KGOU

State Lawmakers To Take Up School, Abortion, Handgun And Budget Bills

Jan 27, 2017

 

The Oklahoma legislature will consider bills covering a wide range of topics in its upcoming session.

eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley told KGOU’s Dick Pryor that lawmakers will tackle issues including handguns, abortion and how to fix the state’s estimated $900 million budget shortfall.

“Really every aspect of state law, state government is touched by the bills that were filed this year,” said Shawn Ashley.

House Bill 2323, authored by Rep. Jeff Coody, aims to make Oklahoma a constitutional carry state. The bill would allow citizens 21 and older, without a felony, to purchase and carry a gun without a license. Current Oklahoma law requires a background check, mental health check and firearm training to purchase and carry a gun.

Legislators will also look at school measures. Senate Bill 2, authored by Sen. J. J. Dossett, would eliminate the History End of Instruction exam. It’s the only remaining state mandated test that is not required by the U.S. Department of Education.

There was strife between legislators and state agencies in budget hearings this week over legislators taking nonappropriated funds from state agencies to balance the budget.

“What those agency heads pointed out is that much of that money was what they really needed to operate for the current fiscal year,” Ashley said.

The agencies warned they will have to slow or stop operations if the government continues to take money from them.

As the beginning of the legislative session approaches on February 6, Ashley said Gov. Mary Fallin’s office is finishing the executive budget and preparing the governor’s second to last State of the State address.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On what kinds of bills the legislature will look at this session:

Shawn Ashley: There are a lot of areas covered in the bills that were filed by the deadline on January 19th. A big area, of course, are handguns.There are some proposals which would make Oklahoma essentially a constitutional carry state, where if you’re 21 and older and don’t have a felony conviction, you could purchase and carry a handgun. As we discussed a little bit last week, there are a number of different teacher pay raise measures out there. Most of them, however, do not have a funding mechanism. We also see a number of abortion bills. Some of these harken back to some measures which have been found unconstitutional, but they attempt to fix those problems that made them unconstitutional when the court last reviewed them. There are a number of other measures that deal with some of the education policy aspects, such as the few remaining End of Instruction matters, as well as the Reading Sufficiency Act. Really every aspect of state law, state government is touched by the bills that were filed this year.

On the legislature taking money from state agencies:

Shawn Ashley: The budget hearings this week have been rather unique. Most of them focused on what we call our nonappropriated agencies. These are many of the regulatory agencies that issue licenses to doctors, dentists and a variety of other individuals. There were two interesting points I think brought up in those hearings. First of all, many of those involved pointed out that the legislature reached into those nonappropriated agencies’ funds and borrowed money from them to balance this year’s budget. Maybe ‘borrowed’ isn’t the appropriate term, ‘took money’ may be the more appropriate term. And what those agency heads pointed out is that much of that money was what they really needed to operate for the current fiscal year, so we saw some agencies like the Commission on Consumer Credit, which had to slow and essentially stop for a period of time its examination of mortgage brokers and mortgage lenders. So it did have a negative impact on some of them and the legislators were warned that it could have that again if the legislature reaches in and takes that money. The other issue are sort of their fixed cost - the cost that they pay other state agencies, particularly the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, for accounting services and purchasing services. Some agencies said those had increased more than two times over the last few fiscal years.

 

Dick Pryor: Shawn, the bill filing deadline has passed and, as usual, over 2,000 bills filed. What themes do you see developing?

Shawn Ashley: There are a lot of areas covered in the bills that were filed by the deadline on January 19th. A big area, of course, are handguns.There are some proposals which would make Oklahoma essentially a constitutional carry state, where if you’re 21 and older and don’t have a felony conviction, you could purchase and carry a handgun. As we discussed a little bit last week, there are a number of different teacher pay raise measures out there. Most of them, however, do not have a funding mechanism. We also see a number of abortion bills. Some of these harken back to some measures which have been found unconstitutional, but they attempt to fix those problems that made them unconstitutional when the court last reviewed them. There are a number of other measures that deal with some of the education policy aspects, such as the few remaining End of Instruction matters, as well as the Reading Sufficiency Act. Really every aspect of state law, state government is touched by the bills that were filed this year.

Pryor: Senate Republicans announced their plan for the upcoming session. What do they want to do?

Ashley: They outlined a number of different proposals, which Senate President pro tem, Mike Schulz, said really had one goal, which was to make Oklahoma a better state than it already is. One thing that the Senate president pro tem stressed more than we’ve really heard in the past is that he’s not looking at the immediate problems. Rather he’s looking at addressing the immediate problems in a way that will benefit the state five, ten, 15 and even 20 years down the road, he said. The proposals cover many of those same areas that are covered in the bills which have been introduced. Everything from solving the current budget crisis and the $800 million, nearly $900 million shortfall, to addressing problems like Real ID and others.

Pryor: What are the takeaways from the series of budget hearings?

Ashley: The budget hearings this week have been rather unique. Most of them focused on what we call our nonappropriated agencies. These are many of the regulatory agencies that issue licenses to doctors, dentists and a variety of other individuals. There were two interesting points I think brought up in those hearings. First of all, many of those involved pointed out that the legislature reached into those nonappropriated agencies’ funds and borrowed money from them to balance this year’s budget. Maybe ‘borrowed’ isn’t the appropriate term, ‘took money’ may be the more appropriate term. And what those agency heads pointed out is that much of that money was what they really needed to operate for the current fiscal year, so we saw some agencies like the Commission on Consumer Credit, which had to slow and essentially stop for a period of time its examination of mortgage brokers and mortgage lenders. So it did have a negative impact on some of them and the legislators were warned that it could have that again if the legislature reaches in and takes that money. The other issue are sort of their fixed cost - the cost that they pay other state agencies, particularly the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, for accounting services and purchasing services. Some agencies said those had increased more than two times over the last few fiscal years.

Pryor: The legislative session begins on February 6th. What is the governor’s office doing during the week leading up to the State of the State and the start of the session?

Ashley: They really have two focuses this next week. That is to finish the governor’s executive budget, which really they have been working on for some time and then finishing up her next to last State of the State speech, which she will give as the legislature gets underway on February 6th.

Pryor: That’s the Capitol Insider. ECapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Thank you.

Ashley: You’re very welcome.

 

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