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Tuesday, July 7th, 2020Last Update: Thursday, June 25th, 2020 07:51:39 AM

Legislature Considers Bills

By: Constitution Staff

The Oklahoma Legislature went into its annual mid-session recess on March 18, which coincides with spring break for many schools. In a normal year, they would have resumed the following week, however, due to the corona virus pandemic, they did not reconvene for the regular session until early May.

Before the recess, both chambers met their major deadlines to report bills out of committee and of considering bills on the floor within the chamber of origin. The next step for legislation is the cross-chamber process where House bills are heard by Senate committees and vice versa. The deadline to advance bills from committees within the opposite chamber of origin was set for April 9, and bills had to receive a floor vote by April 23, or they would be dead for the session. However, both chambers passed SCR 8 to strike the April 23 deadline from the joint rules, so there would be no deadline for bills to be heard on the floor in the opposite chamber before the Sine Die adjournment which is set for May 29.

Since the Legislature is required to submit a budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins on July 1, it is expected they will concentrate on that effort and fewer policy bills will be considered than in a normal session. Look for legislative leaders to single out a limited number of bills for advancement. Here is a look at some of the bills that emerged from the chamber or origin:

Revoke Licenses of Doctors Who Perform Abortions

The House passed legislation directing the Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision and the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners to revoke the licenses of physicians who perform abortions. House Bill 1182, authored by State Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland), would revoke the license for one year. An amendment filed prior to the vote clarified the life of the mother exception. “Every single human life, born and unborn, has value. It’s our obligation as a civilized people to defend and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves,” Olsen said. “I’m glad the House stood together to recognize that the most innocent among us also deserve our most basic of rights – the right to life.” House Bill 1182 passed the House by a vote of 71-21on February 2. It moved to the Senate for consideration where the author is Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville).

Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act

The Senate approved the Unborn Person Wrongful Death Act on March 5 to address the pain and suffering of family members of babies whose lives are ended through abortion. Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) is the author of Senate Bill 1728, which modifies provisions relating to awarding damages resulting from wrongful death in cases of abortions performed under fraudulent circumstances. The bill authorizes parents and grandparents to recover damages relating to mental pain, anguish and pecuniary loss and holds the physician who performs the abortion solely liable for the wrongful death. During debate, Bullard cited that the Justice Foundation has found that up to 69 percent of abortions in the U.S. are performed without legal consent. Their findings show that these mothers are persuaded to go through with abortions through illegal coercion including being lied to about the age or health of their babies or about the safety of the actual procedure. Many mothers are drugged prior to actually agreeing to the procedure thinking they are only getting examined, but wake up to realize the procedure is complete. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 623,000 abortions were performed in 2016. There were nearly 200 abortions for every 1,000 live births that year. SB 1728 passed 37-9 on March 5 and was sent to the House for further consideration where Rep. Tom Gann (R-Inola) is the author.

Protections for the Unborn

The Senate strengthened protections for the unborn on March 12 with the passage of the Senate Bill 1859. Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) authored the bill to increase accountability of doctors administering abortions in Oklahoma. The bill would prohibit doctors from performing abortions beginning at six weeks if a fetal or embryonic heartbeat or brainwaves are present. Currently, at eight weeks, doctors must advise a mother if a heartbeat is audible and let her decide whether to listen to it before moving forward with the procedure. Any physicians found in violation of the law would have their Oklahoma medical license immediately revoked and it could never be renewed in the state. SB 1859 passed the Senate 36-8 and went to the House to be considered where Rep. Tammy Townley (R-Ardmore) is the author.

Law Enforcement to Comply with Federal Immigration Agencies

The House passed legislation directing all sheriffs, jailers and deputies to comply with any request made in an immigration retainer request provided by the federal government. House Bill 3195 is authored by Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando) who pointed to instances in Oklahoma where illegal immigrants have been released by local law enforcement despite their immigration status having been confirmed.”House Bill 3195 requests that they comply with federal immigration agencies by alerting them to a person’s immigration status and holding a person for no longer than 48 hours while federal officials arrive.” The legislation would require the person identified in the immigration detainer to be informed they are being held in accordance with the request from federal agencies. The bill states that a sheriff, jailer or deputy is not required to comply if the person has provided proof that the person is a citizen of the United States. It passed the House by a 78-21 vote on February 10 and was sent to the Senate for consideration where it is authored by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville).

Homemade Food Freedom Act

Home-based bakeries and other types of food businesses are one step closer to being able to continue growing their small business without having to rent or buy a commercial property. Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) authored Senate Bill 1714 to allow these types of small business owners the freedom to decide when they are ready to move into a larger commercial location rather than the state forcing them. “Current law unfairly hurts these home-based businesses by requiring them to move into a commercial location once their gross income reaches $20,000 a year. After expenses, that is not enough money to support a commercial business,” Pugh said. The legislation removes the arbitrary $20,000 annual gross sales limit, and requires ingredient labeling and notice that the product was made in a home kitchen. The bill passed the Senate 41-5 on March 3 and went to the House for consideration where it is authored by Garry Mize (R-Edmond).

Raising Age for Tobacco to 21

The Senate approved legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) is the author of Senate Bill 1423 to align state law with the federal Tobacco-Free Youth Act signed into law in December, prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. McCortney said it was important to make sure Oklahoma’s statutes mirror the new federal law. “Actual enforcement of age limits on tobacco products takes place at the state and local level,” McCortney said. It passed the Senate 35-12 on March 3 and moved to the House for further consideration where Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) is the author.

Tourism Ignition Program

Legislation creating the Oklahoma Tourism Ignition Program through the state Tourism Department passed the House 85-7on March 3. House Bill 3111 was authored by Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) and would increase tourism in cities that are not directly located along Route 66. Through the program, a qualifying municipality could apply for a grant of up to $5,000 toward the creation of a site or landmark intended to generate a positive economic impact. Hill, whose hometown of Mustang is only a few miles south of Route 66, said there are not many tourists who venture from the Mother Road into their community. Hill developed the legislation with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who also serves as Secretary of Tourism and Branding. “If municipalities are willing to invest in local attractions, the State of Oklahoma should partner with them to ensure their success. Tourism is economic development for our communities, and I support efforts like this to bring high quality tourist attractions to our communities,” Pinnell said. The bill was sent to the Senate for consideration where Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) is the principal author.

Article V Convention of States

Senate Joint Resolution 41, which calls for an Article V Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution, passed the Senate 36-11 on March 4. Authored by state Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), the measure would call for Constitutional amendments that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress. “There are two ways amendments to the Constitution are proposed – through a two-thirds majority of Congress or a two-thirds majority of the states,” Standridge said. “Our founders provided this right as a means to correct any imbalance of power between the states and the federal government, and to attempt to solve problems that Congress could not or would not address.”

Many conservatives have concern that such a Convention of the States could end up rewriting the U.S. Constitution and eroding the rights guaranteed in the document. The resolution was sent to the House for consideration where Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) is the author.

Vehicle Sales Tax Modification

The Senate approved a measure 32-12 on March 5 that would modify the calculation of sales tax applied to vehicles. When a vehicle is purchased under current law, a sales tax of 1.25 percent is levied on the full price of the car. Senate Bill 1619, authored by Sen. Darcy Jech (R-Kingfisher) would modify this calculation so the sales tax would be based on the difference between the actual sales price of a vehicle and the value of a trade-in, if applicable. This tax calculation is used in 38 states. “Right now, if you buy a $15,000 vehicle, you pay sales tax on that price even if you traded in your car to make the purchase more affordable,” Jech said. “If Senate Bill 1619 is signed into law and you buy a car for $15,000, but trade in your vehicle for a $10,000 credit, you would only have to pay sales tax on the $5,000 you actually paid.” The bill was sent to the House for further consideration where Rep. Carl Newton (R-Cherokee) will present the measure.

Apprenticeship Tax Credit

State Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City) authored House Bill 3378, an apprenticeship tax credit bill which passed the House 72 to 21 on March 9. “House Bill 3378 rewards employers that invest in work-based-learning through registered apprenticeship programs,” Dollens said. “The intent is to help bridge the workforce skills gap while offsetting costs associated with program implementation. We know that it usually isn’t aptitude that prevents success after high school but barriers to opportunity. Registered apprenticeship programs represent a way around those barriers and into a career that can support a family.” It was sent to the Senate for further consideration where Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow) is the author.

Children to Wear Seat Belts

On February 24 the Senate passed Senate Bill 1303 by a 25-22 vote. Authored by Sen. Roland Pederson (R-Burlington), the measure would require any child under the age of 17 to wear a seat belt while riding in the back seat of a vehicle. Current Oklahoma law only requires children under the age of eight and passengers in the front seat to buckle up. “Oklahoma is the only state in the entire country that doesn’t require seat belts for kids over the age of eight, and it’s no coincidence that vehicle fatalities are the number one cause of death for children eight and older here in Oklahoma,” Pederson said. The measure moved to the House for consideration where Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow) is the author for the bill.

“All Kids Buckled Up”

Another bill that would change seat belt laws for youth ages 8 to 17 passed the House on March 10 bay a vote of 78-18. House Bill 2791, by State Rep. Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow), would require every person under the age of 18 to wear a seat belt when riding in the back seat of a passenger vehicle in Oklahoma. Currently, state law requires only youth ages 8 or younger to wear a seatbelt while riding in the backseat of a moving vehicle. Other than that, only the driver and front-seat passenger are required to be belted. The bill now moves to the state Senate where Sen. Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) is the author.

Protecting Gun Rights of Medical Marijuana Cardholders

On February 26 the Senate passed 42-0 a measure protecting gun rights for medical marijuana cardholders. Senate Bill 959, authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) clarifies that anyone authorized to use medical marijuana would also be allowed to have a concealed carry permit. Even though Oklahoma is a constitutional carry state, some citizens may want a permit if they travel to other states that require them and offer reciprocity. Current Oklahoma law precludes citizens from being eligible for a handgun license if they have any violation relating to illegal drug use or possession. SB 959 would clarify that this prohibition does not apply for applicants or licensees in possession of a medical marijuana card. The measure would make it illegal for a person to carry or use a gun while under the influence of medical marijuana. The measure was sent to the House where Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) is the author for the bill.

Allowing City Employees to Carry Firearms

House Bill 2547, by state Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), would allow municipalities to pass ordinances that authorize all or certain municipal employees to carry concealed firearms. The bill would require those employees to hold a valid carry license issued by the state. “City employees are just as vulnerable to criminal activity as private employees or school employees,” said Rep. Roberts. “Our laws should protect all Oklahomans and allow everyone to defend themselves, their families and third parties from serious bodily harm or death.” The bill also provides that the municipality is not liable for any loss, damage or harm that might occur by an employee and also provides civil and criminal liability immunity to the employee. The bill passed the House by a vote of 77-21on March 11 and went to the Senate for consideration where Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair) is the author.

Needle Exchange Program

House Bill 3028 was authored by Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa) and allows licensed professionals to perform syringe service programs approved by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) with the purpose to reduce dirty-needle proliferation and drug use. Under HB 3028, organizations such as state agencies, county health departments, churches, for-profit businesses and other organizations may perform harm reduction programs. The bill stipulates that the State Department of Health must promulgate rules to govern and provide accountability for these programs. The legislation passed the House on March 11 by a 73-19 vote. The bill moved to the Senate for consideration where it is authored by Sen. John Montgomery (R-Lawton).

Cost of Living Adjustment for State Pensioners

The House passed legislation to grant cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees in six Oklahoma pension plans, including teachers, firefighters, police, public employees and justices and judges. House Bill 3350 passed with a unanimous bipartisan vote of 99-0 on March 10. “Our state retirees have not had a cost-of-living adjustment for 12 years, even as their health insurance premiums and other living expenses have risen,” said Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) the bill’s principal author. “ HB 3350 would base COLAs on the number of years individuals have been receiving retirement benefits from the state. Those retired for five years or more as of July 1, 2020, would receive a 4% increase in monthly pension payments. Those retired at least two years but not five would get a 2% increase. Those retired less than two years would not see an increase at this time. The measure was proposed after an actuarial analysis showed that a 4% COLA would not affect any retirement plan’s funded ratio by more than 2.9%. It went to the Senate where it is authored by Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee).

Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Legislation

On March 3, Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) won passage of legislation that recognizes Israel as one of Oklahoma’s top trade partners and the nation’s greatest ally in the Middle East. House Bill 3967 specifies that unless exempted by the Secretary of State, the state of Oklahoma will not enter into contracts with companies that advocate boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The state also will not adopt a procurement, investment or other policies that has the effect of inducing or requiring a person to boycott the government of Israel or those doing business in or with Israel or territories under its jurisdiction. McBride said Oklahoma exported almost $104 million of commodities to Israel in 2019, up from almost $61 million in 2017. Contracting with companies that refuse to deal with U.S. trade partners, such as Israel, or that make discriminatory decisions on the basis of national origin is risky and unsound trade practice. McBride said as a Christian, he also personally believes Israel has a unique covenant relationship with God, and the Bible is clear: those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed. The bill is modeled after legislation adopted by 28 other states. It passed the House by a vote of 75-20 and moved to the Senate where Sen. Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) is the author.

Protecting Elephants and Elephant Handlers

Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) is the author of House Bill 2895 which would protect the elephants and the elephant handlers at the Endangered Ark Foundation, a private nonprofit in Hugo, from potential animal cruelty statutory provisions. “We have a circus in our district that has a very successful education program that utilizes retired elephants and other exotic animals,” Humphrey said. “We have animal activist groups that want to prohibit people from petting elephants or touching them in any way. They would even shut down contact with zoos. We are trying to get ahead of these groups coming to Oklahoma and allow this private group to continue to operate.” HB 2895 passed the House with a vote of 80-15 on March 3. The bill moved to the state Senate where it is authored by Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant).

Initiative Petition Modernization

The process for state questions would be more transparent and modernized under two bills which passed the House. House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) authored House Bills 3826 and 3827 to improve the initiative and referendum petition processes used to place state questions on the ballot in Oklahoma. “These common sense improvements make the petition process more transparent and functional for citizens,” McCall said.

To modernize the petition signature counting process, HB 3826 authorizes the Secretary of State to use electronic signature counting equipment and software so petition signatures can be cross referenced with the voter registration database maintained by the Election Board. Only registered voters are permitted to sign initiative and referendum petitions. “It shocks most Oklahomans to know that, in the year 2020, signatures are hand-counted and not cross referenced with voter rolls,” McCall said. “There needs to be a more efficient, accurate way to count signatures than the antiquated process used today.”

HB 3826 requires the initiative and referendum signature gathering form to include each signatory’s printed first name, last name, zip code, house number, and month and day of birth. Any entry not matching three of these five criteria during cross referencing with the voter database would not be counted. The current petition form collects a signature, printed name, address, city and county. The bill passed the House 74-19 on March 4.

HB 3827 addresses a lack of transparency in campaign finance for state questions. The current definition of “state question” used by the Ethics Commission says a state question becomes a state question when the governor sets an election date, which allows campaigns for or against state questions to avoid disclosing donations and expenditures until that time. HB 3827 says a state question becomes a state question when the Secretary of State assigns a state question number, which typically occurs shortly after the petition is filed.

“While some initiative petition groups truly are grassroots citizens, many are out-of-state, well-funded, sophisticated political machines. The public deserves to know the finances and interests behind these campaigns when they are considering signing petitions, just like they deserve to know the same of candidates,” McCall said. HB 3827 treats state question campaigns more like candidates for office, who are required to begin disclosing fundraising and expenditures once they have raised at least $1,000, regardless of whether they have filed for office. The bill passed the House 80-12 on March 4.

If the bills become law, they would take effect in November 2020, meaning they would not affect state questions under consideration this election cycle. Both bills moved to the Senate for further consideration where they are authored in the Senate by President Pro Tem Greg Treat (R- Oklahoma City).

Signatures for Petitions

The House passed legislation to require citizens’ initiative petitions to collect signatures from all of Oklahoma’s congressional districts in order to qualify for a statewide ballot. HJR 1027 passed 66-30 on March 10 in a near party-line vote facing opposition from Democrats who said it would take power away from voters and impede their ability to get petitions on the ballot. The resolution, authored by Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando), would require initiative petition campaigns to collect a certain percentage of signatures from each of the state’s five congressional districts. Signature gathering requirements would still be based on the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial general election, but instead of having to collect nearly 178,000 signatures to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot, petition campaigns would have to collect 35,591 signatures from each of the five congressional district. Similarly, referendum petitions would have to collect 11,863 signatures from each congressional district, as opposed to nearly 60,000 signatures from anywhere in the state. The resolution moved to the Senate for consideration where Sen. Kim David (R-Porter) is the author.

Prohibiting Traffic Citation Quotas

The Senate passed a measure that would prohibit law enforcement entities from requiring officers, justices or judges to meet traffic citation quotas. Authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), Senate Bill 1264 would prohibit any political subdivision or agency of the state to maintain, require or suggest that employee evaluations, promotions, compensation or discipline may be based on issuing a certain number of traffic citations by law enforcement officers, or by the collection of a specified amount of revenue by a court justice or judge. “It’s an unspoken rule that some jurisdictions may emphasize issuing citations at different times to generate more revenue,” Dahm said. “Our law enforcement officers, justices and judges should not be pressured by their employers to write additional tickets or collect revenue to keep their jobs.” The measure does not prohibit municipalities from obtaining budgetary information from the courts, including estimates of court collections in a budget year. “Our law enforcement officers should be focused on protecting our citizens,” Dahm said. “By removing their attention from writing petty traffic citations, our officers will have the ability to better serve and protect our communities.” The bill passed the Senate 35-11 on March 10 and was sent for consideration by the House where Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) is the House author.

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