and passed the House 75-17 on April 18. It was returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Data Privacy Bill
Rep. Josh West (R-Grove) and Sen. Brent Howard (R-Altus) refiled legislation that would require consumer consent for all personal data collection and sharing by major technology companies operating in the state. House Bill 1030 would create the Oklahoma Computer Data Privacy Act. “Major technology companies track our every conversation, our spending records, our movements and so much more and then sell that information so it can be used to socially engineer us through marketing manipulation,” West said. “Or worse, this information is used to perpetrate financial crimes against our citizenry and to actively spread mass disinformation.”
West pointed to a National Security Commission’s 700-plus page report that explains how adversaries to the United States are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems to enhance disinformation campaigns and cyber-attacks that identify and target American citizens. Big tech companies, meanwhile, are profiting off of the sale of such personal and private data that is meant to manipulate and coerce behavior. The report revealed that America is ill-prepared for the next decade of technological development, and part of that is due to a lack of governmental action in regulating things like data privacy. The commission recommends legislatures pass meaningful data privacy measures to protect their constituents.
Among other things, the bill would require businesses operating in the state that collect consumers’ personal information to fully disclose the information collected and how it is being used or sold in a clear and conspicuous place and allow consumers to opt in or opt out. The law would apply to businesses with an annual gross revenue of more than $15 million or that share for commercial purposes the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers or that derive 25% or more of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal information.
The bill is a revision of legislation filed the last two years by West and other lawmakers. The previous bills passed the House but failed to advance in the Senate. Three states have enacted comprehensive consumer data privacy laws. Lawmakers have introduced similar bills in eight states this year as well as numerous bills on biometric information, children’s privacy, health data privacy, data broker regulation, and automated employment decision tools.
It passed the House 84-11 March 8. It was sent to the Senate Rules Committee where it failed to receive a hearing, and died in the Senate again this year.
Expand the Open Records Act
Senate Bill 36 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) would expand the Open Records Act to require law enforcement agencies to make publicly available any audio or video recordings taken via unmanned law enforcement vehicles or drones. It passed the Senate 45-0 on March 23. It was sent to the House General Government Committee which failed to take action before the legislative deadline.
Modernize County Clerk Services
Senate Bill 78 by Sen. Joe Newhouse (R-Tulsa) and Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow) would allow certified copies of county land records to be signed, notarized and recorded electronically. Newhouse carried similar legislation last year that was unanimously passed in the Senate but did not receive a floor hearing in the House of Representatives. “This bill would eliminate the inconvenience of physically appearing at the county clerk’s office or waiting for documents to arrive in the mail,” Newhouse said. “It’s time for Oklahoma to catch up with other states that have been doing this for years. It would be more convenient and cost effective for these records to be delivered electronically.” The measure does not require electronic copies, but simply makes them available to any of the state’s 77 county clerks who would like to utilize the service. The fee for an electronically certified copy would be the same as a paper copy. Senate Bill 78 is supported by Tulsa County Clerk Michael Willis and the Oklahoma County Clerks Association. It passed the Senate 44-0 on February 23 and the House 86-0 April 19. It was approved by Gov. Stitt on April 26.
Losing Jobs over Tax Issues
Senate Bill 132 by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) filed and Senate Bill 388 to open the conversation about agencies revoking professional licenses over tax issues. The bill provides that licensing boards may, instead of shall, revoke, suspend, or deny renewal of a licensee upon receiving notification from the Oklahoma Tax Commission that the licensee is not in compliance with the income tax laws of this state. “SB 132 specifically addresses nursing licenses,” Bergstrom said. “However, as the bill proceeds, I am hoping other areas of licensure can be included as well.” Under current law, professionals who end up with an issue at the Oklahoma Tax Commission can find their license revoked. “I’ve helped a couple of nurses in this situation. In one recent case the IRS decided to deny a deduction on a 2017 tax return. Because Oklahoma tax returns are linked to federal returns this resulted in OTC demanding payment as well,” Bergstrom said. “OTC gave the nursing licensing board a timeline to revoke the nurse’s license. She drove to Oklahoma City to pay the taxes yet almost two months later OTC had not released the revoke order and this nurse lost a position that she loved.” It passed the Senate 47-0 on March 22. It was amended and received a Do Pass from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee and was waiting on the vote in the full House.
Firearm Theft Penalties
Senate Bill 859 by Sen. Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) and Rep. John George (R-Newalla) increases the maximum term of imprisonment from two years to five years, as well as the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,500 for the theft of a firearm. It is intended to crack down on firearm thefts. Weaver is a former head of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBNDD) and is a commissioner with a national law enforcement organization aimed at improving public safety, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA). “I can tell you from a career in law enforcement, the chance of a stolen gun getting used in a potentially violent crime is a very real concern, and something we hope to curtail by strengthening our current statutes,” Weaver said. It passed the Senate 45-2 on February 28. It received a Do Pass from the House Judiciary - Criminal Committee and awaited a vote in the full House.
School Safety Risk Assessment
Senate Bill 100 by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee) and Rep. Dick Lowe (R-Amber) requires every school district to undergo a risk and vulnerability assessment from the Oklahoma School Security Institute or a nationally qualified risk assessor by July 1, 2026, and every five years there after. The assessment must include recommendations for improving school security. A district, university or CareerTech must undergo a risk assessment in order to be eligible for an Oklahoma School Security Grant. The grant money must be spent on items recommended by the risk assessor or for providing de-escalation and behavioral threat assessment training to employees. It passed the Senate 44-0 February 28 and was amended and approved by the House 88-0 on April 25. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
School Safety Resource Officer Grants
Senate Bill 101 by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee) and Rep. Dick Lowe (R-Amber) requires the Oklahoma State Department of Education (SDE) to establish the School Resource Officer Grant Program, which would provide rural and underserved schools with startup grants for School Resource Officer (SRO) programs. To qualify for a grant, a public school must employ an SRO or enter into a contract with a local law enforcement agency. It would require 50 percent matching funds, which may be provided in partnership with a local law enforcement agency. The measure requires any SRO participating in the grant program to complete the active shooter emergency response training provided by CLEET. It passed the Senate 45-0 March 13 and was amended and approved by the House 87-1 on April 20. 25. It returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Increase Pay for Poll Workers
Senate Bill 290 by Sen. Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) and Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) would increase pay for election poll workers. “Poll workers are instrumental in ensuring integrity in Oklahoma’s elections and are absolutely essential to the process,” Hamilton said. “But this last election cycle, many counties faced worker shortages. I believe increasing the compensation for these jobs would definitely help address this issue.” Inspectors currently staffing polling places across the state are paid $110 per day, and judges and clerks are paid $100 per day. The bill would increase compensation for election inspectors from $110 to $225 and pay for judges and clerks would double from $100 to $200.”These volunteers spend long days at polling places as they arrive well before the polls open and are still working after they close,” Hamilton said. “A pay increase would not only help attract the workers our counties need, but it’s also a way we can show our appreciation to these individuals who work so hard to ensure an efficient and secure voting process in each of our precincts.” The bill passed the Senate 46-0 on March 14. It was amended and passed the House 83-0 on April 18. It was returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments.
Sharing Voter Information
House Bill 2052 by Rep. Eric Roberts (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) would require multiple protections to be in place before Oklahoma could join into a multistate voter list maintenance organization, such as the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The ERIC has refused to accept the reforms many states are demanding and a number of states have canceled their membership,” These organizations can offer useful data, but we must ensure that Oklahomans’ voter information remains secure before and after entering such an agreement,” Bergstrom said. The legislation also provides a list of instances that would cause Oklahoma to immediately withdraw from an organization. It passed the House 74-19 on March 6. It was amended and passed the Senate 39-5 on April 25. It was returned to the House for consideration of the Senate amendments.
GPS Voter Location for Precinct Accuracy
Senate Bill 426 by Sen. George Burns (R-Pollard) and Rep. Rick West (R- Heavener) gives county election board secretaries authorization to use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to ensure a voter is assigned to the correct precinct. “I’ve heard from some constituents who’ve had trouble with their assigned precincts after redistricting took effect, and I’m sure others across the state have as well,” Burns said. If it becomes law, county election boards would be able to use GPS to determine voters’ precincts beginning this November. “This legislation also ensures registered voters are voting for those who actually represent them. GPS is a very common technology that can be easily used to check the locations of residences to confirm they are in the correct precinct,” Burns said. It passed the Senate 48-0 on March 8. It received a Do Pass from the House Elections and Ethics Committee and was awaiting a vote in the full House.
Voter Registration and Ballots
Housae Bill 2056 by Rep. Eric Roberts (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) would stop voters from registering in the same county for 60 days if they voluntarily cancel their voter registration. This bill also allows ballots to be printed on election day if there is a shortage of ballots. Under this measure, voters could also have their voter registration card delivered to a secondary address if they cannot have mail delivered at their residence “One provision will stop voters from getting around the blackout period in even numbered years between April 1 and August 31. This exists to keep people from switching parties between a primary and a runoff,” Bergstrom said. It passed the House 77-17 on March 6. It was amended by committee substitute in the Senate Judiciary Committee and received a Do Pass. It awaited a vote in the full Senate.
Stop Noncitizen Voting
Senate Bill 377 by Sen. Brent Howard (R-Altus) and Rep. Carl Newton (R-Cherokee) would require the cancellation of the voter registration of anyone who has been excused from jury duty for not being a U.S. citizen. It would require county court clerks to prepare a list each month of everyone who falls into this category and provide that information to their county election board secretary. The secretary would then be required to cancel the registrations of those individuals and report them to the district attorney and the U.S. attorney for that county.”County court clerks are already required to submit monthly notifications of felony convictions to the county election board secretaries, so this will be a similar process.” Howard said. It passed the Senate 45-1 on February 22. It was amended and passed the House 79-14 on April 19. It was returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments. The amendments were rejected on April 25 and a conference committee was requested.
Federal Election Trigger Bill
House Bill 1415 by Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader (R-Piedmont) and Sen. Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) is a trigger bill that would only take effect should federal election laws change in a way that conflicts with state laws. If that happened, Oklahoma elections would be held separately, and federal laws would be followed only during federal elections. “Currently, our state election laws are tied to federal regulations,” Crosswhite Hader said. “As the U.S. Congress continues to look to amend their election process, as is their prerogative, I am concerned about federal overreach in our state elections.” The bill would establish that the Oklahoma attorney general with concurrence of the secretary of the State Election Board would confirm if a trigger has taken place. If or when the action is needed, a committee is to be established within two weeks and make a determination on time, place and manner of election dates for the state within 60 days. The Committee would be made up of four members each appointed by the House and Senate, as well as the state’s attorney general, the chair of the District Attorneys Council, and the governor or a designee. It passed the House 77-20 on March 8,, but failed to get a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee before the legislative deadline.
School Board Elections
Two bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, are similar measures aimed as getting greater participation in School Board elections which are typically held on dates different from regular elections. In contrast to the minuscule turnout in many school board elections in the winter and spring, General Elections see much higher voter numbers. The November 2022 elections, which included statewide races such as governor, drew 50.35 percent of voters. In November 2020, when the presidential race topped the ballot, 69.34 percent of voters turned out.
Senate Bill 244 by Sen. Ally Seifried (R-Claremore) and Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) would place school-board elections on the November general-election ballot. The legislation also would reduce the length of the term served by a school board member on a five-person board from five years to four years. It passed in the Senate 31-15 on March 22, but it failed to get a hearing in the House Common Education Committee by the legislative deadline.
House Bill 1823 by Rep. Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle) and Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee) would move general municipal elections and school board elections to the November ballot in odd-numbered years.
It was defeated in the House 26-67 on March 23.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) opposed both bills, saying the bills would require school board candidates to “compete for time and attention with other general election races” and could lead to “a less informed electorate regarding school board candidates.” The education establishment and teachers unions are currently able to dominate those contests due to the low voter turnout.
No Funds to Higher Education from China
Senate Bill 111 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and Rep. Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle) prohibits institutions of higher education in the state of Oklahoma from accepting funds from individuals or entities affiliated or associated with the Chinese government. “Despite the closure of the `Confucius Institute’ on the University of Oklahoma campus, the Chinese government still maintains ties to OU,” Dahm said. “This bill is an attempt to rid our universities of their influence.” It passed the Senate 37-9 on March 22, but failed to get a hearing in the House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee.
Bonds for Marijuana Growers
Senate Bill 913 by Sen. Darcy Jech (R-Kingfisher) and Rep. Anthony Moore (R-Clinton) requires commercial marijuana growers to hold a $50,000 bond. The bond can be recalled to fund any necessary remediation if that grow operation is abandoned or has its license revoked. “Our state has had many problems with marijuana grows abandoning land and leaving behind a large mess,” Jech said. “This will set a minimum bond amount of $50,000 that can be used to restore the property in the event it is abandoned, or the operation loses its license. Some grows may be required to have a higher bond depending on their reclamation requirements set by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA). Ultimately, this will help clean up valuable farmland that has been harmed by illegal operations and allows OMMA or any other appropriate state agency to recoup costs associated with the cleanup.” Commercial operations may operate without a bond if the licensee has owned the land for at least five years before submitting their application. The bill passed the Senate 42-5 on March 20 and the House 74-15 on April 18. It was approved by Gov. Stitt on April 20.
Marijuana Business Zoning
Senate Bill 801 by Sen. Bill Coleman (R-Ponca City) and Rep. T.J. Marti (R-Broken Arrow) would allow municipalities to modify their standard planning and zoning procedures to determine or forbid certain zones or districts for the operation of new marijuana-licensed premises, medical marijuana businesses, or any other premises where marijuana or its by-products are cultivated, processed, stored, or manufactured starting Nov. 1, 2023. “After State Question 788 passed, there was language that kind of muddied the waters as to what municipalities could or couldn’t do,” Coleman explained. “Senate Bill 801 clearly states that a city may zone for grow operations or dispensaries within their city limits as authorized by their city council. This grandfathers in any existing businesses but will permit communities in the future to zone for grows and dispensaries, if they choose to do so.” It passed the Senate 40-5 on March 22 and was amended and passed the House 75-16 on April 24. It was returned to the Senate for consideration of the House amendments. The amendments were rejected and a conference committee was requested on April 27.
Straw Owners in Marijuana Industry
Senate Bill 475 by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) seeks to stop the industry’s proliferation of illegal “straw owners,” sets business restrictions for revoked registrations, and empowers the director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (OBNDD) to suspend suspected fraudulent businesses and assess fines. The bill defines “straw person or party” as a third party who is put up in name only to take part in a medical marijuana business transaction. The bill passed the Senate 48-0 on March 8. It was amended and passed the House 85-0 on April 24. It was returned to the Senate for consideration of the amendments.
Property Tax Installment Payments
House Bill 2003 by Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa) and Sen. Ally Seifried (R-Claremore) would allow county treasurers to accept 12 installment payments for the prepayment of ad valorem taxes for the upcoming year.“Property taxes are the only tax Oklahomans can’t prepay,” Boatman said. “Providing the flexibility to pay in installments gives budgeting options to our senior citizens and other people living on a tight budget and lessens their worries about whether they can afford to pay at a later date.” The measure provides each treasurer discretion to accept installments payments and requires qualifying taxpayers to provide written notice to the treasurer by January 15 each year of their desired payment method. Accounts with delinquent taxes, accounts with an ongoing valuation protest, taxes paid through an escrow account and public service corporations would not eligible for installment payments. It passed the House 52-31 on March 23. It was amended and received a Do Pass from the Senate General Government Committee and awaited a vote in the full Senate.
Income Tax Rate Reduction
House Bill 2285 by Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) and Sen. Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) would cut the state’s personal income tax rate from 4.75 percent to 4.5 percent beginning in 2024. The bill would also substantially increase the standard deduction, effectively eliminating all existing tax brackets below the proposed top rate of 4.5 percent. Under the bill, single filers would see their standard deduction increase from the current $6,350 to $10,350 while married households filing jointly would have their deduction increased from $12,700 to $20,700. The rate-reduction and standard-deduction provisions would save Oklahomans $145.2 million annually when fully implemented. It passed the House 77-19 on March 20. It was amended and received a Do Pass from the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees and awaited a vote in the full Senate.
Increase Exemption for Retirement Benefits
House Bill 2020 by Rep. Max Wolfley (R-Oklahoma City) by Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) would increase the Oklahoma income tax exemption for retirement benefits from $10,000 to $20,000 beginning in the tax year 2024. “The exemption for retirement income hasn’t been increased in 16 years,” Wolfley said. “Inflation has severely eroded the purchasing power of those on fixed incomes.” It passed the House 90-0 on March 20, but failed to get a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee before the legislative deadline.
House Bill 1027 by Rep. Ken Luttrell (R-Ponca City) and Sen. Bill Coleman (R-Ponca City) would add in-person and mobile sports betting as a supplement to the state-tribal model gaming compact and create a sliding fee system for what percentage of gaming revenue goes to the state. Tribes implementing sports betting would pay the state a 4% fee for the first $5 million dollars made in one month, a 5% fee on the next $5 million and a 6% fee for additional monies. The system would restart each month. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) estimated that sports betting could bring in up to $9,350,000 a year, of which 12% would enter the general revenue fund and 88% would go toward education. The bill passed the House 66-26 on March 21, but failed to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee by the April 13 deadline. It remains eligible for hearing next session in the Senate, which Luttrell said would allow time for more conversations and negotiations.
Stop Time Change
Sen. Blake “Cowboy” Stephens (R-Grove) filed Senate Bill 7 which calls for Oklahoma to remain in Daylight Saving Time (DST) year-round. The measure would be a “trigger law” that would go into effect following the passage of the Sunshine Protection Act by Congress, which would give states the option to end the time change. The Sunshine Protection Act was unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate last year and is awaiting consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by the president. If approved, DST would be able to become permanent across the nation, with many states already having legislation in place to be enacted upon the approval of the act. Stephens has carried related legislation during his tenure in the state Senate and said he is hopeful that the shift in congressional leadership will encourage passage of the act.
“There is less time for farmers and ranchers to work in the daylight, less time for outdoor sporting events, school activities, business operations and a multitude of other things. We can have a safer, healthier and more productive state without the time change, and that is why I will continue to push for Oklahoma to do away with DST.” The lawmaker said numerous studies have shown time changes are associated with negative health and mental health effects. Many imbalances are created within bodily systems during DST and the changes are also linked to decreased serotonin levels, increased anxiety and depression, higher blood pressure, and many other possible negative effects and conditions. The bill passed the Senate 44-3 on February 28, but failed to get a hearing in the House General Government Committee before the legislative deadline.
House Bill 2530 by Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) and Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) would reduce violations relating to cockfighting from felonies to misdemeanors. The measure also would provide that 5% of the voters of a county may call an election on the issue by submitting a petition signed by such voters to the county election board. A majority of a county’s commissioners also may call the special election. It passed the House 51-42 on March 21. It failed to receive a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee by the legislative deadline.
State Parks Entrance Fees
Under Senate Bill 673 by Sen. George Burns (R-Pollard) and Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) entrance fees at Oklahoma State Parks could only be charged for travel trailers and recreational vehicles and could not exceed $8. Those fees would be used at the park where they are collected. The bill passed the Senate 37-7 on March 8. It was amended and received a Do Pass from the House Tourism Committee and was waiting for a vote in the full House.
Make Hugo Lake a State Park Again
Senate Bill 675 by Sen. George Burns (R-Pollard) and Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) would transfer Hugo Lake Park back to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department. “This attraction hasn’t been classified as a state park for the last decade, and local economies have been negatively impacted over time,” Burns said. As a State Park, state funds could be spent on the facility. It passed the Senate 47-0 on March 22. It received a Do Pass from the House Appropriations and Budget Natural Resources Subcommittee and was waiting for a vote in the full House.
Tribal Regalia Bill
Senate Bill 429 by Sen. John Montgomery (R-Lawton) and Rep. Trey Caldwell (R-Faxon) could make it easier to wear tribal regalia including eagle feathers at graduation ceremonies. Some school districts continue to ban tribal regalia despite a 2019 opinion from then Attorney General Hunter that considered tribal regalia protected under the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act and the First Amendment. The bill would allow public schools students, including public university students, to wear tribal regalia to graduation ceremonies, whether held at a public or private location. Similar bills failed in 2020 and 2021. Supporters of SB 429 said the bill is necessary to clearly outline Native American students’ rights. It passed the Senate 45-0 on March 22 and the House 90-1 on April 24. It was sent to the governor for consideration on April 25.