With the 56th Oklahoma legislature adjourned, Gov. Mary Fallin is left at the Capitol to decide the fate of bills sent to her by lawmakers. So far, Fallin has signed more than 300 new laws into effect, while vetoing 11.
Eleven bills remain on her desk for consideration; among them, are a measure that would allow unlicensed people over 21 years old to carry a loaded firearm, and one that opponents say would allow adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Fallin has to decide the fate of those remaining bills by May 18.
The governor signed a bill that would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work or participate in skills training in order to receive SoonerCare benefits. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency, must approve the change. eCapitol reports the agency has approved similar requirements in Kentucky, Indiana, New Hampshire and Arkansas.
However, those four states approved Medicaid expansions under the Obama administration. Oklahoma did not -- something eCapitol’s Tyler Tally reports, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority noted at a meeting this week.
"The ones that have been approved are in expansion states," OHCA's Chief Executive Officer Becky Pasternik-Ikard noted Thursday. "CMS, we believe, will view non-expansion states a bit differently."
eCaptiol’s Shawn Ashley tells KGOU, state officials are unsure how many people the change may affect. “Depending on who you talk to, that can be anywhere from a little over a thousand individuals on up to several thousand individuals,” Ashley said.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, with the legislative session over, eyes now shift to the governor's office. We're watching to see which bills Gov. Fallin signs and which ones she vetoes. The governor has already signed all of the budget bills and one that requires certain Medicaid recipients to satisfy a work requirement to receive health care benefits under SoonerCare. There's been some controversy about that.
Shawn Ashley: First, in Oklahoma, a concern was how many people might be affected, how many might lose their SoonerCare benefits. And depending on who you talk to, that can be anywhere from a little over a thousand individuals on up to several thousand individuals. These are able-bodied adults who, for one reason or another, are not working and are receiving these benefits, but they would have to participate in certain programs or work in order to continue receiving them. In order to implement these changes requiring the work requirements, the state will have to get a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal government agency. The center has granted a number of these waivers in states that have expanded their Medicare coverage where more people are now eligible and receiving additional benefits as a result of legislation approved under President Obama's administration. But in those states like Oklahoma that chose not to expand their Medicare services, the center has been a little more reluctant to approve those work requirement programs and really has not acted on many of them yet.
Pryor: Already, the governor has caused considerable reaction by vetoing what seems to be a rather innocuous and popular bill that would have moved the state's Native American Day to Columbus Day. On the surface, that seems like an unforced error.
Ashley: It really does. Most people are probably unaware of the fact that Oklahoma had a Native American Day, that it was in November. This would have moved it to October, as you said, coinciding with Columbus Day, which, nationwide and in the state of Oklahoma, there has been a move towards an Indigenous Americans' Day or a Native Americans' Day to coincide with that day. The bill had support among Native American tribes in the state. Yet the governor chose to veto it, expressing concern that it might cause confusion by moving it to that day. You know, when you really look at Oklahoma's holiday laws, we have some confusion already. There actually is what is called an Indian Day in Oklahoma. It's on the first Saturday following a full moon in September.
Pryor: And who knew?
Ashley: Who knew.
Pryor: Besides you. Now, the governor has vetoed a bill that would have required (the Oklahoma Department of Transportation) to conduct an economic impact study and also to get community approval before building highways that bypass a city. This is a potentially big story.
Ashley: I think it is. I think it's something we will see again next legislative session, if not before. The issue involves Muskogee, and several years ago there was a plan to expand U.S. Highway 69 which goes through essentially the center of Muskogee. It's a big truck traffic road. They did half of that project, the northern half. But, in the most recent eight-year plan, a bypass, is proposed around the community of Muskogee that would take all of that truck traffic away from the city. There's been a lot of economic development around that road, that's dependent on that road, Muskogee officials say. And by creating this bypass you may destroy much of the economy of Muskogee. The bill would have required, before a bypass could have been proposed, that an economic study be conducted in order to see what the impact of the bypass would be. It also required that the communities agree to the bypass. There have been instances where towns have wanted bypasses around them in order to improve safety and address concerns like this. However, Gov. Fallin pointed out that allowing communities to have that level of involvement would essentially undermine the efforts of ODOT in determining how to build roads across the state.
Pryor: But communities are watching this carefully, because if this goes through, then it could happen to anybody.
Ashley: It could happen to anyone right now. and that was an argument that was made on the Senate floor in particular, that ODOT could, anywhere in the state of Oklahoma, bypass a community, build a road around it and potentially destroy its economy.
Pryor: What should we watch for over the next few days?
Ashley: The governor has until May 18 in order to sign or veto the remaining bills that are on her desk. There are a number of controversial measures within that group that it appears she will be taking a little extra time to decide what to do with.
Pryor: Thanks Shawn. That's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.
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