The 2017 Oklahoma Conservative Index
This issue of the Oklahoma Constitution presents the 39th annual Oklahoma Conservative Index, rating our state legislators. Members of each house of the Oklahoma Legislature were rated on ten key votes. A favorable vote on these issues represents a belief in fiscal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and constitutional government.
After taking suggestions from conservative leaders, the staff of the Oklahoma Constitution submitted bills to a vote of the membership of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC) to determine the ten key votes. The legislators were rated based on their votes on bills involving taxes and fees, tax credits, interference in free markets, protecting liberty, and the right to keep and bear arms.
To determine this year’s rating, 10 points were earned for each conservative vote (designated by a C), and no points are awarded for a liberal vote (indicated by an L). Each failure to vote (recorded as a Z) provides only three points. When the rating system was created in 1979, it was decided that there should be a difference between voting liberal, and missing a vote. A legislator absent for all the votes could only score 30%, which is our recommended score for seeking a replacement.
Thus, a legislator voting conservative on eight votes, liberal on one, and failing to vote on another, would receive eighty plus three, or an 83% conservative rating.
This year’s conservative rating was averaged with the legislator’s scores from any previous years of service to obtain the Cumulative Average score for all the years that legislator has been rated. With term limits, we have moved into a period when no legislator will have a cumulative score based on a period longer than twelve years. However, a few former legislators with service prior to the term limits law were later elected to their current positions. The scores of legislators with previous service are included in their cumulative average.
By examining this year’s score in relation to the Cumulative Average, the voting pattern of a particular legislator can be determined. While most score nearly the same, year after year, others trend upward or downward from their average. If your legislator is trending toward conservatism, please offer you encouragement and support. If your legislator is exhibiting a leftward trend, it is time to express your disappointment and suggest the need for a replacement if the trend is not reversed. This year, an exceptional number exhibited a downward trend.
The average score in the House this year was 32%, compared to 48% last year. The Senate averaged 33% conservative this year, compared to 48% last year, just like the House. Only 12 legislators scored 70%, or better this year, compared to 28 who scored 70%, or better, last year. We suggest you commend all of these lawmakers.
Readers should consider replacing those who scored 30%, or less, while giving close scrutiny to those who scored between 30% and 70%.
There were a number vacancies during the legislative session due to the resignation or the death of a legislator. Since those legislators were only present for a few, if any, of the votes, they were not rated. One of the vacant seats, that of Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) who resigned before the session began, was filled at the very end of the session. Zack Taylor (R-Seminole) won the Special Election and took office during the final days of the session. He was only present when two of the votes occurred, and cast a conservative vote on the Vehicle Tax Increase, but did not vote on the Smoking Cessation Fee.
The Top Conservative and Top Liberal legislators were selected by their scores on the Index. Making the Top Conservatives list were those lawmakers who scored 80%, or better. On the Top Liberals list were those made 20%, or less.
THE TOP CONSERVATIVES
Three legislators, two in the House and one in the Senate, scored a perfect 100% conservative rating this year. House members scoring 100% were Tommy Hardin (Madill) and Jason Murphy (Guthrie). Senator Nathan Dahm of Broken Arrow also scored 100%.
The next highest scores were 90% made by Representatives Kevin Calvey (Oklahoma City) and Chuck Strohm (Jenks) of the House. Also scoring 90% were Josh Brecheen (Coalgate) and Anthony Sykes (Moore) of the Senate.
Representative Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow scored 83%, completing the list of Top Conservatives.
THE TOP LIBERALS
While no legislators scored zero conservative this year, the number of legislators with scores placing them on the Top Liberals list is the largest in the 39 year history of the Index. Almost a third of the legislators earned this notorious distinction. Check your legislator’s score to see if they made the list. A few legislators did not cast a single conservative vote on the Index. The only points they garnered are the points assigned when they missed a vote. House members in this category were Jon Enns of Enid (6%), Mark McBride (9%), and Tess Teague of Choctaw (9%). In the Senate, Ervin Yen of Oklahoma City scored 3 percent, the lowest score in the entire Legislature.
Bills for the 2017 Oklahoma Conservative Index
(1) Healthy Food Financing
SB 506 by Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando)
This measure, the Healthy Food Financing Act, will provide financing (loans, grants and forgivable loans) for grocery stores and small food retailers (new or existing) in “underserved communities.” The Healthy Food Financing Revolving Fund will consist of state appropriations, federal funds, donations, grants, and contributions from public or private sources. The State Board of Agriculture will create rules for program eligibility. “Underserved community” means a census tract, as reported in the most recent decennial census published by the United States Bureau of the Census, determined to be an area with low supermarket access by either the United States Department of Agriculture, as identified in the Food Access Research Atlas, or through a methodology that has been adopted for use by another governmental healthy food initiative. This is part of an initiative promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama who used her White House platform to introduce the concept of “food deserts" of America. In a March 10, 2010 speech, the former first lady said: “Right now, 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million kids, live in what we call ‘food deserts,’ these are areas without a supermarket,” she explained. “And as a result these families wind up buying their groceries at the local gas station or convenience store, places that offer few, if any, healthy options.” As part of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act pushed through by the First Lady, the federal government committed hundreds of millions of dollars to bring whole foods – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy – to underserved areas. The Oklahoma bill passed the Senate 31-11 on March 22 and the House 71-7 on April 18. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on April 25. A “No” vote is conservative.
(2) Smoking Cessation Fee
SB 845 by Sen. Kim David (R-Porter) and Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang)
Throughout the session, legislators attempted to pass a cigarette tax, but were never able to get the constitutionally required three-quarter super-majority to approve a new “tax.” The proposed new tax would have placed Oklahoma’s rate much higher than surrounding states, potentially driving buyers and tax dollars to other states with much lower tax rates. After failing to pass the $1.50 per pack increase as a “tax,” it was proposed as a “smoking cessation fee.” The new fee, to be collected through the wholesaler, is expected to bring in $258 million in 2018. Funds provided by the fee will enable tax dollars which were previously used for smoking related health programs to instead be used to fund other government programs. It faces legal challenges which will eventually be settled by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It was approved by the House 51-43 on May 26 and the Senate 28-18 on May 24. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 31. A “No” vote is conservative.
(3) Tourism Tax Credits
HB 2131 by Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City)
The Oklahoma Economic Development Act of 2017 resurrects a previous program which had sunset. It provides for the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to offer inducements in the form of sales tax credits to companies for creating or expanding tourism attractions in the state. The available credit amount is between 10 to 25 percent of the approved costs for a project, depending on the amount of qualified expenditures by the company for the project. The measure includes a $15 million annual cap for credits provided by the act. This measure disrupts the free enterprise system, subsidizing favored businesses over their competitors, while diverting sales tax revenue. After the sad experience with tax credit programs such as Great Plains Airlines and wind farms, it is surprising that lawmakers would establish yet another program. The new tax credit program was approved by the House 84-5 on March 21 and the Senate 35-8 on April 26. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 3. A “No” vote is conservative.
(4) Real ID Compliance
HB 1845 by Rep. Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Sen. Tem Mike Schulz (R-Altus)
This measure brings Oklahoma into compliance with the federal Real ID Act and increases driver’s license fees. Civil libertarians say the REAL ID Act is a further intrusion of the federal government into citizens’ lives, and raise the specter of a nationwide database of personal information. They are particularly concerned about the provision requiring the state IDs to include high-resolution photos and fingerprints for potential biometric identification. The bill creates a two-tiered system of Oklahoma ID cards and driver’s licenses – one card that complies with the Real ID Act and one that doesn’t. Oklahomans may choose a non-compliant license, but a Real ID-compliant card may be needed to board commercial aircraft as early as 2018. The cost of all ID cards and licenses, including noncompliant versions, is increased by $5. A common driver’s license, known as a Class D license, will now cost $38.50. It was approved by the House 78-18 on February 16 and the Senate 35-11 on February 28. Gov. Fallin signed the bill on March 2. A “No” vote is conservative.
(5) Pointing of Firearms
SB 40 by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) and Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville)
This measure allows armed security guards or armed private investigators licensed by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) pursuant to the Oklahoma Security Guard and Private Investigator Act to point their weapons in the performance of their duties. The measure also provides that other persons pointing a weapon at a perpetrator in self-defense or in order to thwart, stop or deter a forcible felony or attempted forcible felony shall not be deemed guilty of committing a criminal act. The bill passed the House 82-8 on April 25 and the Senate 34-8 on May 8. Gov. Fallin signed the bill on May 15. A “Yes” vote is conservative.
(6) Sheriff Qualifications
SB314 by Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) and Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha)
Oklahoma's constitution, adopted in 1907, created the Office of Sheriff as an elected official in each county. The concepts of "county" and "Sheriff" remained essentially the same as they had been during the previous 900 years of English legal history. Because of the English heritage of the American colonies, the new United States adopted the English law and legal institutions. The “shire-reeve” or Sheriff was the chief law enforcement officer of each county in the year 1000 AD. Oklahoma's constitution has been revised several times through the years, but the constitutional provisions establishing the Office of Sheriff remains the same as it was in 1907. The Kings of England appointed their Sheriffs, but from the earliest times in America, our Sheriffs have been elected by the people to serve as the principal law enforcement officer of each county. This measure would have dramatically increased county sheriff candidate qualifications by requiring that all candidates have served as a duly certified peace officer in a full-time capacity for at least four years prior to the date of filing. The measure also removes a population threshold that affected counties with populations of 500,000 or more that required a person seeking election to be a current certified peace officer in good standing. It passed the Senate 32-7 on March 23 and the House 80-13 on April 19. However, it was amended in the House and was then sent to a conference committee where it died. The “No” votes are conservative.
(7) Vehicle Tax Increase
HB 2433 by Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) and Sen. Kim David (R-Porter)
This measure adds a 1.25 percent sales tax on the sale of new and used motor vehicles. The new tax is in addition to the 3.25 percent excise tax already in place. It is estimated to take an additional $123 million from taxpayers each year. This bill was advanced inside of the five day end of session window for consideration of revenue measures, which is a violation of the State Constitution. But, legislative leaders claimed that it was not really a new tax, but the partial removal of the sales tax exemption on vehicles. Therefore, it did not matter that it was passed during the final days of the session, and was not passed with the constitutionally required three-quarter super-majority to approve a new “tax.” Since the state sales tax is 4.5 percent, the combined excise and sales tax was made to equal to the state sales tax which applies to most other products. It was approved by the House 52-47 on May 24 and the Senate 25-18 on May 26. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 31. A “No” vote is conservative.
(8) Income Tax Cut Trigger
SB 170 by Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah)and Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville)
A 2014 law linked cuts in state income tax rates to revenue growth so that as Oklahoma brought in more tax revenue, the tax rate would automatically fall. The next and final trigger would have lowered the tax rate to 4.85 percent for single-filers’ taxable income over $8,700 and joint filers’ income over $15,000. But, with this measure, when state revenue does increase, the top tax rate will remain at 5 percent. Blocking the income tax cut passed the House 75-12 on April 19 and the Senate 32-9 on May 8. Gov. Fallin signed on May 15. A “No” vote is conservative.
(9) Mining Fee Increase
HB 1844 by Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) and Sen. Eddie Fields (R-Wynona)
This bill raised the fee for non-coal mine operators a quarter penny to 1.25 cents per ton. The minerals affected by the increase include limestone, gypsum, asphalt, clay, copper, granite, gravel, lead, marble, salt, sand, shale, chat, tripoli, caliche, volcanic ash, and zinc. Based upon an average annual reported production level of 73 million tons, the Department of Mines expects a revenue increase in the range of $182,500 to $200,000. This will help support the agency and reduces the need for appropriations which frees those dollars to be spent elsewhere. It makes Oklahoma producers, who export 15 to 25 million tons per year, less competitive with suppliers in other states. It passed the House 62-33 on March 7 and the Senate 31-11 on April 24. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 1. The "No" votes are conservative.
(10) Tanning for Minors
SB 765 by Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa)
This bill prohibits the use of indoor tanning facilities by minors and requires signage to be posted within a facility that states: It is unlawful for minors to use a tanning facility; A tanning facility or operator that violates this act will be subject to a civil penalty; An individual may report a violation to a local law enforcement agency; and list the health risks associated with tanning. This bill is essentially the definition of “nanny state,” with the government taking over the role of a parent. Oklahoma has been a strong parental rights state, but it now joins 15 other states which prohibit all minors from indoor tanning. Sixteen states allow indoor tanning with parent or guardian permission. While there are risks involved in tanning in tanning beds, there are also risks involved in the alternative. Will lawmakers next ban minors from going outdoors where they will be exposed to the sun? It passed the Senate 25-16 on March 22 and the House 57-35 on April 25. It was signed by Gov. Fallin on May 2. The "No" votes are conservative.
A list of all the legislators with their vote on each of the ten bills, their total score for this year, and their Cumulative Average including scores from previous years, are found in the PDF files below. The Conservative Index for prior years are also available below.
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