Midpoint Legislative Summary, Part One

OKHOUSE Seal-webThursday, March 12, 2015, marked an important deadline of the 2015 legislative session. The Oklahoma House of Representatives concluded work on House-sponsored legislation and will now work to review measures approved by the Oklahoma Senate. The next important legislative deadline is the date by which legislation must be approved by both legislative chambers. After that deadline, bills will either go to the governor’s desk or continue onto conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate.

The following are several major pieces of legislation approved by the House of Representatives during the first six weeks of the Fifty-fifth Oklahoma Legislature:

Legislation Clarifying Regulatory Authority over Drilling Passes House

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a measure that provides certainty for the energy industry and the tremendous number of Oklahomans employed in the oil and gas industry.

House Bill 2178 allows local governments to set safety standards, traffic restrictions and ordinances concerning noise, odors, fencing and caution barriers around oil drilling sites, as well as setback requirements for well sites. The authority to approve specific drilling and excavation practices rests with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Last year, a handful of people were able to ban fracking in Denton, Texas, by playing on public emotion and opened the door for patchwork drilling policies across the state. This has resulted in multiple lawsuits and a scramble among the energy industry and Texas state and local governments to find ways to nullify the harmful precedence this incident has created.

House Votes to Close Loophole on Former Legislators Taking State Jobs

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a measure that tightens the ban on elected officials being employed by the state when they leave office.

If approved by a majority of Oklahoma voters, House Joint Resolution 1025 prohibits a former legislator from being employed by any state entity, regardless of the source of salary funding, until July 1 of the year following the end of their term in office. Currently, legislators can take a state job immediately as long as their salary doesn’t come from dollars appropriated by the Legislature in the state budget. The HJR does make an exception for legislators who are selected by the governor to serve in a cabinet position or those who have been elected to another office.

If approved by the Legislature, the Secretary of State will place HJR 1025 on the November 2016 ballot as a state question.

House Votes to Establish a Retiree Stipends Fund

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to create a fund that could be used to pay for the cost of legislatively authorized stipends for retired state employees.

House Bill 1735 would create the Oklahoma Pension Systems Retirement Dividend Fund. Expenditures from the fund could only be used to pay for the cost of legislatively authorized stipends for the retirees of the state’s retirement systems.

The measure also prohibits the use of the fund to create permanent increases to retirement benefits.

House Approves Proton Therapy Bill

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation to encourage insurance companies to cover proton therapy treatment.

House Bill 1515 would prohibit health benefit plans from subjecting proton radiation therapy to a higher standard of evidence than other radiation therapy, when making coverage decisions.

House Passes Bill to Improve Oklahoma Ballot Access

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, a measure reforming Oklahoma ballot access passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 2181 modifies the requirements for those who wish to form a political party in the state of Oklahoma. The state’s restrictions on additional political parties are among the most stringent in the nation. Currently, those who wish to form a new party must collect signatures from 5 percent of Oklahoma voters who voted in the most recent election for Governor or President which would have been 66,744 signatures in 2014.

The legislation changes the threshold to 1 percent of the last gubernatorial election, just more than 8,000 signatures. Oklahoma’s restrictive ballot law was implemented in 1974 replacing the previous requirement of only 5,000 signatures.

House Approves Marriage Reform Bill

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a measure to change the legal marriage procedure in Oklahoma.

House Bill 1125 would replace a state-issued marriage license with a clergy-issued marriage certificate.

House Votes for Terminal Patient Protection Measure

On Tuesday, March 10, 2015, a measure allowing for continued reception of medication for terminally-ill patients was approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1617 would prevent health benefit plans paid directly or indirectly with state funds to discontinue medication prescriptions for patients diagnosed with a terminal condition.

The bill states that refusing coverage for medically necessary treatment to be rendered to an individual based solely on the individual’s life expectancy shall be a violation. Also known as the “Public Health and Safety Act of 2015,” HB 1617 was created after terminal patient rights were impacted across the nation.

House Approves Constitutional Amendment on Wine Shipment

On Monday, March 9, 2015, a constitutional amendment that would ask voters whether or not to allow wineries to ship wine in and out of state was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Joint Resolution 1002, by state Rep. Dan Kirby, would allow the citizens of Oklahoma to vote on a constitutional amendment in November to allow wineries that have been licensed by the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement (ABLE) Commission to sell and ship wine directly to consumers who have visited the winery in person and purchased the wine on the premises.

House Approves OHLAP Restructuring Reform to Boost Graduation Rates

On Thursday, March 5, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a measure that refocuses the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) effort towards college completion.

House Bill 2180 calls for students qualifying for OHLAP to complete 30 credit hours per academic year. The completion of 30 credit hours keeps students on track to graduate on time and encourages degree completion, reducing the college dropout rate.

The bill also adjusts those who can participate in OHLAP to 5th through 11th grade as opposed to the cut off of 10th grade. The previous requirement also disenfranchised families who may have experienced hard financial times once their child is in high school.

House Votes to Increase Penalty for Assault on Off-duty Law Enforcement Officer

On Thursday, March 5, 2015, legislation approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would increase the penalty for assaulting an off-duty law enforcement officer.

House Bill 1318 would make an assault on an off-duty officer a felony, rather than misdemeanor charge.

House Approves Constitutional Convention Resolution

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, a resolution adopted by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would allow voters to decide whether or not to call a state constitutional convention. House Joint Resolution 1020 is the first such resolution since 1970, despite a constitutional requirement to ask voters about a convention every 20 years.

Measure Aimed at Making A-F School Grading System More Accurate Clears House

On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, a measure that would make the A-F school grading system more accurate passed unanimously out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1690 would amend the Oklahoma School Testing Program by requiring the academic performance of students who are still taking coursework while receiving rehabilitation or medical care be reported separately from the rest of the student population. Those students’ performance would not be included when determining the school’s grade.

The bill defines the population to be reported separately as “students who are patients receiving long-term or short-term rehabilitation services or care in a pediatric rehabilitation hospital or medical care setting and are being provided educational services by a school district pursuant to an agreement between the hospital or medical care facility.”

Under the current system, every school receives a grade of A-F except those that have been exempted by statute. This measure would also exempt hospitals or medical care facilities that are considered a “school site” under the statute from the grading system.

House Votes to Criminalize GPS Stalking

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, a measure that would expand stalking statues to include the monitoring of an individual using a GPS or similar device was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1516 proposes to add to the definition of stalking the use of a GPS or other monitoring device. The bill excludes parents, who have the right to monitor the location of their children, and law enforcement, who are allowed to do so if they have a warrant.

Current stalking law provides for a misdemeanor on the first offense with a penalty of up to one year in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Subsequent offenses result in a felony charge with additional prison time.

House Votes for Death Penalty Change

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to change the way in which Oklahoma conducts its death penalty executions.

House Bill 1879 moves to replace the current multi-drug lethal injection format with a new system involving execution of death row inmates via nitrogen hypoxia.

When oxygen is present, nitrogen is a normal and harmless gas found in 78 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. When oxygen is removed, nitrogen is deadly to humans.

In a study requested by the bill’s author and conducted by professors at East Central University, findings on the potential execution process concluded: that execution via nitrogen hypoxia is a humane way to carry out a death sentence; the nitrogen inhalation process would not require assistance of licensed medical professionals; nitrogen is readily available for purchase; and death sentences carried out by nitrogen inhalation wouldn’t depend upon the cooperation of the offender being executed.

House Approves Online Course for Gun Carry License

On Tuesday, March 3, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a proposal to allow Oklahomans who want to carry a firearm to take a required gun safety course online.

House Bill 1391 authorizes the use of an online test, but leaves in place a requirement to demonstrate shooting ability with an instructor.

House Approves Child Welfare Reform

On Monday, March 2, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously voted to improve the care of children in Oklahoma’s child welfare system.

House Bill 1078 expands a program that transitions children in the system into their adult lives, updates requirements for foster parents and group homes to ensure the child is engaged in typical childhood activities and revises protocols used to deal with runaways and child trafficking victims.

Under the legislation, a team model would be used to transition children into adulthood. The measure would lower the age at which the transition program would begin from 16 to 14.

House Approves Palliative Care Bill

On Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would increase the input from experts on coordinated care of patients with chronic conditions on an advisory panel that helps set state health policies.

House Bill 1085 modifies the Home Care and Hospice Advisory Council to include palliative care and specifies membership of the Home Care, Hospice and Palliative Care Advisory Council. The measure directs the council to identify ways to improve the quality and delivery of palliative care.

The legislation will increase the panel’s membership from seven to nine members.

House Votes to Ban ‘Dismemberment’ Abortions

On Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, a measure that would ban “dismemberment” abortions was approved today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1721 seeks to ban “dismemberment” abortions, which are late-term abortion procedures also known as dilation and evacuation.

Measure Providing More Options for Oil and Gas Development Passes House

On Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, a measure opening more opportunities to use new and advanced drilling technology in Oklahoma was approved by the House of Representatives.

In an effort to ensure the energy industry continues to thrive in Oklahoma, House Bill 2177 allows oil and gas developers to obtain permission from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for larger acreage spacing to drill extended lateral-horizontal wells across multiple units outside of shale formations. This method is currently limited to the Marmaton Formation in Beaver and Texas counties in the Oklahoma panhandle and in shale plays since the adoption of the 2011 Shale Reservoir Development Act.

The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association and the Coalition of Oklahoma Surface and Mineral Owners have been working closely together in the development of HB 2177 and support the legislation.

House Approves Texting while Driving Measure

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, a bill aimed at curbing the dangerous trend of texting while driving passed a vote on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1965 strengthens language aimed at preventing texting while driving, marking a first offense fine at $250. Subsequent offenses would register a $500 fine.

House Approves Rural Opportunity Zone Bill

On Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, a measure that would create Rural Opportunity Zones in counties across the state was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1747 allows for the creation of 25 Rural Opportunity Zones across the state. For taxable years beginning in 2016, the legislation would allow for a five-year tax exemption for anyone who moves from out-of-state into a county projected to see a population loss between the effective date and 2075 per the 2012 Demographic State of the State Report – Oklahoma State and County Population Projections through 2075.

House Approves DNA Collection Legislation

On Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to improve the procedure for collecting DNA samples from those individuals convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor.

House Bill 1683 allows the offices of district attorneys to collect the DNA sample from a convicted criminal. The DNA samples are submitted to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Laboratory for processing and inclusion in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).

The OSBI estimates that the additional samples generated by increased collections could cost the state approximately $110,500 to $221,000 annually.

House Approves Bill to Streamline Criminal Justice

On Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015, legislation approved unanimously by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would improve information sharing between state criminal justice agencies.

House Bill 1083 would create a shared infrastructure dubbed the “Criminal Justice Information Center for Excellence” under the supervision of the chief information officer in the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The information technology infrastructure would be used by 14 agencies, including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the District Attorney’s Council, CLEET, the state attorney general, the ABLE Commission, the fire marshal and the Department of Corrections.

The chief information officer and commissioner of public safety would oversee the implementation of the law, if enacted.

House Votes to Add Small Businesses to Do Not Call Registry

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted to give Oklahoma’s small businesses and partnerships a reprieve from endless telemarketing calls.

House Bill 1430 would amend the definition of “consumer” in the Telemarketer Restriction Act to include business associations, partnerships, firms and other types of business entities in the state that are presently excluded from the Act.

House Approves Bill to Allow Wiretapping in Human Trafficking Cases

On Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted unanimously in support of legislation that would help law enforcement catch human traffickers.

House Bill 1006 authorizes the use of wiretaps to investigate human trafficking for labor or commercial sex, the pandering of humans for sex and for the investigation of the prostitution of a child.

House Approves Jobs Measure

On Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, an employment insurance bill was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1001 allows employers to file documentation for misconduct immediately upon the termination of the employee. In doing this, the employer will be considered to have automatically protested the claim, if and when the former employee files for unemployment insurance benefits.

The legislation would also provide a reliable unemployment insurance tax rate for new businesses in their first two years in operation.

House Approves School Board Election Reform Legislation

On Monday, Feb. 16, 2015, school board election reform legislation was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1275 pairs up election dates for school boards and municipalities in order to reduce election costs and encourage greater voter participation.

House Approves Rx Drug Bill

On Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, prescription drug monitoring legislation was approved by the Oklahoma House of Representatives by a vote of 64-30.

House Bill 1948 would require doctors to check a database of patient prescriptions to ensure people aren’t getting multiple prescriptions for addictive drugs from multiple doctors. The initial database check would be required when a doctor first writes a prescription for three classes of addictive drugs – opiate painkillers, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium and carisoprodol, a muscle relaxer marketed as Soma. Subsequent checks would need to be made at least once every 180 days after that.

A similar bill that failed last year would have required doctors to check the database each time they wrote a prescription for dangerous drugs. It did not have the support of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which has come out in support of this year’s bill.