Legislature Completes Bill Filing
By: Constitution Staff
At the conclusion of January 19th bill-filing deadline – the last day for state legislators to submit legislation – there were 1,340 bills and 24 joint resolutions filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the First Session of the 56th Legislature. Last year, the Clerk of the House reported representatives filed 921 bills and 31 joint resolutions by the deadline for the 2016 session. Meanwhile, in the Oklahoma Senate, a total of 831 bills were filed, along with 46 senate joint resolutions and one senate concurrent resolution. In 2015, a total of 815 Senate bills were filed, along with 32 senate joint resolutions. Here is a look at just a few of the over two thousand bills that were file:
Pathway to Sell the GRDA
Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) and Senator Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) are working legislation to allow the state to sell the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA). The bill would authorize the state to sell, transfer or dispose of some or all assets and interests of theGRDA. The two lawmakers say the bill doesn’t require the sale of the electric generation authority in northeastern Oklahoma, but clears obstacles that could prevent the sale. “This is not necessarily a bill to sell the GRDA,” said Osborn who is chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “We have lost nearly $2 billion in revenue during the last two years, and our options are limited in how we make up that shortfall. This bill enables us to perform the due diligence necessary to make an informed decision in the future. If and when that decision comes, we need to be fully informed so that whatever decision is made will be in the best interests of the state.”
Senator Treat, the senate author of the proposal, said the idea could extend beyond the GRDA. “The bill creates a process for evaluating the merits of selling GRDA and could serve as a roadmap for selling other state assets in a responsible manner,” said Treat. “Let’s keep in mind, we are simply removing barriers that stand in the way of giving consideration and exploring divestment of non-core assets – in this case GRDA. I’m excited to work with Chairman Osborn in trying to focus our efforts to create a method to shed non-core functions of government.”
Osborn compares the idea to what some energy exploration companies have to do in recent years when commodity prices are low by selling non-core assets to raise money.
“Oklahomans sent us here to solve problems and make government more efficient and accountable,” said Osborn. She said the process outlined in the bill is important, which includes the Oklahoma Secretary of Finance preparing a report that describes in detail the property and interests of GRDA that could be the basis of any future transactions.
Undocumented Immigrants Wire Transfer Fee
Sen. Paul Scott filed legislation to charge individuals a fee on international wire transactions for those who do not present valid personal identification. The Duncan Republican said he hopes the bill will cut down on the number of undocumented immigrants sending untaxed dollars out of the state as well as address drug money being funneled to other countries. “We have a large population of undocumented immigrants in Oklahoma. This bill will help the state collect a portion of their untaxed dollars and hopefully encourage them to seek citizenship,” said Scott. “Drug cartels and gangs are also transferring thousands, and possibly millions, of dollars in illegal funds across the border and to other countries. This is an effort to slow that practice and deter illegal activities in Oklahoma while also ensuring the state gets some financial benefit.”
Senate Bill 547 defines a valid personal identification as an unexpired state-issued driver license, permit or temporary permit or identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety, or any unexpired federally-issued document from the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service authorizing a lawful presence. It would authorize money transmission licensees to collect a $10 fee for transactions of up to $500 and a one percent fee for transactions over $500. The fees would be remitted quarterly to the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and deposited into the General Revenue Fund. The OTC could suspend the license of any licensee of a money transmission or wire transmitter business that failed to file reports or remit the fee. The licensee could not reapply for a license until they had filed all of the required reports and remitted the fees.
One question for Senator Scott: Why would he want to “encourage” illegal aliens to seek citizenship?
State Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) filed legislation to capture more than $500 million in recurring revenue. Dunnington is a member of the House of Representative’s Appropriations & Budget Committee. “The middle class and working poor in Oklahoma are facing critical economic challenges, so we must act responsibly when proposing new revenue options,” says Dunnington. House Bill 1279 would return income tax rates to what they were more than a decade ago for the state’s highest earners according to personal or household income level. In addition, Dunnington’s bill would remove the Oklahoma Capital Gains Deduction. Enacted in 2004, the benefit goes almost entirely to Oklahoma’s wealthiest citizens who pay the most taxes. House Bill 1279 will also require companies to combine profits from both the parent company and its subsidiaries in one report and pay taxes on all the profits earned in Oklahoma.
$5,000 Teacher Pay Raise
Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee) has filed legislation to boost teacher pay. Senate Bill 8 would modify the minimum salary schedule beginning with the 2017-2018 school year to allow for a $5,000 increase in salary and/or benefits. “Oklahomans made it very clear by getting State Question 779 on the ballot that they believe teachers deserve a raise. As a retired teacher, I know and I’ve authored legislation for an increase every year since being elected,” said Sharp. “The difficulty the legislature is facing, however, is lack of revenue. Our economy has struggled in recent years providing us no money for new expenses like raises. We’ve been fighting just to keep our state agencies afloat with the revenue shortfalls we’ve faced and next year will be no better. We have to create new sources of revenue through some kind of tax increase, which will be difficult with so many Oklahomans struggling; modify tax preferences or take money from other areas to pay for the raises.”
Tax increasing measures require a three-fourths vote by the legislature. Sharp explained that possible new revenue sources could include increasing the general sales tax; taxing selected services, which most states do within general sales tax; or increasing the motor fuel tax (Oklahoma is 47th in the nation at 17 cents per gallon). Other options could include eliminating, reducing or deferring tax credits, exemptions and incentives. The last option would be to reallocate money from other areas of state government to fund the pay raises. “It won’t be easy and it will require bipartisan support in both chambers but this session we must find a solution and give our teachers the raise they deserve.”
$6,000Teacher Pay Raise
State Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow) filed legislation that would phase in a $6,000 teacher pay raise over three years. Rogers, the chair of the House Common Education Committee, said a phased-in approach would allow the Legislature to manage the current revenue downturn while keeping its promise to boost pay for teachers. House Bill 1114 would include a $1,000 pay raise for teachers during the 2017-18 school year, another $2,000 raise during the 2018-19 school year and a final $3,000 raise during the 2019-20 school year.
Oklahoma already has the third-highest statutory starting minimum teacher pay in the region. Rogers’ plan would give Oklahoma teachers the highest average teacher pay of surrounding states and would raise Oklahoma teacher pay from 48th in the nation to 27th based on recent data from the National Education Association (NEA). When paired with the state’s low cost of living, the plan would move Oklahoma to 13th in the nation for average annual teacher pay at $56,804 (adjusted for cost of living). Oklahoma’s cost of living ranks behind only Mississippi for the lowest in the nation.
$10,000 Teacher Pay Raise
Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) has introduced Senate Bill 316, which would provide a $10,000 raise to all Oklahoma public classroom teachers over a four-year period beginning this fall. For the 2017-2018 school year, teachers would receive a $1,000 raise, followed by three $3,000 raises spread over the ensuing three school years. Holt has further introduced 12 separate measures to provide funding options for the raise. It is estimated a $10,000 raise for all 42,000 classroom teachers could cost approximately $550 million. Holt’s 12 funding measures cumulatively provide at least $744 million in funding options, with the option of adding another $261 million, bringing to over $1 billion the total defined funding options from which to choose. Holt also authored an income tax exemption for teachers equivalent to an $1,850 average raise. “There are so many things Oklahoma needs to do, but none are as important as this. We need to address this teacher pay issue in the 2017 session, and this legislative package proves that it can be done,” said Holt.
Cap Wind Credit to Fund Teacher Pay Raises
State Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R- Adair) has filed a bill that would cap tax credits at $25 million statewide for electricity generated by zero emission facilities, including wind energy, and another that could use the savings to provide a graduated teacher pay raise over the next three years. “Teachers need a pay raise in Oklahoma,” said Bergstrom. “At the same time we have another massive revenue shortfall, which will make funding a pay increase difficult, so I authored legislation to cap the payouts on our wind tax credits and my hope is to use some of the money we save to begin funding that pay raise. The two bills I have submitted would be a good step in the right direction.”
Under the provisions of Senate Bill 95, the proposed $25 million tax credit cap for zero emission facilities would be effective for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2017. The Tax Commission would allocate the credit under the cap, where it could be reduced, depending if more credits are claimed than the $25 million cap. Currently, there is no cap for tax credits for zero emission facilities. In 2014, $113 million was claimed in wind tax credit, which included carryover, but only $59.7 million was actually paid out to taxpayers. Under SB 95, that credit would be limited to $25 million.
Bergstrom has also filed Senate Bill 97, which would give Oklahoma teachers an incremental pay raise over the next three years. The legislation would align Oklahoma public school teacher pay more closely with average national pay schedules, which are outlined in the bill. For example, an Oklahoma public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree with five years’ experience would earn $34,500 for the 2017-18 school year, $36,500 the next year, and $38,500 in the third year. Bergstrom says he would like to use the anticipated savings from the wind credit cap to fund the bump in teacher pay. The provisions of the teacher pay bill are contingent on the adoption of the wind credit legislation. “Unfortunately, the limit on wind credit payouts is not enough to fund a $5,000 teacher salary increase in a single year,” said Bergstrom. ôKeeping that in mind, I have structured Senate Bill 97 so that teachers will receive a $1,000 raise the first year, and $2,000 in each of the next two years.
TSET Funds for Health Education
State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) filed a measure that would transfer funds from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) to use as a recurring revenue stream that school districts could use to compensate teachers and staff that promote health and well-being for Oklahoma students. House Bill 1245 would transfer 50 percent of “the moving ten-year average earnings amount” from the TSET fund, which would then be allocated to school districts to “promote the health and quality of life for students in pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.”
McBride said his goal is to find an ongoing revenue stream that can be used to compensate certain teachers involved in health and wellness, while freeing up funds to pay other teachers. “Not only would this provide those teachers and support staff a funding stream for compensation every year, but it would also indirectly help us reduce smoking among students. Studies show that better educated youth are much less likely to smoke. Increasing pay helps us attract and retain quality teachers, which helps improve our entire education system.”
McBride said the amount transferred could be anywhere from $15 to $25 million annually, depending on how well the TSET investment portfolio performs. In 2016, the investments produced a return of $26.3 million, but produced $46 million the prior year. TSET has a corpus endowment of more than $1 billion, and receives an additional amount annually from the tobacco settlement agreement with tobacco companies.
Teachers’ Retirement System
Two pieces of legislation to modernize and strengthen the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System have been filed by Rep. Randy McDaniel (R-Edmond), chairman of the House Banking, Financial Services and Pension Committee. “These bills would help offset rising expenses and offer future educators an opportunity to invest in a retirement plan that best suits their needs,” McDaniel said.
The Retirement Freedom Act of 2017, HB 1172, would implement an optional defined contribution plan for prospective educators. With defined contribution plans, annual costs are predictable since contribution requirements are clearly defined and paid up front. “The modern workforce is more mobile. Many new teachers value occupational freedom and desire a transferable retirement plan. Plus, the new plan would limit unfunded promises,” McDaniel said. “Nonetheless, aspiring Oklahoma educators continue to only be offered a compensation package that is heavy on other benefits and often require lengthy service commitments.
The Pension Protection Act, HB 1162, would increase the retirement age for prospective educators by two years. The retirement provisions for career educators would rise from 60 years of age to 62. The normal retirement age would increase from 65 to 67. Through the years, retirement age qualifications have not kept pace with longevity gains. Leaders across the country struggle with the rising costs associated with an aging population and early retirement laws. Consequently, educators are reaching retirement in historic numbers and are projected to continue doing so for decades.
Expand Driving While Texting Law
Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee) filed Senate Bill 44 to expand the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act of 2015. It expands the law to prohibit not just texting while driving, but using any kind of hand held device while behind the wheel unless it is with a hands free accessory. “The Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act has helped decrease the number of accidents in Oklahoma caused by texting and driving but more needs to be done,” said Sharp. “Drivers are still getting distracted by their phones and other electronic devices and there’s no reason to be using them while driving except in emergencies. This bill will make our roads safer and protect Oklahomans from hurting themselves or others by keeping them focused on the road.” The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety released data that since November 1, 2015, when HB 1965 (the Trooper Nicholas Dees and Trooper Keith Burch Act) went into effect, accidents and fatalities have been reduced by 30 percent. The bill has the support of DPS. If approved, SB 44 would go into effect Nov. 1, 2017.
Full Practice Authority for Nurses
Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Wanette) filed legislation intended to increase access to health care services for all Oklahomans, especially those in rural areas of the state. House Bill 1013 would give full practice authority to nurse practitioners and advanced practice registered nurses, allowing them to provide health care services in line with their education and training without the requirement of a collaborative agreement with a physician. “In many cases, there is no actual collaboration with the physician,” said Cockroft. “This makes the requirement meaningless and only slows Oklahomans’ – particularly those in rural areas – access to valid health care services. It already is hard for those in rural areas to find adequate services, and frankly this rule hampers economic development in our rural communities.” A similar bill was filed last year by state Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). House Bill 2841 gained more than 30 coauthors during the legislative session but was not granted a committee hearing.
The Association of Oklahoma Nurse Practitioners (AONP) voiced its support for the measure. According to the association, nurse practitioners carry national board certifications in their area of training and are licensed and regulated by the Oklahoma Board of Nursing. They complete graduate-level education that leads to a master’s or doctoral degree. Nurse practitioners can provide physical examinations, diagnose and treat acute and chronic problems, interpret laboratory results and X-rays, prescribe and manage medications and other therapies, provide training and supportive counseling on the prevention of illness, and refer patients to other health professionals as needed. Toni Pratt-Reid, president-elect of the AONP, said, “Physicians don’t see my patients or review their charts – they sign a collaborative agreement form with the Board of Nursing once every two years and can charge thousands of dollars for it.” Oklahoma is one of only 12 states to require physician agreements; 21 states, including neighboring New Mexico and Colorado, allow full practice authority to nurse practitioners. Current state law allows physicians to sign agreements with only two nurse practitioners at any one time, limiting the number of nurse practitioners allowed to practice in the state, according to the association.
According to the most recent Oklahoma Health Workforce Databook compiled by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, 64 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are designated as primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). More than 58 percent of Oklahomans live in a primary care HPSA. With 80.2 physicians for every 100,000 Oklahomans, the state ranks 49th in physician-patient ratio. “Allowing nurse practitioners to provide the services for which they are trained and educated will benefit Oklahomans who deserve this relief,” Cockroft said.
Change In Prenatal Sign Requirement
Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie) filed legislation modifying how the State Department of Health will go about providing information on pre/postnatal services available through both public and private agencies. The Health Department will still be in charge of making that information available on its website, however, new language contained in Senate Bill 30 calls for the agency to publicize that information through social media rather than placing signs in most public restrooms. As part of House 2797, signed into law during last year’s legislative session, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and any other facility licensed by the state Health Department were required to provide signs in their public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state. The signs would have to be posted by January 2018. Officials with the Health Department are being asked to halt any further work toward implementing the regulations while the new proposal is considered by the Legislature.
Griffin said the changes will preserve the intent of the original legislation, but is responsive to private businesses concerned about the possible cost of displaying the signs. The amendatory language removes that requirement with the exception of abortion facilities. “It was never intended to be a burden on businesses or health providers. Changing to a social media campaign will actually broaden the reach and make linking pregnant women to services even more visible,” said Griffin.
Prohibit Abortions If Heartbeat Audible
Legislation was filed to strengthen the Oklahoma’s Heartbeat Informed Consent Act by providing a scientific definition of when life begins, with the first heartbeat. Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) filed Senate Bill 710 to prohibit abortions if the embryonic or fetal heartbeat of the unborn child is audible. During the fifth week of pregnancy, or the third week after conception, a baby’s heart, brain, spinal cord, and other organs begin to form. “Our abortion laws are outdated and based on old technology and science. Roe v. Wade was settled 43 years ago. Now doctors have the tools and knowledge to not only sustain life several weeks earlier than was possible back then but now they can even create life in the lab,” said Scott. “Instead of offering to let the mother hear her baby’s heartbeat before she terminates its life as is current law, we need to fight for that baby and acknowledge that it is in fact a human being with the right to live.”
Clarity in Death Penalty Process
House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright (R-Weatherford) has authored legislation to clarify how the Oklahoma Department of Corrections would choose the mode of execution in death penalty cases. House Bill 1679 would eliminate the electric chair as a mode of execution while also establishing a hierarchy of execution methods: Lethal Injection, followed by Nitrogen Hypoxia, then Firing Squad, and finally all other forms not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
“Essentially, we are getting rid of the electric chair due to costs and establishing a hierarchy for execution to provide clarity to our department of corrections officials,” said Wright. “This bill has little to do with the administration of the death penalty and more to do with the efficiency of government and our commitment to due process for both the inmate and the victim’s family.”
Building Code Agency Consolidation
State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore )filed a measure that would fold a state building code commission into the Oklahoma Construction Industries Board (CIB). House Bill 1168 would place the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission (UBCC) under the CIB, where it originally was placed in 2009, and would eliminate its staff, which McBride said is unnecessary and redundant. The bill would also cut the UBCC fees it collects by at least 25 percent. The UBCC was created to provide statewide minimum building codes, which it adopts every three to four years, said McBride. The commission had a budget of $200,000 in 2009, but that has grown to $950,000. Today, the UBCC has five employees and a lobbyist said McBride. “There is absolutely no reason the functions of the UBCC cannot be assumed by the CIB, and there is certainly no reason this small commission needs a lobbyist, other than to get more taxpayer dollars. This is the way it is with government: the Legislature creates some obscure commission or board, and the next thing you know they have a dozen employees and an annual budget of $5 million. It’s crazy, and frankly, Oklahomans are sick of it.” While McBride and his family have been in the homebuilding business since 1972, he said the bill has nothing to do with being a homebuilder. He said the bill is about being good stewards of limited taxpayer dollars.
In The News
Federal Offices on 2018 Ballot
The U.S. Congress is composed of two chambers. Senators serve six-year terms with only a third of...
State Offices Attract Candidates
In non-presidential election years, the governors office, a host of secondary statewide offices, and...
Candidates File for Oklahoma Legislature
The candidate filing period for the Oklahoma Legislature this year was April 11-13. Oklahomas...
Special Elections for Legislature Come to an End
After an election on March 6, Special Elections for the Oklahoma Legislature are now complete. The...
Abortion: There Is No Silver Bullet
The right to life is a God-given right, and the lives of unborn children should be protected by law....
Christians and Government
When I read the words of the Apostle Paul, in Romans 13:1-5, penned under the inspiration of the...