Tidbits for Spring 2018
2018 Oklahoma Conservative Index
We will be publishing the 2018 Oklahoma Conservative Index, rating the members of the Oklahoma Legislature, in our summer edition as we have for the past 39 years. In election years before 2012, our summer edition was in circulation before the Primary Elections. However, due to changes in election dates that took place in 2012, that has not be possible, at least not from our printed edition. Starting in 2012, the deadline to file for office was moved to April, over one month earlier than in previous elections. Oklahoma’s Primary Election date is now the last Tuesday in June, instead of the last week in July.
It is not possible to prepare the 2018 Conservative Index in time for our spring edition (the one you are currently reading) since the Legislature is not required to complete their session until the end of May. Even if they complete the session early this year, as rumored, there would not be enough time to complete the bill selection process in time for the Spring edition. We usually allocate about six weeks to prepare the ratings, but hope to condense the time frame this year in order to score the legislators and post the scores on our website prior to the Primary Election. Please check our website before the Primary Election to see if the 2016 Conservative Index is posted, or to get updates on the status. If you sign up for our Twitter feed, we will send out a notice when it has been posted. In the meantime, the ratings for recent years are also available on our website: www.oklahomaconstitution.com
The first contest in this election cycle will be the Primary which is the last Tuesday in June, which is June 26 this year. Early voting will be June 21-23. The deadline to register to vote in time to participate in the Primary Election is June 1. The Primary Election will include those races where there are two or more candidates of the same political party running for the same office. In addition to Republican and Democrat Primary Elections, the Libertarian Party is an officially recognized party and will have a Primary Election for some offices, including governor. Republicans have a closed primary, where only Republicans can vote to select the nominee of their party for an office. The Libertarians are also limiting their primary elections to only those registered as Libertarians, unlike 2016 when they first regained ballot status. The Democrats have decided to again allow those registered Independent, which means not a member of a recognized party, to participate in their Primary Elections. For those seats in which no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the June 26 primary, the top two candidates will be in the Runoff Primary Election which will be held on August 28. The General Election will be November 6.
Sex Offenders Living Near Victims
On April 17, Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill 1124, which prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet and loitering within 1,000 feet from their victims’ homes. Under current Oklahoma law, sex offenders are banned from living near places like schools and playgrounds, but it does not apply to a sex offender living near his or her adult victim. The measure passed without opposition in both chambers: 92-0 in the House of Representatives and 44-0 in the Senate. HB 1124, named the “Justice for Danyelle Act of 2018,” takes effect Nov. 1. It is named after Danyelle Dyer, of Bristow, whose attacker moved next door to her last year. Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew) and Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow) filed the legislation. In the meantime, Dyer and her family went to court and obtained a protective order, and the offender was ordered to move. “Victims shouldn’t have to worry about their sex offenders moving in next door,” said Fallin. “I appreciate Representative Hilbert and Senator Leewright for responding quickly to this situation and coming up with a logical solution to this issue. If we have laws keeping sex offenders from parks and day care centers, it’s common sense that they shouldn’t be allowed near their victims.”
Hemp Pilot Program
On April 23, Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation increasing Oklahoma’s agricultural options by creating the Industrial Hemp Agricultural Pilot Program. House Bill 2913 by Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City), House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and state Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) allows Oklahoma farmers to plant and harvest hemp. The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry will manage the program, which permits universities to work with farmers in Oklahoma to cultivate certified hemp seed for research and development for industrial uses. “I am proud of this common-sense, bipartisan legislation,” said Dollens,. “This measure could broaden Oklahoma’s economic base and become a steady source of revenue for our state. I’m confident the pilot program will reap valuable data that Oklahomans can then use to efficiently increase our agricultural and business portfolio.” Through the Agricultural Act of 2014, the federal government enabled states to begin growing hemp as a cash crop for limited purposes. Industrial hemp programs currently exist in nearly 40 other states. HB 2913 creates within the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry a revolving fund that will consist of all registration, lab, and inspection fees paid by program participants. “Gov. Fallin’s signature was the final step for this smart legislation,” said Echols. “Good policy like HB 2913 provides opportunities for Oklahomans to work together in both the legislative chambers and on local farms. Beginning to end, this measure exemplified teamwork, and I’m happy to see it cross the finish line.” Because the bill includes an emergency clause, the legislation takes effect immediately. The bill passed the House 92-0 on March 5, and the Senate 39-1 on April 16.
Criminal Justice Reform Bills
On April 26, Governor Mary Fallin signed seven criminal justice reform bills aimed at reducing the flow of nonviolent offenders into prison; establish a more efficient and streamlined parole process; and facilitate successful reentry that reduces recidivism. “Studies have shown that with our current laws Oklahoma’s prison population will grow 25 percent by 2026 and cost the state an additional $1.9 billion,” said Fallin. “Our state prisons are filled to well over capacity so it is crucial that we make some changes to our criminal justice system,” Fallin said. “These bills will not jeopardize public safety while addressing Oklahoma’s prison population.” The governor signed the following measures:
SB 650, which authorizes no more than one nonviolent felony to apply for expungement if they have no new convictions or pending charges within the last seven years.
SB 786, which eliminates the mandatory minimum and allow a judge to sentence up to the current maximum sentence of seven years in prison for burglary in the second degree, and would create a new felony offense, burglary in the third degree (defined as breaking into a vehicle), punishable by up to five years in prison.
SB 649, which reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies.
SB 689, which creates risk and needs assessment as a tool for sentencing.
SB 793, which changes the penalties for commercial drug offenses, and distinguishes conduct by possession with intent to distribute, distribution, and manufacturing.
HB 2281, which adjusts penalties for numerous low-level property offenses, including larceny, forgery and other “paper crimes.”
HB 2286, which creates an administrative parole process for nonviolent offenders who comply with case plans in prison so that the Pardon and Parole Board can focus on more serious offenders, and would establish a geriatric parole release process for inmates who are 60 and older and who have been determined to not be a public safety risk.
Trafficking in Baby Body Parts
Senate Bill 1267, which prohibits a medical provider from receiving Medicaid funds through the state if that medical provider has trafficked in baby body parts, was approved by the Oklahoma Legislature and sent to the governor. The bill was approved 44-0 in the Senate on March 13, and 77-12 in the House on April 25. You’ve probably seen the undercover videos of abortionists callously haggling over how much additional money they can get for harvesting and trafficking in the organs of babies they have killed. This horrific spectacle has been viewed on television screens across the country, and yet taxpayer money continues going to entities that have been involved in this grotesque practice. The bill was authored by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Kevin Calvey Treat (R-Oklahoma City).
Medicaid Work Requirements
House Bill 2932, authored by Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) and Rep. Glen Mulready (R-Tulsa), would instruct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) to seek waiver authority to modify SoonerCare Medicaid eligibility criteria to require documentation of the same education, skills, training, work or job activities currently required by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as food stamps. The bill would mirror federal Medicaid law and SNAP by exempting from the new eligibility requirements those individuals who are 19 years of age or younger or over 60 years old, pregnant, medically-certified as physically or mentally unfit for employment, or who are a parent or caretaker of a dependent child under a year old. According to the OHCA, there are approximately 106,600 Oklahomans who are a part of the parent/caretaker group receiving Medicaid coverage who are able-bodied/working-aged adults 19 to 64 who are not pregnant, disabled or blind. Thirty-two percent of those recipients were male and 25 percent were two adults living in the same home and both receiving Medicaid coverage. There were nearly 796,000 SoonerCare recipients in March 2018. The bill passed the House 63-26 on March 6. It was amended and approved by the Senate 31-11 on April 18. It was returned to the House for consideration of the Senate amendments. If it receives final approval by the Senate and is signed by the Governor, the new eligibility requirements would have to also be approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Constitutional Gun Carry
The Oklahoma House amended and passed SB 1212 to allow any person at least 21 years of age, or a person who is at least 18 years of age and in the military, to carry a firearm concealed or unconcealed if the person is not otherwise disqualified from the possession or purchase of a firearm. The amendment excludes persons convicted of certain crimes from carrying a firearm. State Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy) is the House author of the legislation, which passed the chamber with a vote of 59-28 on April 25. “The right for law-abiding citizens to openly carry firearms already exists in the United States Constitution – it’s called the Second Amendment. It’s time we put a stop to bureaucratic roadblocks that infringe on these rights and instead codify a citizen’s ability to carry a firearm. Oklahoma prides itself on being a state that values individual freedoms, yet we’ve put red tape between people and their basic rights. With today’s House passage of Senate Bill 1212.” It was returned to the Senate to accept House amendments. The Senate author is Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow).
Religious-based Adoption and Foster Care
The Oklahoma Legislature approved a bill to protect adoption and foster agencies which reject same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs. The bill would shield these organizations from lawsuits claiming discrimination. The bill says, “To the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency receiving neither federal nor state funds shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 1140 by 60-26 on April 26, after the bill had been passed by the state Senate 35- 9 on March 13. The legislation was authored by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Travis Dunlap (R-Bartlesville). If Governor Mary Fallin signs it into law, the legislation will come into affect on November 1. In 2016, a federal judge ruled that Mississippi’s ban on same-sex couples adopting children was unconstitutional. Oklahoma would join seven states – including Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia – which have passed a law of this kind.
Record $7.6 Billion State Budget
The Legislature passed a record $7.6 billion state budget that includes teacher pay raises and increases for common education, healthcare, human services and criminal justice reforms for the Fiscal Year-2019 which begins on July 1. The budget is a $745 million increase – or 10.9 percent – over the FY-2018 appropriated budget. “This is the best budget I have seen since I have been a member of the Legislature. This is the first year in a long time that we haven’t been fighting over which agencies to cut because of budget shortfalls. No state agency took a cut under this budget. Our fiscal picture looks better than it has in a long time, and I am hopeful that will continue next year as revenues increase and the economy continues to improve,” said House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston). Senate Bill 1600 passed the Senate 36-8 on April 25 and the House 63-31 on April 27 and was sent to the governor’s desk for her signature.
The bill includes a 19.8 percent increase for common education. The $2.9 billion K-12 education budget – the largest appropriation for common education in history – includes $353 million to fund pay raises that average $6,100 per teacher, $52 million for support personnel pay raises, $24 million for flex benefits and an additional $50 million for the classrooms, which includes $33 million for textbooks. The teacher pay raises moved Oklahoma teachers from last in region to second for average annual pay, just $400 behind Texas, and from 48th in the nation to 34th. When factoring for cost of living, Oklahoma teachers will now be the 12th highest paid in the nation.
The Legislature provided $52 million to pay for state employee pay raises and an additional $7.5 million to higher education to fund concurrent enrollment options, which allows juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. The budget increases funding for healthcare programs and services. The Legislature provided $24 million to the Department of Human Services to fund the Pinnacle Plan, an effort to improve the state’s child welfare system. In addition, the plan provides $110 million to the state’s graduate medical schools to replace the loss of federal funds that were being used for doctor training and residency slots. The budget also includes $2 million, a 100 percent increase, for the Developmental Disabilities Services (DDSD) waiting list, which is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), and also provides funding to restore provider reimbursement rates through the Health Care Authority, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and DHS.
Misinformation on Revenue for Education
Oklahoma House Appropriations & Budget Chair Kevin Wallace released a statement in response to misinformation about House Bill 1014XX, which directs revenue collected from motor fuel taxes to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. The bill passed out of the House as amended by a vote of 77-8 and was sent to the governor for her signature. “There is no money being ‘diverted away from education.’ None of the revenue raising measures that we passed last month were dedicated to ‘education funding’ in the first place, except for the Amazon marketplace bill. We needed more revenue to fund all of government, so we passed several measures that will give us additional resources. Those additional resources are what allows us to provide new funding for education and teacher pay raises. The bulk of the new money goes to the General Revenue Fund, which is the primary fund we use to appropriate monies to the state agencies. The money from the fuel taxes will be used for roads and bridges, but, in exchange, we will stop sending money from income tax collections to the Department of Transportation. It is simply a dollar-for-dollar swap. The money that we have been sending to the Department of Transportation will now stay in the General Revenue Fund and can be used for funding core services, including education.”
Opportunity Zones Designated
On April 12, Governor Mary Fallin announced the designation of federal opportunity zones across the state of Oklahoma. Opportunity zones were created by The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 signed by President Trump in December. They are intended to spur investment in impoverished and economically distressed areas. The U.S. Department of the Treasury reviewed and approved all of the governor’s designations in Oklahoma. Oklahoma is one of 15 states to have opportunity zones designated by the Treasury Department. Opportunity zones allow private investors and companies to defer and/or reduce their federal capital gains taxes when they are invested in a qualifying opportunity fund. They will connect private capital to economically distressed areas, which will benefit residents living in the zones, businesses operating in the zones, and the private investor willing to invest in projects that fit their profile. Fallin designated 117 census tracts in Oklahoma, which is the maximum number of opportunity zones allowed by the federal for the state of Oklahoma. The 117 opportunity zones are spread across the state, and cover 47 urban and rural counties and touch 30 tribal nations.
Citizenship Question on 2020 Census
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter joined Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to announce their support of the United States Secretary of Commerce’s authority to reinstate a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census. This information is necessary to provide complete and accurate data, which is critical for a variety of purposes, including promoting the right to participate in fair and free elections, the effective enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the development and tailoring of policies and services. Attorneys General Hunter, Coffman and Landry agree that federal law grants the Secretary broad discretion to select census questions that will further the vital goal of obtaining complete and accurate statistical data about our nation, and that asking about citizenship clearly falls within that discretion. A lack of reliable citizenship data may dilute or distort the voices of eligible voters, as well as deprive both the federal government and the States of necessary information.
While two lawsuits filed by other States against the Commerce Secretary claim that including a citizenship question will discourage participation in the census, the secretary was within his authority to find that the need for accurate citizenship information outweighed the fears of a lower response rate. “Citizenship still matters in this country,” said Attorney General Hunter. “It is important not to let a narrative of fear be established without people knowing the facts. The fact is that census data is confidential and individual responses cannot be shared with any other person, even other governmental agencies. If all public officials, including those in other states challenging the citizenship question, accurately inform and stress to the public the reality of the law, then there’s no reason for anyone to fear answering the census.”
Citizenship information has historically been an important part of the U.S. census and is currently included on other surveys of sample populations, including the annual American Community Survey. In fact, until removed by the Obama Administration, it was a standard question in the census. Similarly, other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Spain, and the United Kingdom, inquire about citizenship status on their census. Attorneys General Coffman, Hunter and Landry anticipate taking action to support the Secretary’s decision in litigation when the proper opportunity arises. The Census Bureau provides important information on their website, including a fact sheet that helps explain why certain questions may be asked.
State Question 795 Abandoned
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled on March 19 that an initiative petition for a proposed state question to increase oil and natural gas taxes to fund teacher pay raises could proceed. The effort to put State Question 795 before voters was led by a nonprofit group called Restore Oklahoma Now. The question proposed to change state law to set a flat 7 percent gross production tax on oil and natural gas wells drilled and producing in Oklahoma. The tax rate currently is 2 percent for the first three years of a well’s production. After three years, the production is taxed at the 7 percent rate. They estimated it would generate an additional $333 million a year. About $240 million of that increase would be used to provide each public school teacher a $4,000 annual raise. The group also proposes providing Oklahoma’s early childhood education programs with about $30 million a year and using the remaining $63 million generated by the increase to hire additional teachers.
The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association challenged the proposal’s constitutionality before the state high court, saying it would create a retroactive tax and that it violated an Oklahoma constitutional requirement that state questions embrace only one subject. They also argued that the language for the proposal’s signature page was misleading. The campaign to gather signatures was set to start in mid-April and group would have get 90 days to collect about 124,000 signatures from registered Oklahoma voters to get the question on November’s ballot. However, after the Legislature passed an increase in the gross production tax and approved a teacher pay raise, the group announced that they were abandoning the effort.
Jolley Joins Governor’s Cabinet
On February 28, Governor Mary Fallin announced she had selected Oklahoma Tax Commissioner Clark Jolley to serve on her executive Cabinet as Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology. Jolley, of Edmond, is vice chairman of the Oklahoma Tax Commission and a former state senator. His appointment requires Senate confirmation. He succeeds Preston Doerflinger who resigned from the post to become interim commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and later resigned from that position. Jolley served in the state Senate from 2004 until 2016, when he was term-limited. He had a 67 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index during his time in the Legislature.
Speaker McCall to be Retained
In March, the Speaker of the Oklahoma House, Charles McCall, was selected by fellow Republicans for another term as leader of the Oklahoma House, overcoming four challengers. Representatives Chad Caldwell, Tommy Hardin, Todd Russ and Charles Ortega failed in their challenge to unseat the Speaker. Assuming that Republicans retain control of the House after this year’s elections, he will be formally elected by the full House. McCall has a 62 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Greg Treat Selected Pro Tempore Designate
Also in March, Senate Republicans unanimously elected Senator Greg Treat of Oklahoma City to lead their caucus and the Oklahoma Senate. Treat was elected Pro Tem Designate, and will be formally elected at the beginning of next year’s legislative session, assuming Republicans retain control of the Senate. Treat will succeed the current Pro Tem, Mike Schulz (R-Altus), who is term-limited. Treat is currently the Senate Majority Floor Leader. Treat is one of the more conservative members of the Senate. He has a cumulative average of 70 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. In addition to leading the Majority Caucus and setting its agenda, the Pro Tem oversees the operations of the Senate. The current Pro Tem, Senator Mike Schulz is term limited. Under the rules of the Senate Republican Caucus, the remainder of the Senate Republican leadership team will be chosen following the general election in November.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Nomination
On April 5, Governor Mary Fallin named District Judge Richard Darby to serve as a justice on the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Darby, a judge for more than 30 years, succeeds former Justice Joseph Watt, who retired from the bench last year. Darby, of Altus, has served since 1994 as district judge for the 3rd Judicial District, which includes Jackson, Kiowa, Tillman, Greer and Harmon counties. Before that, he served as a special judge and an associate district judge for Jackson County. Supreme Court justices serve on the court as long as they are able and must appear on the ballot and be retained by voters every six years. Fallin selected Darby from three applicants submitted to her by the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor must choose from those three. Darby is a lifelong resident of southwest Oklahoma, and will represent the 9th district on the Supreme Court. The 9th Judicial District covers Harmon, Greer, Jackson, Kiowa, Tillman, Cotton, Comanche, Caddo and Canadian counties. Darby earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and his juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma’s college of law.
The White House announced on April 9 that President Trump had nominated Patrick Wyrick to serve as District Justice on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Wyrick, who is currently a justice on the Oklahoma Supreme CourtWyrick, 37, is liked in conservative legal circles, is on President Trump’s list of possible U.S. Supreme Court choices. He was formerly the state’s solicitor general under then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Wyrick’s nomination will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Wyrick was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court last year by Gov. Mary Fallin. Justice Wyrick graduated from the University of Oklahoma and from the University of Oklahoma School of Law with distinction.
Bridenstine Confirmed for NASA Job
Oklahoma First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 19 to be National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) administrator. In a 50-49 party line vote, he finally overcame the misgivings of all Senate Democrats and one Senate Republican delaying his confirmation for months. “I am humbled by this opportunity, and I once again thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for their confidence,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the outstanding team at NASA to achieve the president’s vision for American leadership in space.” He resigned his seat in the House which will be filled in this year’s regular election.
Bridenstine holds a triple major from Rice University and an M.B.A. from Cornell University. He served as a U.S. Navy pilot and was on active duty for nine years. He began his Naval aviation career piloting the E-2C Hawkeye off the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, flying combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. He later transitioned to the F-18 Hornet and flew as an “aggressor” at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. After leaving active duty, he returned to Tulsa to be the Executive Director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium. He served four years in the Navy Reserve achieving the rank of Lieutenant Commander and flew counter-drug missions in Central and South America. In 2015 he joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard.
Death of Harold Hale
Former state Rep. Harold Hale (D- El Reno) died on February 12. He was 81. He served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from District 43 from 1981 to 1990. He was one of the more conservative Democrats in the Legislature, earning a 43 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. After his time in office, Harold began working as the Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives, where he worked for 17 years until his retirement.
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