The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned onThursday night, ending its yearly session three weeks before the constitutional deadline on May 25.
After two special sessions left over from last year’s budget woes, a teacher protest that lasted almost two weeks and more than a year of struggling to find funds for state services, lawmakers passed a $7.6 billion dollar state budget in April, the largest in state history. Here’s a few more of state lawmakers’ accomplishments this year.
Teacher Pay Raise:
The legislature approved a salary increase for teachers in March by raising revenue from several sources (see below). On average, teachers will receive a raise of $6,100 per year. School support staff and state employees will receives as well. However, the passage of the pay raise bill was not enough to stop educators from walking out of the classroom and descending on the Capitol for a two-week walkout.
To fund the pay raise, legislators passed a series of tax increases. They increased the gross production tax on oil and gas production from 2 to 5 percent, implemented a 3-cent increase on gasoline taxes and 6-cent tax hike on diesel and added a $1 tax per pack of cigarettes. The tax increases were the first passed by the legislature in nearly 30 years, and were the first revenue-raising measures to surpass the three-quarters vote supermajority required by state constitution in order to raise taxes.
Expansion of gun laws:
While other states around the country consider stricter gun control in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Oklahoma made a move in the opposite direction. The state legislature sent two bills to the governor that expand gun ownership and usage.
House Bill 2632 would expand the state’s “stand your ground” law to include places of worship. The law allows individuals to use deadly or “defensive” force against an intruder or person who is threatening bodily harm. The provision already applies to residences, vehicles and other places where the person using defensive force “has a right to be.”
Senate Bill 1212 allows anyone over the age of 21 to carry firearms openly without a permit, background check or required training, as long as they are otherwise not prohibited from doing so. StateImpact Oklahoma’s Quinton Chandler reported on the bill, known as “constitutional carry”:
Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield, added the constitutional carry provision to the bill in late April. He said state agencies infringe on Oklahoman’s right to bear arms by charging fees for carry licenses and denying licenses to “law-abiding” citizens.
Coody said gun buyers would still be subject to federal background checks, plus businesses and private organizations will still be able to prohibit guns.
Some legislators criticized the constitutional carry amendment because it circumvents state gun regulations, but the bill easily passed both chambers.
Both bills still need to be signed by the governor before they become law.
Criminal justice bills:
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a number of bills intended to reduce the state’s prison population. HB 2286 makes it easier for inmates serving nonviolent sentences to receive parole, and streamlines the parole review process. Other bills reduce or eliminate prison sentences for certain minor and nonviolent crimes.
Still waiting on Fallin’s signature is SB 1221, which created guidelines for sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the chance for parole.
Lawmakers passed SB 1140, a bill allowing private adoption agencies that contract with the state to act in accordance with their “written religious or moral convictions or policies.” Opponents of the bill argue that it could allow religious-based organizations that manage adoptions to discriminate against same-sex couples.
eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley told KGOU the bill includes language prohibiting the agencies from violating federal and state law, but it’s likely to face legal challenges.
“It seems certain that this bill will be challenged,” Ashley said. “The issue becomes whether the various criteria that these organizations use to select foster parents and adoptive families are in fact some form of discrimination. And really that would be up for the court to decide.”
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