2015 Week Fourteen Legislative Update

OKHOUSE Seal-webThe following actions took place from May 11-14:

House Approves Tax Amnesty Measure

On Thursday, May 14, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to use a two-month amnesty period for overdue state taxes as a way to help close a $611 million drop in general revenue for the coming budget year.

House Bill 2236 mirrors a 2008 law that waived penalties and interest for most delinquent taxes paid during a two-month period in the fall. According to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, that effort brought in about $120 million in 2008. This amnesty is projected to bring in $35 million.

The amnesty period set by the legislation would be Sept. 14 through Nov. 13.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 94-0 and now awaits action by the Oklahoma Senate.

Committee Approves American Indian Cultural Center Bill

On Wednesday, May 13, the House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget approved a proposal to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum and eventually turn it over to Oklahoma City.

House Bill 2237 provides an additional $25 million in funding to complete the museum. The state is currently making debt payments of $5 million a year for past bonds used to fund the museum. The new funding would be financed through lease-revenue bonds that would require $2 million a year from the state. The legislation requires that the money be paid back to the state by the museum.

Under the legislation, Oklahoma City can take over the 143 acres that surround the museum and use it for commercial development with the proceeds put toward the completion of the project. After the state finishes paying off the bonds in 2027, the city could take over the museum.

The museum was authorized in 1994 and received its first state appropriation in 1996. Construction began in 2006 but ended in 2012.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 21-5 and now awaits action by the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget.

House Approves Bill to Help Fill School Board Vacancies

On Wednesday, May 13, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a measure to expand the pool of eligible school board candidates to fill a vacancy on the board.

House Bill 1442 would allow school board vacancies to be filled by anyone living in the school district who meets other candidacy requirements, even if they are not in the voting district represented by the vacant seat.

Larger school districts would have to give priority to applicants who do live in the district of the vacant seat.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 67-24 and now awaits action by the Oklahoma Senate.

Measure to Streamline Transfer of Prisoners Signed into Law

On Tuesday, May 12, a measure was signed into law to streamline the process of transferring prisoners from county jails to the custody of the state corrections agency.

When a person is sentenced to prison, they are held temporarily in county jail before being transferred into state custody to begin their prison sentence. Because counties were not required to alert the state by delivering sentencing documents, the state corrections agency was unable to accurately budget for offenders.

House Bill 1630 requires counties to transmit sentencing documents to the state within three days of their availability. The measure also requires the state corrections agency to pay county jails a per diem fee for the day of an inmate’s sentencing.

In the 2014 fiscal year, the state spent about $22 million to reimburse county jails for housing inmates. Many of those were prisoners that could have been transferred to state custody and housed at a considerably lesser expense.

The new law takes effect in November.

Electronic Monitoring Measure Signed into Law

On Tuesday, May 12, a measure was signed into law to give the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board additional options for overseeing offenders who are on parole.

House Bill 2187 authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to use electronic monitoring devices with GPS technology for any person granted parole, or as disciplinary sanction as authorized by law. If the board chooses to use electronic monitoring, the offender could be required to pay towards the service as a condition of their parole.

The new law takes effect in November.

Election Reform Signed into Law

On Tuesday, May 12, a measure was signed into law that will make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot.

House Bill 2181 lowers the number of petition signatures needed for ballot access from 5 percent of the number voting in the last general election to 3 percent voting in the last gubernatorial election.

With 825,000 votes cast for governor in 2014, the new law would mean only 24,750 petition signatures would be needed for a third party to get on the 2016 ballot.

Incentive Program for Thrifty State Employees Signed into Law

On Monday, May 11, a measure was signed into law that will allow for financial incentives to go to state employees who can find ways to save the state money.

The specifics of the program authorized by House Bill 1044 would be set up and administered through the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The measure prohibits an employee from receiving more than one award payment per fiscal year, bans an aware from exceeding 20 percent of the savings, requires a minimum of $5,000 in savings and sets several guidelines.

The legislation would go into effect in November.