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Bills Make Their Way Through Legislature

By: Constitution Staff

With the close of the legislative session approaching at the end of May, various bills are being considered by the Legislature. To still be in play in the current session, a bill had to be approved in the chamber of origin and be approved in the other chamber by April 21. Here is a review of the status of some of the bills being considered this year:

Oklahoma Historical Society

The first bill to make it into law during this current Legislative session merges the Will Rogers Memorial Commission into the Oklahoma Historical Society. Senate Bill 1570 passed the Senate 40-0 on February 25 and the House 85-9 on March 2, and was signed into law by Governor Mary Fallin on March 7. "This is the kind of state consolidation and efficiencies that make sense as Oklahoma struggles to cope with falling revenues," said Fallin. "Moves like this are important as we work to control government spending." The Commission was a stand-alone entity. It has a mission to collect, preserve and share the wisdom and humor of Will Rogers for future generations.

Law Enforcement Consolidation

House Bill 2864 by Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) and Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City) would have combined the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control into the Oklahoma Department of Law Enforcement. The bill would lays out the steps for appointing a Superintendent of the Oklahoma Department of Law Enforcement and the powers, duties and responsibilities of the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Commission. Rep. Christian stated, "The cost savings will be realized in the first year. Administrative duplications could be somewhere in the nature of about $3 million. This consolidation will be a well-coordinated system of services and programs that is rationally organized and effectively managed." The bill passed the House by a vote of 63-27 on March 10, but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Education Savings Accounts

House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Senate President Pro-Tempore Brian Bingman announced that neither the House nor Senate would be voting on the separate measures to enact Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Hickman and Bingman, both of whom are term-limited and cannot run for reelection, pledged that both chambers will continue working on the issue, building consensus and developing proposals. It is believed that behind the scenes, many Republican legislators were fearful of opposing the public education establishment and being labeled as "anti-education" in an election year. Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City), the author of HB 2949 said, "While I am deeply disappointed that ESA legislation in the House and Senate will not be voted on by the deadline today, I want parents to know I, and many others, will continue to fight for their rights and improved educational opportunities for their children. Unfortunately, the misinformation campaign from the educational establishment continues. ESAs would give more options to more parents and their children AND it would increase per pupil funding for students in our public schools helping teachers in the classroom."

The ESA proposals would allow a portion of the state funds currently paid to local public schools to instead go to a savings account to be used by parents to educate their children in private schools. While the specific amounts that would be available varied between the two bills, the maximum amount would not exceed 80 percent of the funds provided by the state for each student. One of the bills provided a sliding scale which reduced the amount based on the parents income. Since the bills would only allow a portion of the current funds expended on the students to go to an ESA, the remaining funds would be available to increase the support of the students who remain in the pubic schools. Any funds remaining in the ESAs after completion of high school could be used for college.

Strengthening the Right to Bear Arms

House Joint Resolution 1009 Rep. Dan Fisher (R-El Reno) and Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) would correct the poor wording of Article 2, Section 26 of the state Constitution and address damaging case law that has undermined the right to keep and bear arms in Oklahoma. The bill would ask voters to amend the state Constitution to make it harder to regulate guns. Some organizations are concerned that the proposal could put wide-ranging gun regulations in jeopardy, including provisions banning guns at private businesses, universities, and public events. It was passed by the House 66-7 on March 10 and the Senate 39-7 on April 21. It returned to the House for consideration of Senate amendments. If the resolution wins final legislative approval, voters in November would decide whether to amend the state Constitution.

Open Carry of Firearms

House Bill 3098 by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) and Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) would allow people to openly carry firearms without a permit. The measure allows any person to lawfully carry a firearm in this state when carried in a holster or scabbard, case or with a sling designed for carrying firearms that is wholly or partially visible and the person is twenty-one years of age or older. Persons choosing to obtain a Self-Defense Act license may do so in order to have reciprocity in other states when traveling outside Oklahoma. It could have a significant impact on revenue to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation which currently receives as much as $7 million for the permits. The measure was approved by the House 73-15 on March 10 and the Senate 37-9 on April 20. It was returned to the House for consideration of amendments.

Vaccine Mandates

House Bill 3016 would require healthcare providers to give parents a copy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study "Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases," along with information on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The author of the bill Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) said the measure would offer reassurance to parents who are vaccinating their children. The bill is being pushed by a vaccine choice group. Opponents of the legislation expressed concern that it could discourage parents from having their children vaccinated. The bill passed the House 89-6 on March 9, and the Senate 39-6 on April 21.The House author is Rep. Randy Grau (R-Edmond). The measure was sent to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk for action.

Ending Abortion

Senate Bill 1552 is the most direct measure to stop abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court invalided laws against abortion. The bill stipulates that the performance of an abortion by a physician will constitute unprofessional conduct and prohibits the physician from obtaining or renewing a license to practice medicine. The State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision and the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners would be required to revoke the license of physicians performing an abortion. Current state law only allows abortions if performed by a physician. It modifies the definition of abortion to include an exception to preserve the life or health of the mother. The legislation was approved by the Senate 40-7 on March 8, and the House 59-9 on April 21with a large number of representatives not voting. It was returned to the Senate for further action.

Humanity of the Unborn Child Act

The Humanity of the Unborn Child Act, HB 2797 by Rep. Ann Coody (R- Lawton) and Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie) would establish a public education program for high school students to foster increased awareness of the growth and development of a baby during the nine months before birth. When young people have a good understanding of the development and humanity of the unborn child, they are much less likely to view abortion as an acceptable "solution" to an unwanted pregnancy. The basis for the bill is the principle affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Maher v. Roe ruling, in which the Court held that the U.S. Constitution imposes "no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion, and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds." The bill was approved by the House 64-12 on March 1, and then by the Senate 45-0 on April 21. It returns to the House for consideration of amendments.

Oklahoma Advance Directive

HB 3017 ensures that a medical treatment order form called POLST complies with Oklahoma's existing protective laws regarding life-preserving care. A form currently in use is not authorized by Oklahoma law. It is being promoted by a self-appointed OkPOLST Task Force whose website falsely claims that its unofficial form, if completed later, supersedes the directions in a valid Oklahoma advance directive. The current, privately-constructed POLST form nudges patients to agree to forego treatment in a manner that may not reflect their true wishes. The Task Force's privately-constructed form takes no account of Oklahoma law's careful regulation of the circumstances in which Do Not Resuscitate orders can be authorized or medically assisted food and fluids be withheld or withdrawn; in fact, its website states a standard for denial of food and fluids inconsistent with Oklahoma law. HB 3017 establishes a POLST form that is not slanted toward non-treatment - as the current form is, that safeguards informed consent by accurately reflecting the choices specified in the individual's Advance Directive, and that complies with the Nondiscrimination in Treatment Act, the Hydration and Nutrition for Incompetent Patients Act. With the form approved by the State of Oklahoma would affirm that the lives of all are of equal dignity and emphasizes that no one should ever feel pressured to agree to forego life-preserving medical treatment because of age, disability, or fear of being regarded as a "burden." The bill was approved by the House 68-22 on February 25, and then by the Senate 36-10 on April 21. It was returned to the House for further consideration.

Eliminating Blaine Amendment

Senate Joint Resolution 72 which would ask voters to repeal the Blaine Amendment which is Article II, Section 5 of the state constitution used by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in its judgement against the Ten Commandments Monument being placed on the Capitol grounds. Senator Rob Standridge (R-Norman) is the resolution's author and says it's time for the Blaine Amendment to go. "The Blaine amendment represented an effort to suppress Catholic education while allowing state funding of protestant-oriented schools. Many Oklahomans felt the amendment never should have applied to the Ten Commandments Monument case, and have expressed dismay such a discriminatory provision was still in our constitution," Standridge said. The measure will give the final say to voters as a State Question on the November ballot. "This is a battle that belongs to the great people of Oklahoma," said Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) the House author. "It's up to them to determine what they want: Whether they want our state to follow the strict interpretation of Art. II, Sec. 5, and its long ranging consequences or to strike it, reaping the benefits of protecting religious liberty and keeping the Ten Commandments monument." SJR 72 won approval in the Senate by a margin of 39-5 on and the House 65-7 on April 21. It now goes to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November 2016 ballot.

Judicial Nominating Commission

The "Oklahoma Appellate Courts Accountability Act" by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman (R-Fairview) and President Pro Tem Brian Bingman (R-Sapulpa) would place a state question on the ballot to allow voters to change the section of the state Constitution that sets forth the authority of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The JNC is a fifteen-member panel that receives and reviews all applications for judicial vacancies in all district and appellate level courts in Oklahoma, including the Supreme Court, and submits a list of three applicants to the governor for consideration. Six members of the panel are appointed by the governor, six members are selected by the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA), one member is appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one member is selected by the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate. House Bill 3162 would require the JNC, upon a vacancy in the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals or Court of Civil Appeals, to send a list of all applicants to the governor who meet the "constitutional and statutory qualifications" for judicial office, rather than only sending three applicants. The Governor's appointment would require Senate approval, much like the Federal process and most other gubernatorial appointees. It would also make some changes in appointing members of the JNC. The measure passed out of the House by a vote of 58-34 on March 3 and the Senate 33-13 on April 20. It returned to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Automated License Plate Readers

Senate Bill 359 by Sen. Corey Brooks (R-Washington) and state Rep. Ken Walker (R-Tulsa) would authorize law enforcement to use of automated license plate readers to flag uninsured motorists. One in four vehicles in Oklahoma does not have insurance, says state Rep. Walker. The plate readers would compare the license plate number with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list of insured vehicles to determine if the owner of the plate has insurance. "With the passage of this legislation, we are one step closer to addressing the uninsured motorist problem in Oklahoma," said Walker, R-Tulsa. "Uninsured motorists drive up the cost of car insurance and often drive away from the scene of collisions, leaving the other party to foot the bill." Walker said as a privacy rights advocate, he tries to balance enforcement needs with privacy issues. The legislation does require that license plate photographs that are shown to be of insured vehicles must be destroyed. Critics have concerns that once the systems are operational that it will be easy to change the purpose to other uses. The bill passed the Senate 41-0 on March 12 and the House 52-38 on April 18. It returned to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.

DNA Samples Upon Arrest

Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond) and Rep. Lee Denney (R-Cushing) are the principal authors of HB 2275, which amends current law so that DNA samples could be collected upon arrest for a felony crime. The DNA would be collected through a sample of saliva. "Right now Oklahoma collects DNA upon conviction for felonies and certain misdemeanors. We're in the minority of states that don't do this upon arrest," said Jolley. "We collect fingerprints upon arrest, but DNA identification is much more accurate. This will enable us to solve crimes as well as cold cases for some of those most heinous crimes in our state and it will also prevent future crimes by making sure the true culprit is behind bars." Jolley said the bill requires a person's DNA information to be expunged from the database if charges are dropped or if the defendant is not bound over for trial after their arraignment. Denney said the legislation was very important for the state of Oklahoma. "Especially in the light of us looking at justice reform and the people we lock up. I think we need to be locking up the people we're scared of," said Denney. "DNA, as I've always said, will convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent." The bill passed the House 52-36 on March 9 and the Senate 32-15 on April 19. It was sent to the governor on April 20 for her consideration.

Term Limits Roll Back Defeated

Term limits for most state offices would have changed from 8 years to 12 years under legislation proposed by Oklahoma Senate Majority Leader Mike Schultz (R-Altus) and Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus). "Term limits are good public policy, and my proposal would ensure they stay in place, but for most statewide offices a longer term is going to allow for more efficient and effective administration," said Schulz. "Twelve-year term limits have worked for members of the Legislature, and they will be just as effective for statewide offices. A great deal of expertise and knowledge are required to effectively administer these offices, and sensibly extending these terms to up to 12 years is a reform that can produce a better state government." On November 2, 2010, State Question 747, was approved by Oklahoma voters. The measure enacted an eight-year lifetime limit for the governor, lieutenant governor, state auditor and inspector, attorney general, state treasurer, labor commissioner, state schools superintendent and insurance commissioner. Before the measure, the governor could not serve more than eight consecutive years, however a governor could seek election again after a 4-year period had passed. If the bill passed the change would have been sent to a vote of the people on the November General Election ballot. The measure was approved by the Senate by a vote of 32 to 12 on March 9, but was defeated in the House 14-56 on April 21.

Oklahoma Retail Protection Act

House Bill 2531, the "Oklahoma Retail Protection Act," authored by Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid) and Sen. John Ford (R-Bartlesville) amends current law to allow the state to collect sales tax on transactions between a buyer from Oklahoma and out-of-state online retail sites. Oklahoma retailers complain that Internet companies that don't collect sales taxes have an unfair business advantage. Businesses with a physical presence in the state must collect and remit sales tax while out-of-state retailers do not. "This bill levels the playing field for Oklahoma businesses that employ Oklahomans," said Caldwell. Under current state law, Oklahomans are required to keep track of their purchases from out-of-state retailers and pay a use tax on their state tax return each year. Caldwell said the fact that only 4 percent of taxpayers remit the tax each year shows that many are either unaware of the provision or do not track their purchases. Caldwell said the bill also makes the tax collection process more consistent. In Oklahoma, general sales taxes comprise about one-third of all state and local tax revenues, he said. This legislation gives the state the ability to close a loophole that gives out of state retailers a 10 percent advantage. Caldwell stressed this is not a new tax. "This bill simply makes the collection of a tax that is already in statute more consistent," he said. "This is a tax all Oklahomans should be paying, but 96 percent are not. In a tight budget year, this legislation makes even more sense." The bill passed the House by a vote of 51-39 on March 10 and the Senate 31-12 on April 21. It returned to the House for consideration of Senate amendments.

Taxpayer Transparency Act

The Taxpayer Transparency Act would be modified to include federal funding for state agencies by legislation authored by Senator Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Tom Newall (R-Seminole). Senate Bill 1342 to make state agencies report how they are spending federal money. "When crafting the budget, we need to know all of the funds, both state and federal, that the state is receiving but, unfortunately, this information hasn't been readily available to us," said Treat. "Oklahoma currently receives nearly $7 billion in federal funds. That's more than the entire annual state budget. The legislature and the public have a right to know how that money is being used by state agencies." In fiscal year 2004, federal funds going to state agencies totaled $4.3 billion. In April 2015, that figure was $6.7 billion. SB 1342 requires the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to make modifications to the website required by the Taxpayer Transparency Act to give users the ability to track expenditures of federal funds by state agencies. The bill passed the Senate 47-0 on March 7 and 88-2 on April 4. It was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on April 11.

Alcohol Beverage Laws

Senate Joint Resolution 68, by state Rep. Glen Mulready (R-Tulsa) and state Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), would place a question on the November ballot to allow voters to remove the Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission from the state Constitution. The commission would be replaced by a regulatory body created by statute. While SJR 68 would allow voters to make the constitutional changes necessary, Senator Stephanie Bice (R-Edmond) is principal author of Senate Bill 383, co-authored by Jolley, which would make statutory changes needed to modernize Oklahoma laws on beer and wine sales. SJR 68 was approved by the Senate 28-16 on March 1 and the House in 61-30 on April 21. It returned to the Senate for further consideration.

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