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Saturday, June 6th, 2020Last Update: Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 02:21:47 PM

Bills Make Their Way Through Oklahoma 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 by February 28, and then be approved in the other chamber by April 25. With the passage of the latest deadline, the conference committee process will begin on bills passed with amendments not accepted by the other chamber. Governor Kevin Stitt and legislative leaders are also continuing to craft the final FY20 state budget with an agreement expected soon. Sine Die is May 31 by 5:00 p.m., however depending on the timing of the budget agreement and conclusion of the conference committee process, Sine Die could occur earlier. Here is a review of the status of some of the bills being considered this year:

Constitutional Carry of Firearms

On February 27, Governor Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 2597, which establishes “Constitutional Carry” firearms in the state of Oklahoma. It was the first bill signed by the new governor. “Oklahomans are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and they made their voice known as I traveled across all 77 counties last year,” said Stitt. “I would like to thank Representative Jon Echols and Senator Kim David for championing this piece of legislation and for finding balance for both private property owners and our Second Amendment rights.” HB 2597 allows the concealed or unconcealed carry of firearms by any person who is at least twenty-one years of age or at least eighteen years of age and in the military, if the person is not otherwise disqualified to purchase a firearm.

Under the bill, you cannot carry a concealed or unconcealed handgun in public and private schools K-college, public or private sports arenas, gambling facilities, government buildings, and private businesses, unless allowed by the owner. The bill maintains current law in that you must pass a background check to purchase a gun, that you must disclose guns in your possession when requested by law enforcement officer, and that those convicted of a felony cannot own or buy a gun. Gun owners can still obtain a license in Oklahoma, with reciprocity recognized in multiple states across the nation.

The legislation passed the Oklahoma House 70-30 on February 13, and the Senate 40-6 on February 27. Gov. Stitt signed the bill within hours of its final passage. Former Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill last year, saying the state’s existing firearms regulations were “few and reasonable.” But every candidate in last year’s Republican gubernatorial race pledged support for constitutional carry.

Oklahoma is the 16th state to allow constitutional carry. The citizens of the 15 states where constitutional carry is allowed can carry without a permit in Oklahoma. Oklahoma joins Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Vermont that allow the Second Amendment as an individual’s carry permit. The new law goes into effect November 1, 2019.

Teacher Carry

The Enhanced Student Defense Act, by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) and Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant), allows a local board of education to authorize the carrying of a handgun onto school property by school personnel who hold a valid reserve peace officer certification, or is an employee who possesses a valid handgun license. The bill’s author, Rep. Sean Roberts, said: “This legislation is especially important in our rural areas, where law enforcement is sometimes half an hour away when they receive a call. I was glad to work with county sheriffs on this bill and I’m grateful for their leadership and expertise in this area.”Sen. Bullard said, “In a day and age where we’ve witnessed unthinkable acts of carnage to the most innocent among us, I’m proud to bring legislation that will allow the vulnerable to be protected.” Bullard noted that 24 other states have Teacher Carry including three neighboring states. Oklahoma private schools have had the policy in place effectively for six years. HB 2336 passed the Oklahoma House 72-25 on March 13, but failed to receive a vote on the Senate floor before the deadline.

Firearm Legalization

SB 24 by Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Jay Steagall (R-Yukon) repeals a felony for owning or having a firearm such as a Mossberg shockwave or TAC 14. These fireams are legal under federal law, but are a felony under state law. The bill amends the definition of a handgun within the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act to exclude any firearm with an overall length of 26 inches or more. The measure also amends the definition of a shotgun to allow barrels with a length of less than 18 inches provided the overall length of the firearm is 26 inches or more. The definition of sawed-off-shotguns excludes firearms with an overall length of 26 inches or more. Both definitions of a shotgun and sawed-off-shotgun are amended to simplify the use of propellants to only include a combustible propellant charge. The definition of pistols or handguns is also amended to reflect the definition of such firearms found in the Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971. The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate 37-9 on March 6, and the House 84-9 on April 9. Gov. Stitt approved the bill on April 16.

Abolition of Abortion

Senate Bill 13, authored by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) is cited as the “Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act.” The bill would give fetuses equal protection under state laws and would include abortion in Oklahoma’s definition of felony homicide. The legislation makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or danger to a woman’s life. The proposal seeks to both reestablish state sovereignty and the most basic role of government: the defense of human life. Silk also argues that it is justifiable for Oklahoma to pass such a bill, despite the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which created a woman’s legal right to abortion. Sen. Silk says it is time to challenge the high court as has been done in the past. “The Supreme Court also ruled that slaves were private property and they were wrong,” Silk said. “And so, the courts do need to be challenged.” The bill would also repeal all the pro-life legislation passed over the past few decades, designed to restrict abortion in various ways. In addition, the bill would send a woman to prison who consents to abortion, along with an abortionist and other abortion workers. The Abortion Abolitionists generally argue that any pro-life legislation (such as requiring parental consent, ultrasounds, and the like) that fall short of a complete ban on abortion is simply “regulating” the practice of abortion, and such laws should be eliminated. The traditional pro-life position is that these multiple laws enacted over the years at least save some unborn babies until the day comes that abortion is finally banned completely. Has that day come? Apparently not, the bill died without a hearing in a Senate committee.

Legislative Referendum on Abortion

The Oklahoma Senate approved a bill by President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) that would put a legislative referendum on the 2020 ballot to let voters decide whether to restrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s ability to construe a right to an abortion in the state constitution. “The Oklahoma Constitution contains no language that guarantees a right to an abortion, yet the Oklahoma Supreme Court has crept dangerously closer to inventing such a right,” said Treat. “Recently, Planned Parenthood and others have strategically challenged pro-life legislation in state courts in the hope that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will find a right to an abortion in the state constitution. By allowing these cases to advance in state court rather than federal court, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is implicitly showing their willingness to make up out of whole cloth a right to an abortion in the state Constitution where none exists. We cannot allow that to happen as it would be a tremendous setback for the pro-life movement. Senate Bill 195 gives the people of Oklahoma the ability to loudly proclaim their strong desire to protect the sanctity of life.”

A previous version of SB 195 contained “trigger” language that would have made enforceable Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion in the event the central holding of Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey were overturned by the federal courts, or if the U.S. Constitution were amended to protect life. Due to the findings of those two federal court cases, Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion – which has existed since 1910 – is considered to be unenforceable.

“I still hope and pray that one day soon the U.S. Supreme Court will correct the judicial mistake of the past that legalized abortion in Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. But it’s far more likely, in the short-term, that the Oklahoma Supreme Court finds an invented right to an abortion in the state constitution than the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe or Casey,” Treat said. Treat said he expects to pursue the “trigger” language in another bill at some point in the future.

SB 195 passed on a 40-8 vote on March 14, 2019 and was sent to the House for consideration. It was assigned to the House Rules Committee where it did not get a hearing in the House Rules Committee.

Abortion Pill Reversal

On April 25, Gov. Kevin Stitt kept his campaign promise to sign any anti-abortion bill which reached his desk. Senate Bill 614, by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) provides that an abortion patient be given information during the informed-consent process about the possibility of reversing the intended effects of a medication (chemical) abortion if the mother changes her mind. Chemical abortions have overtaken surgical abortions as the method preferred by the abortion industry for taking a child’s life. In Oklahoma, 53% of all abortions are now medication, or chemical, abortions, which involve a two-step drug process. The first abortifacient drug, mifepristone (RU-486), is given at the “clinic.” The second drug, misoprostol, is taken 24-48 hours later, usually at home, to expel the unborn child and complete the abortion. Medical science has developed a method for reversing the effects of a medication abortion and saving the life of the unborn child when only the first drug in the two-step process of a medication abortion has been ingested by the mother. To date, over 500 babies have been saved by the Abortion Pill Reversal protocol, which involves the administration of progesterone.

This protective legislation will let a mother know that the effects of a chemical abortion can potentially be reversed in order to save her baby’s life if she changes her mind after taking the first abortion pill. SB 614 will give her a second chance at “choice.” Oklahoma joins Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota and Utah in having abortion reversal laws on the books. Oklahoma’s law will go into effect Nov. 1. The Kansas Legislature also recently passed similar abortion reversal legislation, which was vetoed by the state’s newly elected Democrat governor. However, it is anticipated that the Republican-controlled Legislature will override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. SB 614 passed the Oklahoma Senate 39-8 on March 5 and approved by the House 74-24 on April 4.

Agency Accountability Bills

On March 13, Gov. Stitt signed five agency accountability bills that give the executive branch the authority to hire and fire agency leaders for the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (SB 456), Oklahoma Department of Transportation (SB 457), Oklahoma Department of Corrections (HB 2480), Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (HB 2479), and Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (HB 2483).

“This marks a historic day for the State of Oklahoma,” said Stitt. “With this legislation we are ensuring Oklahoma’s government is truly accountable to the people of Oklahoma. These reforms empower elected officials to deliver stronger oversight, better services, and accountable leadership across the state’s five largest agencies, and by maintaining governing boards, we will continue to ensure transparency in all agency operations. I would like to thank Speaker McCall and President Pro Tem Treat for championing these pieces of legislation that will undoubtedly help move our state forward.”

The agency accountability bills include the following provisions: The Governor will have the authority to hire and fire the agency leader. Senate will have confirmation authority of the agency leader. State agencies will maintain governing boards, but board members will serve at will and the legislation will include a conflict of interest provision. The Governor will appoint a majority of the board members, and the House and Senate will gain appointment seats on the boards. The House and Senate will be able to remove agency leaders by achieving a two-third vote in both Chambers.

Free Speech on Campus

Oklahoma is among several states taking legislative action to protect First Amendment rights on campus. Senate Bill 361, by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) and Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) would require Oklahoma’s public universities, colleges and the career technology institutions to take action to protect students’ rights to free speech on campus. Arkansas passed a similar bill earlier this year. Another has been adopted in Kentucky. Campus free speech legislation is being introduced in Texas and South Carolina. Arizona and Tennessee already have such statutes. “I authored SB 361 so that Oklahoma college students may engage in the free exchange of a wide spectrum of ideas – which is absolutely critical to the academic and intellectual integrity of a college education. This legislation will also protect university administrators against those who seek to silence any expression they deem offensive,” Sen. Daniels said. “There is no diversity without diversity of thought, opinion and expression. There is no freedom without free speech.” SB361 requires the outdoor areas of campuses of public institutions of higher education be deemed public forums for the campus community and prohibits public institutions of higher education from creating “free speech zones” or other designated areas of campus outside of which expressive activities are prohibited. The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate 36-9 on March 13. It was approved by the House 73-26 on April 22. Gov. Stitt signed the bill on April 29.

Validation of Voter Citizenship Status

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill to authorize the State Election Board to check various databases to confirm the citizenship status of a person registering to vote. HB 2429 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) and Sen. Mark Allen (R-Spiro), authorizes the State Election Board to conduct a data validation of Oklahoma’s voter registration database with other state and federal databases to confirm someone’s citizenship status.

“This bill would help restore faith in the electoral process by verifying only those prescribed by law are voting,” Roberts said. “Our democracy is based on the principle of each citizen having one vote, and this bill is another safeguard to protect the integrity of elections within our state.” Roberts said the measure is especially necessary in the case of close elections, such as last year’s Attorney General primary race. HB2429 passed the House 66-26 March 12 and did not receive a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee.

State Retiree COLA

House Bill 2304, by Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) and Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee) would grant an increase in retirement benefits to retirees of Oklahoma’s six retirement systems. As introduced, it would have provided a permanent 2 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to all retirees of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Firefighters Pension and Retirement System, Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System, Uniform Retirement System for Justices and Judges, Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System, and Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System. It was amended before passage to provide a 4 percent COLA to take place January 1, 2020. “Our state’s former public servants haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in 11 years,” Frix said. “After dedicating their lives and careers to our state, they deserve the long-term stability a COLA would provide. I was glad my colleagues in the House voted overwhelmingly to support this bill and provide for our public retirees.” The COLA has a price tag of $850 million to the retirement systems. HB2304 passed the House with a 98-3 vote on March 11 and was sent to the Senate for consideration.

The bill also would amend the Oklahoma Pension Legislation Actuarial Analysis Act (OPLAAA) to include a safe harbor clause to allow the bill to be treated as a non-fiscal retirement bill in the legislative process. Among OPLAAA requirements are for fiscal retirement bills to undergo an actuarial analysis before being passed into law. The analysis covers such topics as: the unfunded actuarial accrued liability which will result from the bill; the dollar amount of the annual normal cost which will result from the bill; and the dollar amount of the increase in the annual employer certification which will be necessary to maintain the system in a sound condition.

After it reached the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee, Sen. Pemberton, the Senate author, filed a committee substitute to ensure the bill followed the provisions OPLAAA. The committee voted to follow the OPLAAA which requires the actuarial analysis be returned to the Senate committee chair no later than Dec. 1 of the year it is requested. After the actuarial analysis is received, a fiscal retirement bill is eligible for consideration by committee the following session, and should it pass out of committee, would be eligible for consideration by the entire Senate. “When Republicans took over in 2010, many of the state pension systems were in poor financial shape after years of mismanagement by previous leaders at the Capitol. Not only did that threaten the retirement of future state employees, it negatively affected the state’s bond rating and made it more expensive for schools, local governments, and the state to borrow money for important capital projects,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City). “Republican leaders made considerable progress in reforming pensions, most notably requiring COLAs to be fully funded. Senate Republicans understand public employees, who have served the state admirably, want a COLA; however, it’s important we take prudent fiscal action to ensure we don’t threaten the progress made in making our pension systems more stable.”

Increasing Speed Limits on Turnpikes, Highways

On April 18, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill into law to increase the speed limit on Oklahoma turnpikes from 75 to 80 miles per hour and on certain state highways from 70 to 75 miles per hour. Rep. Daniel Pae (R-Lawton) is the House author of HB 1071 and Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) is the Senate author. Pae, serving his first term in the Legislature, said he worked with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol on the language of the bill and gained their support. He joked the bill had become known as the Pae-Way Bill. Pae said the speed limits in the bill will be implemented gradually, sensibly and safely. Pae also worked with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Secretary of Transportation to include language in the bill pertaining to traffic studies to keep the state in line with federal regulations so we can continue to receive federal highway dollars. The bill passed the Oklahoma House 82-12 on March 6 and the Senate 27-16 on April 10.

Child Care Health and Nutrition Standards

House Bill 2038 by Rep. Dean Davis (R-Broken Arrow) and Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Springer) would establish new standards for licensed child care centers that limit sugar-sweetened beverages; specify nutrition requirements for infants; require giving children opportunities for physical activity, and eliminate screen time for children younger than two years of age. Includes “providing infants daily opportunities to freely explore their indoor and outdoor environments under adult supervision, including engaging with infants on the ground each day to optimize adult-infant interactions and providing daily time in the prone position for infants less than twelve (12) months of age ...” Some supposedly “conservative” Republicans joined Democrats in agreement that it is the role of the government to dictate such precise instructions to a private business. The measure passed the Oklahoma House 68-20 on March 12, but failed in the Senate 11-31 in April 24.

Ban on Disposable Container Taxes

On April 23, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation to prevent cities and towns from imposing a fee or tax on an “auxiliary container,” such as plastic bags, plastic water bottles, or disposable food containers. Senate Bill 1001 by Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow ) and Rep. Dustin Roberts (R-Durant) passed the Oklahoma Senate 35-9 on March 6 and the House 51-41 on April 16. Eleven other states, including Texas, previously adopted similar pre-emption legislation. The city of Norman, was considering imposing a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags. The bill was supported by retailers and container manufacturers who believe such municipal ordinances could reduce consumer choice and increase the cost of groceries and other products. Opponents of the bill charged that the ban is an affront to local control, but just as the states created the federal government, the state government establishes the rules under which the state and city local governments may govern.

Oklahoma’s Native American Day

Senate Bill 111, by Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City), would move the state’s Native American Day from the third Monday in November to the second Monday in October, which is the same date as Columbus Day. Since 1937, Columbus Day has been celebrated in recognition of Christopher Columbus discovering America. The acknowledged purpose of the move is to diminish the importance of Columbus. Many Native American activists say that the discovery of America, and the subsequent migration of Europeans to the continent, is not something to celebrate. On January 11, leaders of five Oklahoma Tribes — the Cherokee, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles – endorsed the bill. Gov. Mary Fallin, vetoed similar legislation last year. The bill passed the Oklahoma Senate 37-8 on March 4 and the House 81-17 on April 22. The bill was signed by Gov. Stitt on April 25.

State Astronomical Object

House Bill 1292, by Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) and Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), names the Rosette Nebula in the Monoceros constellation as the official astronomical object of Oklahoma. “Our state has a long connection with the space industry,” Miller said. “Every year, hundreds of people from around the country gather in Oklahoma’s panhandle to stargaze at Black Mesa State Park, and by naming a state astronomical object, we’re helping to promote tourism in our state and encourage STEM education.” Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky (R-Balko) served as a coauthor of HB 1292 and represents District 61, which includes the panhandle. “The Oklahoma Panhandle, which is home to Black Mesa State Park, is known for some of the darkest night skies in the United States, which makes for fantastic stargazing opportunities,” Patzkowsky said. “Combined with Black Mesa being the highest point in the state, we already attract one of the largest stargazing parties in the country. Having an astronomical object to call our own will increase the interest in this activity and boost tourism dollars for our area.” Having passed both legislative chambers, the bill is now available to be signed into law by the governor. It passed the Oklahoma House 88-9 on March 5 and the Senate 31-12 on April 16. Gov. Stitt signed the bill on April 22.

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