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Five Things That DIDN’T Happen During Oklahoma’s 2017 Legislative Session

May 26, 2017

Lawmakers finished the 2017 legislative session on Friday the passage of a nearly $7 billion budget. Legislators accomplished some of their goals this year, including compliance with the federal REAL ID Act and a $1.50 fee per pack of cigarettes. But there were also several things that did not happen at the statehouse, including the five items listed below.

 

No pay raise for teachers

 

A raise has been a long time coming for Oklahoma’s teachers.

 

They’re paid an estimated average of $44,921 a year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s the third-lowest in the nation, with only South Dakota and MIssissippi paying their teachers less.

 

And many teachers make even less than that. The minimum salary for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree is just $31,600 a year, according to the state Department of Education.

 

Legislators proposed several plans to raise teacher salaries, but none of them went through.

 

House Bill 1114, by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, would have awarded teachers an additional $1,000 in the 2017-2018 school year, an additional $2,000 the following year and an additional $3,000 the year after that. But the bill didn’t make it through the legislature before the session ended.

 

Other bills proposed raising money for teacher salaries by raising taxes on gasoline and pulling from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund.

 

The absence of a teacher pay raise in the final version of the state budget led teachers and advocates to protest in the capitol during the last week of the legislative session.

 

 

Sales taxes on services

 

During her 2017 state-of-the-state address, Gov. Mary Fallin asked the legislature to expand the sales tax base to include services that currently aren’t taxed. Her proposal included a list of 164 services, which could generate up to $934 million in revenue. Services on the list included big items such as utilities for residential use and cable TV services, and small pieces like glass and glazing contractors and dog grooming services.

 

The proposal got off to a rocky start. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a Republican eying a campaign for governor next year, resigned from the governor’s cabinet over the proposal. When the House couldn’t pass the three-quarters threshold to raise the tax on cigarettes, Fallin’s proposal seemed to be floundering.

 

During his weekly roundup of business news in Oklahoma, Journal Record editor Ted Streuli told KGOU that not a single one of Fallin’s sales tax expansions passed.

 

“The proposals included everything from accounting services to manicures to advertising and subscriptions, and not one of those was able to get off the ground,” Streuli said.

 

 

No deep cuts to agencies

 

With extensive cuts to state agencies over the past five years, there wasn’t much fat that lawmakers could trim from this year’s budget.

 

Many state agencies, including the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Pardon and Parole Board, the Department of Tourism and Recreation, the Water Resources Board and the Department of Libraries, lost 4.87 percent of their funding.

 

 

The Department of Human Services will receive an appropriation of $700 million, which director Ed Lake said is $33 million dollar short of its current budget obligations. In a written statement, Lake said his agency will evaluate its options and priorities for the next year at they make difficult decisions.

“We certainly appreciate that this appropriation is higher than what we were given last year considering the state’s fiscal circumstances," Lake wrote. "However, after several years of making reductions to meet the demands of new, unfunded costs, revenue failures, and losses of federal funding, we are not going to be able to balance our budget without significant consequences to services and our ability to administer them effectively.”

Other agencies, including the Department of Education, the Department of Corrections and the Health Care Authority, saw slight increases in funding. 

 

Other agencies saw even larger increases. The Department of Public Safety will see a 7.16 percent increase in spending, and the Conservation Commission will see at 7.38 percent increase.

 

While some of the funding cuts were lower than expected, they follow years of decreased state spending on social services, health care and other issues.

 

 

Paternal consent abortion bill

 

A bill that would have required written consent from the father before an abortion can be performed never made it to the House floor.

 

HB 1441 by Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, gained national attention when Humphrey told The Intercept that pregnant women are “a host.”

 

The Intercept’s Jordan Smith writes:

 

Ultimately, he said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions,” he said. “I understand that they feel like that is their body,” he said of women. “I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host and so, you know, if you pre-know that then take all precautions and don’t get pregnant,” he explained. “So that’s where I’m at. I’m like, hey, your body is your body and be responsible with it. But after you’re irresponsible then don’t claim, well, I can just go and do this with another body, when you’re the host and you invited that in.”

 

Humphry’s bill passed out the House Public Health Committee, 5-2, but it never received a vote on the House floor.

 

 

No special session has been called--yet

 

State law prohibits lawmakers from considering revenue measures in the last five days of the legislative session. Additionally, revenue-raising bills need three-fourths approval, instead of as simple majority. As the end of May approached, it didn’t seem likely that the legislature would meet the deadline.

 

For nearly a month, the threat of a special extended legislative session hovered over the State Capitol, especially after Governor Mary Fallin threatened to veto any budget proposals that failed to provide sufficient revenue sources.

 

But on the last day of session, with hours left to go, the House approved Senate Bill 860, which will now be sent to Fallin  for a signature.

 

But it might not be over yet. If any of the budget’s measures are challenged in court and found unconstitutional -- like the cigarette fee, gross production tax increase and motor vehicle tax increase -- a special session might still be called.

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