Legislative Highlights From A Busy Wednesday At The Oklahoma Capitol

Mar 10, 2016

The next 12 hours will likely be frantic at the state Capitol, since Thursday is the deadline for House and Senate members to consider bills in their chamber of origin.

There was also a flurry of activity yesterday – the House was in session until well past 9 p.m. Here are some of the highlights of measures and resolutions lawmakers advanced:

Revisiting Autism Coverage

The House approved legislation that would require health insurers to cover autism treatment for children. It now goes to the Senate, where supporters say it faces some opposition. The measure by State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, requires a health benefit plan to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of an autism spectrum disorder in children, up to $25,000 per year.

Nelson says 43 other states have enacted similar bills without burdensome increases in insurance costs.

“So many of these other states have done it and the wheels haven't come off the wagon,” Nelson said during floor debate. “Some states probably would do it differently if they could, but that's a blessing for Oklahoma that we have the benefit of their experience."

Similar legislation was defeated in 2008 following an emotional debate between supporters and opponents who expressed concern that the autism mandate would drive up the cost of health insurance and make it unaffordable for many Oklahomans. 

Term Limit Extensions

The Senate approved a proposal that would increase term limits for statewide elected officials like the lieutenant governor, state treasurer and attorney general from eight years to 12 years. The resolution for a constitutional amendment now heads to the House for consideration.

If voters approve the proposal by state Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, this fall, all statewide elected officials, except the governor, would be able to serve 12 years in office. 

"The governor's been at eight years since the mid-60s. It seems to be working well,” Schulz said as he presented his legislation on the Senate floor. “I believe it brings continuity to these other offices. I also believes it allows them to be more efficient at running these different offices and agencies that they're in charge of."

Schulz said the bill was written so that the current officeholders could run for another four-year term after 2018.

REAL ID Solution

The Senate approved a compromise Wednesday that allows Oklahomans an option on whether or not their drivers’ license or state identification card complies with the federal REAL ID Act. That law was passed after 9/11 to provide higher security for government identification, and Oklahoma passed a law in 2007 that bars the state from complying.

But state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, says that means Oklahomans wouldn't be able to fly commercially using a state-issued ID card starting in 2018.

"There are people who have passports, and they'll be fine, and there are people who never fly, and they'll be fine, but there's a lot of Oklahomans in the middle,” Holt said. “We've got to offer them something. I think if we, as a state government, fail to offer our citizens an identification that allows them to fly in the United States of America, we have utterly failed them at a very basic government service."

The REAL ID Act also requires compliant legislation to enter federal facilities and military bases.

Tribal Compacts

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday supporters say gives state residents more of a say in tribal compacts. It requires two-thirds of the Oklahoma Senate to approve all compacts and cooperative agreements with tribes before they can take effect.

During floor debate Wednesday, state Sen. Greg Treat says his bill is modeled after federal tribal compact negotiations, and that the state’s agreements with Oklahoma’s 39 federally recognized tribes do have an effect on the state budget.

“The tribal members who have elected representatives are well-represented in the compact process. We have abdicated that responsibility by not allowing us to have some ratification.”

Treat urged his colleagues to examine the financial implications of tribal license plates and hunting, fishing, and tobacco compacts. The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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