Legislative committee work dominated the first full week of the Oklahoma legislative session for the House and Senate, as well as some other planning.
Oklahoma Senate leader pushes budget-only session: A plan to dedicate every other legislative session in Oklahoma exclusively to creating a state budget is picking up momentum in the Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin touted the idea on the campaign trail, and now Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has written a resolution that would send the plan to a vote of the people. A similar proposal passed the House last year on a bipartisan 70-18 vote and had the support of Republican House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman. If approved by voters, the Legislature would write a budget every year, but only deal with non-budget bills every other year.
House Bill 1409 received a "do pass" recommendation from the House Committee on Public Health. Among its provisions, it would triple the waiting period for terminating a pregnancy after informed consent has been provided: from 24 to 72 hours.
The House Elections and Ethics Committee gave do pass recommendations to four bills. A fifth bill, by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, was laid over. The committee substitute for HB1097, by Rep. Donald Condit, D-McAlester, generated the most discussion. The bill would make sheriffs elections non-partisan. Condit said he filed the bill after speaking with a constituent who had been unable to vote in recent sheriffs’ elections. The Committee also approved a measure where voters could apply to become permanent absentee voters. State Rep. Elise Hall, author of House Bill 1559, said the intent of her legislation is to improve the absentee ballot system and encourage greater voter participation.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services made its annual appropriation request Tuesday in front of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health. The department is requesting a total of $141,104,999 for FY16. A large majority of these appropriations would go towards maintaining existing programs and the Smart on Crime Initiative, which includes funding drug courts and mental health courts. Commissioner Terri White said the department's most important goal was to maintain these existing programs such as the Systems of Care Program.
The Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB0578, by Sen. Wayne Shaw, designed to reduce the number of aged prisoners in the Department of Corrections’ custody by establishing a secure nursing facility for prisoners. Such a facility currently does not exist, Shaw said, and the older, often ailing inmates, remain in prison and cost the state additional money. The proposal would create a stand-alone long-term care facility for any incarcerated offender deemed by the DOC to be either critically or terminally ill.
The House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed four bills on Wednesday with minimal debate. Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, voiced repeated concerns about HB1046, a bill that would modify the way in which restitution is paid in Oklahoma. HB1046, by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, requires that if the court cancels all or part of restitution owed, the court must also apply the same percentage reduction to any court-ordered monetary obligation owed by the defendant.