State Capitol Round-Up - Feb. 15
It’s early in the session, so the major issues before lawmakers remain mainly un-addressed and unresolved. Our main topics this week:
> Tax credit changes may be dead.
> A workers’ compensation bill could be in a Senate committee by Tuesday.
> Conspiracy theory may thwart water conservation plan.
> State Capitol may get $10 million for repairs next week.
> Equalization board should give lawmakers more money to spend.
Dank's Tax Credit Plan Dunked
An effort to end some state tax credits failed to pass an Oklahoma House subcommittee this week, prompting the bill's author to say lobbyists are in control of the legislative process.
The proposal by Rep. David Dank would end some state tax credits next year unless the legislature voted to reauthorize them.
The vote by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation caused Dank to pull three other tax credit bills from consideration by the committee. Dank said, quote, "I think the lobbyists out here are calling the shots and running the show."
Worker's Comp Overhaul to be Introduced
The promised changes to the state's workers' compensation system are expected to make their legislative debut next week. Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman says the bill will be introduced Monday and heard in committee Tuesday.
The bill is expected to create an administrative system for workers' compensation cases in Oklahoma. Currently, cases are heard in a workers' comp court. This change has been a major push for chambers of commerce across the state.
House Democratic leader Scott Inman says his caucus knows something needs to be done to lower the costs of the workers' compensation system, but creating a new system won’t eliminate the old one.
The current judicial structure would need to be maintained for at least a decade, according to Inman. He says the main reason for the high cost of Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system is in medical bills.
The Democrats also say recently enacted changes haven’t had time to truly take effect.
Water Conservation Bill Headed for Repeal?
In the House, a plan to conserve water in Oklahoma is under threat of repeal. The Water for 2060 Act was signed into law last year amid worry about sustained drought, shrinking water supplies and a growing state population.
The act sets the goal for the state to consume no more freshwater in 2060 than it did in 2012. But Republican Rep. Paul Wesselhoft’s House Bill 1562 would repeal the water plan and a related advisory council.
Inman says the rationale for the repeal makes no sense, and is based on conspiracy theories involving the United Nations.
One infrastructure issue that may dealt with next week is the state Capitol. Speaking to reporters Thursday, House Speaker T.W. Shannon said the supplemental appropriation for starting work on the building and a study could come next week.
Gov. Mary Fallin asked for $10 million in her State of the State address to being immediate repairs on the building’s façade.
Board of Equalization Meets
While the state Capitol appropriation may come right away, the biggest budget news next week happens Feb. 19. That's when the state Board of Equalization meets. They'll certify the amount of money lawmakers will have to spend this session.
While the amount is expected to be more than what was certified for the governor's executive budget in December, Pro Tem Bingman says it won't be enough to meet all the requests.
State agency and department heads have asked for hundreds of millions of dollars in increased budgets, but estimates show lawmakers may have less than $200 million more than before.