Legislative committee work dominated the first full week of the Oklahoma legislative session for the House and Senate, as well as some other planning.
Oklahoma Senate leader pushes budget-only session: A plan to dedicate every other legislative session in Oklahoma exclusively to creating a state budget is picking up momentum in the Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin touted the idea on the campaign trail, and now Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has written a resolution that would send the plan to a vote of the people. A similar proposal passed the House last year on a bipartisan 70-18 vote and had the support of Republican House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman. If approved by voters, the Legislature would write a budget every year, but only deal with non-budget bills every other year.
House Bill 1409 received a "do pass" recommendation from the House Committee on Public Health. Among its provisions, it would triple the waiting period for terminating a pregnancy after informed consent has been provided: from 24 to 72 hours.
The House Elections and Ethics Committee gave do pass recommendations to four bills. A fifth bill, by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, was laid over. The committee substitute for HB1097, by Rep. Donald Condit, D-McAlester, generated the most discussion. The bill would make sheriffs elections non-partisan. Condit said he filed the bill after speaking with a constituent who had been unable to vote in recent sheriffs’ elections. The Committee also approved a measure where voters could apply to become permanent absentee voters. State Rep. Elise Hall, author of House Bill 1559, said the intent of her legislation is to improve the absentee ballot system and encourage greater voter participation.
The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services made its annual appropriation request Tuesday in front of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health. The department is requesting a total of $141,104,999 for FY16. A large majority of these appropriations would go towards maintaining existing programs and the Smart on Crime Initiative, which includes funding drug courts and mental health courts. Commissioner Terri White said the department's most important goal was to maintain these existing programs such as the Systems of Care Program.
The Senate Public Safety Committee approved SB0578, by Sen. Wayne Shaw, designed to reduce the number of aged prisoners in the Department of Corrections’ custody by establishing a secure nursing facility for prisoners. Such a facility currently does not exist, Shaw said, and the older, often ailing inmates, remain in prison and cost the state additional money. The proposal would create a stand-alone long-term care facility for any incarcerated offender deemed by the DOC to be either critically or terminally ill.
The House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed four bills on Wednesday with minimal debate. Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, voiced repeated concerns about HB1046, a bill that would modify the way in which restitution is paid in Oklahoma. HB1046, by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, requires that if the court cancels all or part of restitution owed, the court must also apply the same percentage reduction to any court-ordered monetary obligation owed by the defendant.
Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said Thursday that while more duties have been stacked on her agency’s plate, their state appropriated dollars have been shrinking. The Corporation Commission was just one of nine state agencies that attended a joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriation and budget natural resources committees. Murphy and her commission is requesting $11,697,709 in appropriations for fiscal year 2016. They received $10,775,325 in FY2015.
Three bills received do pass recommendations Thursday from the House Insurance Committee. The requirements for one of them, HB1033, by Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, were questioned by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell. Russ said the bill would require “audited financial statement…of certain types of bail bondsmen. “That requirement is a pretty high bar, about the highest in the county rule,” Russ said. Oklahoma Insurance Department Assistant General Counsel Buddy Combs explained it was only a requirement of professional and multi-county bail bondsmen who, for all intents and purposes, operate like insurance companies.
The Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee held their first meeting to discuss 14 pieces of legislation Thursday. SB0713, by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore and Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, received the most attention from the committee. The bill allows the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) to facilitate the development of seven peer-supported, drop-in centers for serving Oklahoma veterans. Committee member Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton, cautioned Simpson about having a mental health label on these centers. “Most of our veterans are real apprehensive about being tied to mental health problems and I want you to understand that we need some focus on getting them comfortable with that or we’re going to lose a lot of vets,” he said.
The House Public Safety committee approved four measures and laid over half of their agenda. Only one bill received some discussion and debate, HB1082, by Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, which prohibits the sale or offer for sale of any tire to a consumer for use on a public roadway that has a thread depth less than two thirty-seconds of an inch or of a tire that is in unsafe operating condition. Ownbey explained the use of these tires is already illegal under Oklahoma law, he said, but nothing prohibits individuals from selling these to consumers who may be unaware of the statute.
The Horse Racing Commission said Wednesday that if their state appropriations are not increased soon, their agency may be in jeopardy. Director Constantin Rieger told a joint meeting of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Natural Resources and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Natural Resources that he was aware of the current state of the state budget and his agency would, nonetheless, work within the means of whatever they are appropriated. “Every year I think I’ve said this, we are close to being in trouble, and we’re very close to that now,” Rieger said. The Horse Racing Commission is requesting $2,346,000 in appropriations for fiscal year 2016, compared to $1,973,779 received the previous fiscal year.
The House State Government Operations Committee heard just one bill during a meeting Wednesday. HB1337, by Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, requires public bodies to make available on their website information concerning the number of persons with disabilities employed by the public body. The bill unanimously received a do pass recommendation from the committee by a 7-0 vote. “Over 70 percent of blind and deaf people are unemployed,” Lockhart said. “We just took a step toward getting them off welfare.”
House Public Committee: A bill that would prohibit embryonic stem cell research in the state narrowly passed a House committee after some debate Wednesday. The measure, resurrected from last year’s session, and authored by Rep. Dan Fisher, makes it a felonious offense for anyone to knowingly conduct nontherapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death in the state. The bill received approval from the House last session but did not advance to the Senate.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services laid over three of five bills Wednesday, while the other two received do pass recommendations. One of the delayed bills was SB0546, by Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, that would authorize the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to enter into a lease agreement with the Enid Regional Development Alliance for a portion of property constituting the former Northern Oklahoma Resource Center. Sen. Crain, R-Tulsa, said they’re anticipating that OMES is going to give an explanation of why they think this property may have some value that is not recognized in the bill.
The Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development discussed Friday how Gov. Mary Fallin’s three priorities areas affect the state’s workforce and how to implement solutions. As mentioned in both her inaugural speech and State of the State address, Fallin spoke specifically about the Oklahoma Works program, which pipelines individuals from schools into the workforce, aligning educational skill sets with the needs of the local economy.
The Senate passed four resolutions last week. SR0008, by Sen. A J Griffin, R-Guthrie, was adopted unanimously and congratulates the Perry High School Marching Band for being named 2A State Champions. SR0007, by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, honors the life and career of the late Sen. Jerry Smith and mourns his loss. SCR0005, by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Rep. R.C. Pruett, D-Antlers, congratulates the 2014 Class A Fast-Pitch State Champions, the Rock Creek Mustangs Softball team.SCR0006, also by Brecheen and Rep. Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, congratulates the 2014 Fall Class A State Champions the Silo High School Rebels Baseball Team.
The House met briefly Thursday morning wrapping up floor business for the first week of session and approving one resolution before moving onto committee meetings. The House unanimously adopted HR1003, by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, which proclaims Feb. 6 as Wear Red Day in recognition of the importance of the ongoing fight against heart disease and stroke in women.
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