Legislature Approves Budget, Adjourns Sine Die
The House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year – 2017 budget on Friday, May 27 and adjourned Sine Die, bringing the 55th Legislature to close.
With a $1.3 billion budget gap caused by the near total collapse of the energy industry, the Legislature crafted a $6.78 billion budget that protects core services, including education, transportation, corrections, Medicaid and mental health.
The budget is 5 percent less than the Fiscal Year – 2016 appropriated budget of $7.1 billion. Lawmakers worked hard to implement budget reforms and identify new revenue streams to avoid worst-case scenarios.
However, when the state is facing a $1.3 billion shortfall, some agencies received budget cuts, and everyone felt the effects in this budget.
Legislature Passes Supplemental Funding to Assist Public Schools
The Legislature this session authorized the withdrawal of monies from the Rainy Day Fund to assist schools with the revenue failure for Fiscal Year – 2016.
Senate Bill 1572 appropriated $51 million to the State Department of Education for financial support of public schools and to pay the full cost of health insurance for teachers, administrators and support personnel.
The supplemental funding was necessary to ensure schools have the resources to complete the school year then have time to plan ahead for next year. As a priority for the Republican majority in the House, public schools did not receive a budget cut last year when the Legislature had $611 million less to appropriate than the prior year. In FY’15, the Legislature cut funding to many other agencies to increase school funding by $145 million.
Legislature Approved New Academic Standards for Pre-K-12 Education
The Legislature this year approved new academic standards for the state’s pre-K-12 education system.
Senate leaders decided not to hear a House resolution to approve new academic standards with instructions for state education officials to make minor corrections before implementation. That means they will go into automatic effect without those instructions. If changes are made, they will be subject to legislative approval. If the standards are left as is, then they will be the new standards for Oklahoma.
These new standards are part of a process that began in 2014 after legislators voted to overturn Common Core Standards. Under the 2014 law, the state education board was to create new standards with input from K-12 schools, higher education institutions and CareerTech. In February of this year, the Legislature received a copy of these new standards. The Legislature had until Monday, March 28, to act on the standards. When the House Resolution was not considered by the Senate, the standards took effect as submitted.
House Approves Bill to Reduce Testing in Schools
Legislation that would reduce testing in pre-K-12 schools has been sent to the governor.
House Bill 3218 reduces the number of required tests to 18, including:
- 12 English and math tests between grades 3-8;
- 2 science tests, one in grades 3-5 and one in grades 6-9;
- and 4 high school tests in English, math, science and U.S. history.
All of the remaining tests except for U.S. History are required by the federal government under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Tests that were removed include an art test, geography tests and a social studies test.
The legislation requires the same tests to be used in the upcoming school year, but authorizes the state education department to look for new assessments to fulfill the federal and state requirements for the next year. The measure also removes passage of the test as a requirement for graduation and authorizes the state education department to create new graduation requirements.
Governor Signs Charter School Measure
The governor signed into law a measure that would clarify state law that allows public schools to convert existing schools into “conversion schools,” which have the flexibility of charter schools.
House Bill 2720, by state Rep. Emily Virgin, amends the Charter School Act to clarify the governance, funding and personnel flexibilities afforded to a charter school. Under the measure, conversion schools are still managed by the local school district and receive the same funding as traditional public schools. Conversion schools have access to all of the flexibilities currently afforded to charter schools in Oklahoma. The bill also clarifies that the local school board is the only entity to approve or disapprove a plan to create a conversion school.
Legislation to Improve Alternative Teaching Certification Signed into Law
Legislation to improve the alternative teaching certification process was signed into law this year.
House Bill 3025, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, will allow for additional entry points for those wishing to pursue a teaching certificate through the alternative certification process. The measure directs the state education department to develop a matrix or rubric by which an alternative certification candidate’s work experience would be evaluated and aligned with a specific certification area.
The measure allows those candidates with a terminal degree to pursue an alternative certification as long as their degree aligned to an area of certification. All alternative certification candidates must pass the certification exams and pass a background check before being certified.
Legislature Returns Evaluation of Teachers Back to Local School Districts
A measure designed to return flexibility in evaluating teachers back to local school districts was signed by the governor this year.
House Bill 2957, by state Rep. Michael Rogers, eliminates the quantitative or student outcome measurements of the Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) evaluation system, which relieves school districts and teachers from VAM, Value Added Measures, which is a teacher evaluation system based on student test scores. School districts do have the option of continuing to use quantitative measurements in evaluating teachers at the expense of the local school district.
The bill retains the qualitative measurements, which evaluate teachers based on classroom instruction and learning environment. The measure also creates a professional development component to be used as another qualitative tool in the evaluation process. The Department of Education will create the professional development component to be introduced during the 2018-2019 school year.
It is estimated that this measure could save local school districts millions, and would save the Oklahoma Department of Education more than $500,000 annually.
The bill has been supported by the Department of Education and school administrators from across the state.
School Safety Measure Signed by Governor
Legislation that will increase the safety of schools in light of the increasing incidents of active shooters was signed into law this year.
House Bill 2931, by state Rep. Mark McCullough, will streamline and increase the flexibility of the school safety drill process, emphasizing active shooter drills. It also adds the Oklahoma School Security Institute to entities that would receive reports on the drills. A drill would be required within 15 days of the beginning of a school year.
Tax and Revenue
Governor Signs Retail Protection Act
Legislation to level the playing field between Oklahoma brick-and-mortar retailers and out-of-state vendors was signed by the governor this year.
House Bill 2531, by state Rep. Chad Caldwell, will require online retailers that do not have a physical presence in Oklahoma to either begin voluntarily collecting sales tax at the point of consumer purchase or sending each of their consumers a notice at the end of each year stating the total amount of purchases with a reminder that sales and use tax remittance is required.
Caldwell pointed out this is not a tax increase as sales and use tax collection and remittance is already required by state statute, yet estimates show that only 4 percent of Oklahoma taxpayers currently report use tax on their state tax returns. He also reminded that the collection is voluntary for the online retailer. He said Amazon initially had been opposed to the measure but with amended language the large, online retailer is now in favor of the bill.
Oklahoma retailers compete on price, service and selection, but the current structure puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to taxes.
Bill to Cap Tax Credit for At Risk Oil and Gas Wells Signed into Law
A measure to cap a tax rebate for economically at-risk oil and gas wells has been signed by the governor.
Senate Bill 1577, authored by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, will place an annual cap of $12.5 million on a tax rebate for economically at-risk wells for any oil and gas production occurring after 2014. Placing a cap on the tax credit is expected to save the state approximately $120 million next year.
The measure defines “economically at-risk oil or gas lease” to mean any oil or gas lease with one or more producing wells with an average production volume per well of ten (10) barrels of oil or sixty (60) MCF of natural gas per day or less operated at a net loss or at a net profit which is less than the total gross production tax remitted for such lease during the previous calendar year.
Governor Signs Bill Ending Double Deduction Option on Tax Filings
A measure signed into law by the governor would end the practice of some taxpayers deducting state income taxes twice on the annual filing and save the state $97 million.
Senate Bill 1606, by state Rep. Earl Sears, will provide that taxable income, for the purpose of determining state income taxes due, will be increased by any amount of state or local sales or income tax deducted on a taxpayer’s federal income tax return effective tax year 2016. This change only applies to taxpayers that itemize their deduction on the federal return.
Governor Signs Measure Reforming Earned Income Tax Credit
The governor has signed into law a measure that will make the earned income tax credit nonrefundable. The change will free up more than $28 million for other state priorities like education, corrections and healthcare services.
Senate Bill 1604, by state Rep. Earl Sears, will keep the credit in place but make it nonrefundable effective tax year 2016. Nonrefundable credit means the credit can’t be used to increase your tax refund greater than the amount of taxes you paid.
The state earned income tax credit is equal to five percent of the federal earned income tax credit.
Governor Signs Bill Creating Fund to Stabilize Revenues During Downtimes
A bill creating a fund that will help stabilize the budget when revenues decline has been signed into law.
House Bill 2763, authored by state Rep. John Michael Montgomery, will create the Revenue Stabilization Fund to hold excess oil and gas gross production tax collections and excess corporate income tax collections, which can be tapped to shore up lagging revenue collections.
The bill will set up a mechanism for monies to be deposited to the fund when the amount of tax revenue exceeds the moving five-year average. In the event that a revenue failure is declared with respect to the General Revenue Fund, the measure authorizes the director of the Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to withdraw up to 25 percent of the balance, provided the total amount withdrawn may not exceed the amount of the declared revenue failure.
The bill will also authorize the State Treasurer create a “Revenue Protection Strategy” for the following fiscal year and to contract with a third-party on how to best protect the revenues in the fund.
Finally, the bill will require the Oklahoma Tax Commission to report to the State Treasurer the projected level of revenue that will be reported to the Board of Equalization at its December meeting.
Tax Incentive Commission Meets, Begins Review of Nearly $2 Billion
The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission met this session to begin reviewing more than $1.7 billion in annual tax credits, rebates and incentives in the most comprehensive effort ever undertaken to determine their effectiveness.
The Commission was established under House Bill 2182 by the late state Rep. David Dank, a Republican from Oklahoma City, with the goal of examining how the tax credits and incentives are being used and whether some should be eliminated or reformed. After Rep. Dank passed away during the legislative session, Oklahoma House Speaker Jeff Hickman spearheaded the effort to get the law passed.
The Commission is required to review each incentive once every four years, starting with the costliest incentives, and report its findings to the Legislature and governor each year. The Commission is made up of five voting and three non-voting members, including a private sector auditor, a professor of economics, a lay person, a certified public accountant and a representative from the Oklahoma Professional Economic Development Council. Hickman appointed Ron Brown, president and chief executive officer of the CSI Group, a private investigation company with experience in tracking down missing people and assets, to the Commission in December.
The members of the committee will work with outside experts to analyze the data.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety
Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Bills into Law
The governor signed into law several bills aimed at improving public safety and reducing Oklahoma’s overcrowded prisons by reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, giving prosecutors more discretion in filing charges and expanding eligibility for drug courts.
Four of the bills were authored by state Rep. Pam Peterson.
House Bill 2472 will give district attorneys discretion to file any crime as a misdemeanor, except those requiring a sentence of 85 percent or more upon conviction, after considering the nature of the offense, the age, background and criminal history of the defendant, the character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant and the best interests of justice.
House Bill 2479 will adjust mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for felony drug possession. Under current law, mandatory minimum and maximum sentences are 2-10 years for a first offense, 4-20 years for a second offense and 4-20 years for a third offense. This bill would adjust those sentences to 0-5 years for a first offense, 0-10 years for a second offense and 4-15 years for a third offense.
House Bill 2751 will increase the threshold from $500 to $1000 to be charged with a felony property crime.
House Bill 2753 will expand eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing to more defendants. Under current law, a defendant must have a previous felony conviction to be eligible for those alternative sentencing programs.
Additional Criminal Justice Reform Bills Sent to Governor
Two corrections measures authored by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, one aimed at protecting citizens from just released violent offenders and one that would allow other offenders to re-enter society owing less money to the state, have been passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor to await her signature.
House Bill 3159 will mandate that any offender serving an “85 percent” sentence would be subject to a parole hearing upon completing 85 percent of their sentence. The bill stipulates that any offender who waives their constitutional right to a parole hearing would be eligible for only a maximum of five percent of earned credits against time served, ensuring the offender will serve at least 95 percent of his or her sentence.
House Bill 3160 will create a financial earned credit of three percent against the balance of accumulated fees and fines for every 30 days served. The measure also provides that, upon release, an offender who makes 24 months of successful payments toward the balance of those fees and fines would be eligible to have their remaining balance waived.
Legislature Passes Supplemental Funding for Corrections
The Legislature this session authorized the withdrawal of monies from the Rainy Day Fund to assist state prisons with the revenue failure for Fiscal Year – 2016.
Senate Bill 1571 appropriated $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to cover medical and contracted services for inmate population increases. The State Board of Corrections approved a supplemental request for $38.7 million after the second revenue failure earlier this month. Supplemental funding is allocated for the current fiscal year ending June 30.
Governor Signs Law Requiring DNA Samples Upon Felony Arrests
A bill that will allow law enforcement to collect DNA from anyone arrested for a felony crime was signed into law by the governor this year.
House Bill 2275, by state Rep. Lee Denney, will require every person 18 years of age or older who is arrested for a felony offense to submit to DNA testing. The sample will not to be analyzed and will be destroyed unless the arrest was made due to a valid felony arrest warrant, the person appeared before a judge who found probable cause for the arrest, or the person posted bond or was released prior to appearing before a judge and then failed to appear for a scheduled hearing.
Domestic Violence Measure Signed Into Law
Legislation that will broaden the definition of domestic violence, giving law enforcement and prosecutors a greater ability to go after abusers, has been signed by the governor.
Current statute defines domestic violence as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse within a 12-month period. Senate Bill 1491, by state Rep. Scott Biggs, will remove the 12-month stipulation and will reduce the required incidents of abuse to two or more.
Governor Signs Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Plan into Law
The governor this year signed into law a plan that will help reform the state’s controversial civil asset forfeiture program.
Senate Bill 1113, by state Rep. Randy Grau, will allow victims who have had assets wrongly seized to recover attorney fees. Many victims have not fought unjust asset forfeitures because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer. With the passage of this reform enabling the recovery of attorney fees, some lawyers may look at the merits of a particular case and be more willing to take such individuals on as clients.
Governor Signs ‘Catfishing’ Legislation
Legislation to give legal recourse to Oklahoma victims of “catfishing” was signed into law by the governor this year.
Catfishing is an online scheme where a predator impersonates someone else in order to trick a victim into giving out personal data and information. The legislation will be the first of its kind in the nation.
House Bill 3024, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, the “Catfishing Liability Act of 2016,” will allow people whose photos or videos are stolen to request an automatic injunction against the person using them. It will also allow those victims to request monetary damages, including a $500 minimum award in punitive damages.
Experts say that catfishing represents a legal gray area in Oklahoma and that judges would have little guidance on how to rule if such case ever came up in court.
Popularized by MTV’s show Catfish, Internet catfishing is where a person knowingly uses another’s name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness through social media to create false identities in attempts to lure victims into a relationship, normally romantic and sometimes financial.
Governor Signs Measure Restricting Use of Drones
The governor has signed House Bill 2599, by state Rep. Justin Wood, to restrict flight of unmanned aircraft over locations and businesses that are completely fenced in or have signs to prevent intruders. The bill will help better protect the privacy and security of Oklahoma businesses and facilities.
HB 2599 restricts flights of drones over “critical infrastructure” less than 400 feet above ground level or past their fence lines. The bill also requires signage on such property forbidding flight of drones without site authorization. Violators can be found civilly-liable for damages to the property, environment or human health. Government, law enforcement, the owner of the critical infrastructure facility and operators authorized by the FAA to conduct operations over that airspace are exempt under the new law.
“Guilty with Mental Defect” Bill Signed into Law
Legislation that will create a new defense for those who suffer from mental illness was signed into law this year.
Senate Bill 1214, by state Rep. Justin Wood, will modify the “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense in Oklahoma by adding a “guilty but with mental defect” and “not guilty by reason of mental illness” defense. The bill provides that anyone who has an antisocial personality disorder and is found guilty with a mental illness cannot use the not guilty by reason of insanity plea and must complete the sentence for the crime.
A plea of guilty with mental defect will result in the same sentence imposed on someone else convicted of the same crime. Anyone found guilty with mental defect will be required to be examined by the state Department of Mental Health prior to release on probation. Within 45 days of the examination, the department must make recommendations for treatment, which will serve as a condition for probation. The recommended treatment will be paid for by the probationer and failure to continue the treatment will be grounds for revocation of probation. The probationer will also be required to file a psychiatric report with the probation offers and the sentencing court every 6 months during the probation period.
Governor Signs Measure to Criminalize “Revenge Porn”
Legislation to make “revenge porn” a crime in Oklahoma was signed into law this year.
Senate Bill 1257, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, criminalizes the unauthorized dissemination of intimate photos or video—usually after a relationship has ended—an act commonly referred to as “revenge porn.”
The measure provides that a person commits a crime when they intentionally disseminate an image of another identifiable person who is engaged in a sexual act or is nude; they obtained the image under circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to know that the image was private; the image was disseminated with an intent to harass, intimidate, or coerce, and they knew or should have known that the dissemination was nonconsensual.
The legislation exempts disseminations related to law enforcement investigations, reporting of unlawful conduct, or when the exposure or sexual act was committed in public or in a commercial setting. In most instances, the act of “revenge porn” is committed by a person who captured or accepted the image in the context of a trusting relationship that has ended, at which time the person disseminated the image on the internet. The measure also gives judges the ability to order the image be removed, if that is still within the power of the person who committed the act. Someone convicted of the crime can be sentenced to up to one year in a county jail, and a fine.
Debt to Society Act Signed into Law
Legislation signed into law this year will help with county jail overcrowding by allowing counties to develop work release programs for nonviolent misdemeanor offenders.
House Bill 3039, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, creates the “Debt to Society Act of 2016” and authorizes county sheriffs and district attorneys to lay out the plan to put an inmate to work instead of jailing them. The inmate has to be convicted or plea guilty to a nonviolent misdemeanor offense and a judge has to sign off on the order.
The measure establishes that an eight-hour work day equals one full day of imprisonment in a county jail. The sentence of imprisonment may be reduced by earned early release time as promulgated by the sheriff and approved by the district attorney and limits the amount of earned early release time to not more than a third of the total sentence. The measure provides civil immunity for county approved work release programs.
Mental Health, Healthcare and Insurance
Governor Signs Legislation to Add Nursing Homes in Rural Areas
Legislation that will allow rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to own them was recently signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 2549, by Rep. Doug Cox, modifies the definition of the term “owner” in the Nursing Home Care Act to include a facility’s “managing entity.” The measure is intended to allow for a greater number of nursing homes in rural areas.
Many times family members must consider placing a loved one in a nursing home far from home because of the limited number of beds in rural areas. The legislation will make it easier for rural hospitals that manage nursing homes to become owners of the facilities.
Autism Mandate for Insurance Coverage Bill Signed by Governor
A measure that will require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children has been signed by the governor.
House Bill 2962, by state Rep. Jason Nelson and co-authored by a bipartisan coalition of more than 30 House Republicans and Democrats, requires a health benefit plan offered in Oklahoma to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of an autism spectrum disorder in children. The bill will limit the yearly maximum benefit to $25,000, but would place no limits on number of visits.
The Legislature last considered an autism insurance reform bill in 2008. Since then 43 states have implemented some form of reform to health plans to provide treatment for autism disorders.
Measure to Help Mentally Ill Get Treatment Signed into Law
A bill that will allow family members to petition courts to order those with mental illness to treatment programs was signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 1697, by state Rep. Lee Denney, will allow judges to order individuals to participate in an assisted outpatient treatment program if petitioned by immediate family members or guardians or those directly involved with the individual’s treatment. The individual must be 18 years or older, under the care of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision.
The “Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act” was introduced after Costello was killed by his son Christian, who struggled with mental illness, last year.
Cities and Counties Could Operate Hospitals Outside Geographical Limits Under Legislation Signed into Law
A bill that would allow municipalities and counties to create a trust to operate medical facilities outside the city or county limits has been signed into law.
Senate Bill 1149, by state Rep. Doug Cox, allows municipal governing bodies to manage, lease or operate a medical facility outside the municipal limits in order to provide a benefit to the community. It gives the Board of Control of a county hospital the same authority. The bill provides that any trust created by a municipality for the furtherance of public functions may engage in activities outside of the geographic boundaries so long as the activity provides a benefit to a large class of the public within the geographic area or to lessen the burden of government which does not solely provide a benefit by generating administrative fees.
Bill Providing Pharmacies Appeal Process for Reimbursement Rates Signed into Law
The governor signed a bill this year that allows pharmacies to appeal some “claw back” fees leveled against them by pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) upon the sale of generic drugs.
The fees, also knowns as direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees, are often imposed upon the pharmacy months after a sale, cutting into the pharmacies profit margins.
Senate Bill 1150, by state Rep. Doug Cox, allows pharmacies to protest the fees, within 10 days of the final adjusted payment date, if the fee results in a reimbursement rate to the pharmacy that is lower than the pharmacy’s acquisition cost for the generic drug.
House Passes Alcohol Modernization Measures
Two measures authored by state Rep. Glen Mulready could reform the regulatory structure for the sale of alcohol in Oklahoma.
Senate Joint Resolution 68 places a question on the November ballot to allow voters to change the state Constitution to allow the purchase of full-strength, cold beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores and to remove from the Constitution the Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission. The ABLE commission will become a statutory entity under Senate Bill 383.
Senate Joint Resolution 68 passed by a vote of 64-30 and has been sent to the Secretary of State to be placed on the November ballot. Senate Bill 383 passed by a vote of 52-45 and has been sent to the governor’s desk for consideration.
Capitol Restoration Bond
Bond to Complete Final Phase of Capitol Restoration Sent to Governor
The Legislature passed a plan this session to complete the restoration of the state Capitol building.
House Bill 3168, authored by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, would allow the state to issue up to $125 million in bonds to complete the Capitol Restoration Project, which began in 2015 and is scheduled to be finished by 2022.
Under House Bill 3168, the bond would not be let until 2018 when other state bonds are paid off and those revenues will be directed to the Capitol bonds meaning no new state dollars will be needed as a current $350 million infrastructure bond will expire.
The measure has been sent to the governor to await her signature.
Corporation Commission and Seismic Activity
Governor’s Provides Emergency Funding to Corporation Commission
Gov. Mary Fallin this session issued an emergency order to provide $1.387 million from the state emergency fund to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and the Oklahoma Geological Survey for technology improvements and research on seismic activity.
The emergency funds allocated by the governor will allow the OCC to proceed with much-needed computer updates and hire two contract geologists and other staff to work on seismic issues.
Governor Signs Measure Clarifying Authority of Corporation Commission
The governor signed into law a bill that clarifies the authority of the Corporation Commission to regulate disposal wells in areas of increased seismic activity.
House Bill 3158, by House Speaker Jeffrey W. Hickman, clarifies the statutory authority of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to regulate all activities within its jurisdiction, particularly in emergency situations to take whatever action it deems necessary without so much as a hearing.
Measure Increasing Penalty for Stolen Valor Signed by Governor
Those who fraudulently hold themselves out to be a veteran or active military member in order to obtain benefits will be subject to an increased fine under a bill that has been signed into law.
House Bill 2450, by state Rep. James Leewright, will increase the fine from $100 to $1000 for impersonating a member of the Armed Forces by wearing any decoration or medals awarded to members of the Armed Forces.
The issue of stolen valor has increased dramatically since the 9/11 attacks and the military response that followed it as Americans have openly honored active and veteran military personnel.
Governor Signs Bill Allowing Courts to Consider PTSD in Sentencing Offenders
A bill that allows judges to consider veteran’s diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when sentencing them for crimes has been signed by the governor.
House Bill 2595, by state Rep. Richard Morrissette, allows the court to consider post-traumatic stress disorder as a mitigating factor when making sentencing decisions concerning a veteran who has been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that eleven percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and 15 percent of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD but that many others go undiagnosed because they do not seek treatment.
Various studies have found that at least 30 percent of men and women who have spent time in war zones experience PTSD and an additional 20 to 25 percent have had partial PTSD at some point in their lives.
Bill to Expand Property Exemptions for Veterans Signed into Law
Legislation signed into law this year will allow additional 100-percent disabled veterans to claim a property tax exemption.
House Bill 2349, by state Rep. Dustin Roberts, modifies the definition of gross household income to exclude veterans’ disability compensation payments when determining eligibility for the additional homestead exemption.
The bill was endorsed by the World Hunger Action Organization and was their featured bill for the session.
Based on 2014 U.S. Veteran Affairs data, there are 84,170 Oklahoma veterans receiving disability compensation. House staff estimates about 2,830 homesteads could qualify under the new law and, at $103 per exemption, the maximum fiscal impact would be $291,490 in local property tax revenues.
Uninsured Motorist and DUI Enforcement
Governor Signs Measure Removing Requirement to Show Proof of Insurance Upon Traffic Stop
Legislation that will keep some motorists with insurance from receiving a fine when they fail to carry their insurance verification form has been signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 2473, by state Rep. Ken Walker, removes the penalty for failure to show proof of insurance in instances in which an officer is able to verify a person’s insurance. He said that law enforcement currently has access to a person’s insurance coverage when they look up the person’s tag or vehicle identification number.
Law enforcement has expressed concerns that there could be instances in which online insurance verification would not have a motorist on file. He noted that his legislation allows for a fine in instances where law enforcement cannot verify insurance through a database.
Bill Allowing Use of Automated License Plate Readers Sent to Governor
Legislation that would authorize the use of automated license plate readers to flag uninsured motorists at a time when Oklahoma leads the nation in uninsured motorists on the road has been sent to the governor.
One in four vehicles in Oklahoma does not have insurance. Senate Bill 359, by state Rep. Ken Walker, authorizes law enforcement to compare the license plate number with an Oklahoma Insurance Department list to determine if the owner of the plate has insurance.
The legislation does require that license plate photographs that are shown to be of insured vehicles must be destroyed.
Legislation To Aid Prosecutors In Keeping Drunk Drivers Off The Road Was Signed Into Law By The Governor.
A bill aimed at cracking down on repeat drunk driving offenders has been signed into law by the governor.
House Bill 3146, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.
There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not ‘courts of record.’ Oklahoma City and Tulsa are the only current municipal courts of record.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths and the 51st (including states and territories) for improvement over the previous 10-year period.
Ten Commandments and Bill of Rights Monuments
Voters to Have Say in Return of 10 Commandments to State Capitol
A bill that would allow voters to determine whether to return the 10 Commandments monument to the state Capitol passed out of the Legislature and will be added to the November ballot.
Senate Joint Resolution 72, by state Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon), will place a question on the November ballot to allow voters to remove the “Blaine Amendment” from the state Constitution.
The “Blaine Amendment” is Article II, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution, and it prohibits the appropriation of public money or property for sectarian or religious purposes. The Oklahoma Supreme Court relied on that section in ruling that the 10 Commandments monument violated the Constitution and ordered the Legislature to remove the monument last year.
Governor Signs Measure to Place Bill of Rights Monument on Capitol Grounds
The governor signed into law the Bill of Rights Monument Display Act.
Senate Bill 14 authorizes the State Capitol Preservation Commission or its designee to permit and arrange for the placement on the Capitol grounds of a monument displaying the Bill of Rights. The bill requires the monument to be designed, constructed, and placed on the grounds by private entities at no expense to the state. The bill authorizes the State Capitol Preservation Commission or designee to assist private entities in selecting a location for the monument and arranging a suitable time for its placement.
The location of the monument is yet to be determined.
State and Federal Relations
Resolution Calls for Constitutional Convention to Add Balanced Budget Amendment to Constitution
Oklahoma became the seventh to call for a Convention of States under Article V of the Constitution to propose amendments.
Senate Joint Resolution 4, by state Rep. Gary Banz, calls for a convention of the states to propose amendments on the following topics: first, to propose a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and, two, to “impose fiscal restraints, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and to limit terms of office for federal officials and members of Congress.”