After the Step Up Oklahoma package of revenue-raising bills failed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives Monday, a message on the plan’s website read, “Step Up Oklahoma’s effort has run its course” and that fixing the state’s financial problems is worth continued deliberations.
However, in a press conference following the bill’s defeat, House Speaker Charles McCall said the negotiations were final, saying, "We've made it very clear: This was the final package we would consider."
eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley says the Oklahoma legislature sent a clear message to the Step Up coalition: passing revenue-raising measures isn’t something lawmakers are willing to do.
“Multiple proposals were considered that failed to gain traction and win passage,” Ashley said. “Their analysis is that there is simply not an interest in moving forward in increasing revenue coming into the state.”
State auditor and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Jones joined House Democrats this week, with a new plan that hopes to reignite the revenue-raising discussion. Meanwhile,House and Senate committees passed bills to cut state agencies across the board.
Committees Vote To Expand “Stand Your Ground”
The same day a gunman killed 17 people in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. an Oklahoma House committee passed a bill extending the protections of the state’s “stand your ground” law to include places of worship.
The bill by Rep. Greg Babinec, R-Cushing, modifies the law that allows someone to shoot another person if one fears for his/her life. The current law allows for the defense of one’s house or businesses. Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, pointed out both of those places are personal property, unlike a church.
eCapitol’s Sidney Lee reports, “Babinec's definition, both in the bill and as he explained it during the committee, defined a ‘place of worship’ as anywhere people are gathered together to worship, not just at a dedicated house of worship.”
During debate in the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday, Babinec said, "A place of worship can be anywhere; it can be on a Sunday afternoon or Sunday night prayer group next to the Cimarron River on a beautiful day. In my mind, that constitutes as a place of worship."
The bill passed 13-6 and could be heard on the House floor as soon as next week.
On Thursday, a similar bill passed out of a Senate committee that more clearly defined a place of worship as “building structure or office space owned, leased or used for worship services or religious activities."
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your inside look at Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor, with the eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the Step Up Oklahoma plan that featured revenue-raising measures and various other changes failed in a House vote. Supporters claim it's the end of the road for the proposal in this legislative session. Could it still come back?
Shawn Ashley: There is a possibility that some revenue proposal could come back. This bill in particular was considered in the second special session and not held on a motion to reconsider. So essentially, the other day it died when that vote was cast, and it did not receive a 75 percent vote in the House of Representatives. There is talk of possibly other measures coming forth in the future. But, for the time being it seems that specific proposal is dead.
Pryor: After all the work they put in to craft a proposal, to right the state’s fiscal ship, why were supporters of the plan so quick to declare the deal dead?
Ashley: Well, as House Speaker Charles McCall pointed out, lawmakers have been working on the revenue issue really for 13 months. Multiple proposals were considered that failed to gain traction and win passage. And then, in a special session that began in September and ended in November, other attempts were made unsuccessfully and then in a second special session there was no interest in moving forward on revenue-raising measures, including the vote on Monday. Their analysis is that there is simply not an interest in moving forward in increasing revenue coming into the state.
Pryor: Democrats suggested there is a better solution possible. Republicans maintain there is not a plan B. What do Democrats want?
Ashley: Democrats have joined forces with State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones on a proposal that would increase the cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack. It would also increase the motor fuel taxes, not as much as was in the Step Up plan. And it also includes a proposal to increase the gross production discount rate from 2 percent to 5 percent rather than the 4 percent rate that was in the Step Up plan, but also rolling back some of the individual income tax cuts that had been advanced by Republicans over the last several years. Really, what they want to see is that Republicans admit that they were wrong, that these cutbacks have reduced state revenue to the point that state services and facilities cannot be maintained like they need to be.
Pryor: But they won't admit that.
Ashley: They will not admit that, no.
Pryor: So that does tend to make it a done deal.
Ashley: That really sets the stage where it's unlikely that an individual income tax increase would be considered and that the gross production tax discount rate would be eliminated and the rate return to the full 7 percent.
Pryor: On Wednesday, there was another mass shooting at a school in Florida. That same day, the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill expanding Oklahoma's "stand your ground" law.
Ashley: House Bill 2632 by Rep. Greg Babinec, a Republican from Cushing, expands the state's "stand your ground" rule to include places of worship. Within the bill, that's not defined and that was a very big issue for members of the House Judiciary Committee. The author of the bill, however, said that he chose not to define place of worship very purposefully, because in his mind "it could be next to the Canadian River on a beautiful day." The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and is eligible to be heard on the floor the following day. On Thursday, the Senate Public Safety Committee took up its own version of that bill, essentially the same language, but they chose to define a place of worship as a "building, structure or office space owned, leased or used for worship services or religious activities." That bill also passed out of committee and is now eligible to be heard by the full Senate.
Pryor: Did they define this standard that must be met to allow people to start firing?
Ashley: Since this rolls right into the state’s existing "stand your ground" rule, it would be that fear of imminent danger, of life or well-being that exists when we're in our homes or anywhere else in public.
Pryor: What should we watch for over the next few days in the coming days?
Ashley: In the coming days, lawmakers will take up the legislation that will reduce state agency budgets in order to prop up the funding for the Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
Pryor: And the state equalization board will meet on Tuesday.
Ashley: The Board of Equalization meets on Tuesday, giving the state budget writers, including the governor and the appropriations chairs, the final number they will have to work with as they begin crafting the FY-19 budget.
Pryor: There's a lot happening, Shawn.
Ashley: Every day.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @KGOUnews. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.