The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, Feb. 1, to Wed., Feb. 4, 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016

• On Monday, the Senate met for the first day of the 2nd Session of the 55th Legislature before moving into the House chamber for joint session to hear Gov. Fallin’s sixth State of the State address.

• The certification of the election of Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Owasso, was delivered to the Senate, officially making him the 48th member of the chamber. There are now 39 Republicans and 9 Democrats in the State Senate.

• No floor work was done on individual bills. All bills pre-filed by last month’s January 21st deadline were considered first read, and the Senate also reaffirmed the adoption of the rules it approved in 2015, including committee chairs and membership as well as mileage reimbursements for the current session.

• Several new legislative members were elected to the Legislature.

• Several changes should be noted in the new legislative session.

o Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, was elected to the House in July and will serve on the following House committees: County and Municipal Government, Economic Development, Commerce and Real Estate, Tourism and International Relations, as well as the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Transportation.

o Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, was elected in September and also was appointed to three committees and one budget subcommittee: House Criminal Justice and Corrections; House Higher Education and Career Technology; House Veterans and Military Affairs; and House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services.

o Sen. J.J. Dossett, the newest member of the Legislature after winning election in early January and taking his oath of office on Jan. 21, will be a member of four Senate committees and one budget subcommittee:
• Senate Education, where he replaces Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman;
• Senate Pensions, replacing Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada;
• Senate Veterans and Military Affairs, replacing Sen. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City;
• Senate Appropriations, on which all senators serve; and
• Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, also in place of Sparks.

The House also will see changes to two vice chairs. Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, will replace Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Lawton, as vice chair of the House Economic Development, Commerce and Real Estate Committee. Hall leaves her post as vice chair of the House Public Health Committee, where she is being replaced by Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

• On Tuesday, the Senate held a brief floor session where members were joined by Desmond King. King, this year’s winner of the Jim Thorpe award, is a defensive back from the University of Iowa football team.

• Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, also announced that Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, would replace Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, as vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services. Quinn will remain a member of the subcommittee.

• The House convened briefly Tuesday morning. All bills and joint resolutions were declared second read and assigned to committee.

• The House Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee gave do pass recommendations to four bills Tuesday without debate.

-HB2247, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, creates the Experienced Teacher Support Act, which requires a public school that hires a retired member of the Teachers' Retirement System on or after its effective date to make a contribution to the system equal to 11 percent of the regular annual compensation of the member. The bill would also permit a retired member of the system who is employed by a public school or after its effective date but before the expiration of 36 months from the member's retirement date to receive earnings up to $18,000 without any reduction in their retirement benefit. The bill modifies references to the words "postretirement" and "preretirement."

-HB2263, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, modifies language related to the Teachers Retirement System and makes changes to the application for retirement and extends the 30 day filing period to 60 days before the date of retirement. It allows the system's executive director to waive the 60 day deadline for good cause, as defined by the board. It also authorizes individuals who are also beneficiaries of a trust created under the Oklahoma Discretionary and Special Needs Trust Act, or comparable Trust Act in another state, to be the designated beneficiary if named by the trustee.

-HB2264, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, modifies the time period of employee contribution rate selections in the Retirement Freedom Act from once per year to once each thirty days for any contribution that is more than the 4.5 percent rate.

-HB2273, by Rep. Randy McDaniel, clarifies language related to base salary for members of the Oklahoma Police Pension and Retirement System. The bill also provides that members' final average salary for purposes of the normal disability benefit will be based on the member's total service if less than 30 months.

Wednesday, February 3, 2015

• The Senate took its first action of the session Wednesday, sending a carryover measure to conference. House amendments to SB 398 were rejected and conference requested. The bill, by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, and Rep. Dustin Roberts, R-Durant, establishes a program, through the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, to assist in the burial of honorably discharged veterans of the United States Armed Forces. The bill provides for a burial grant for any indigent veteran or any person who qualifies for financial assistance. Carryover measures can be taken up anytime from the point in the legislative process at which they were left alive during the 2015 session.

• Also on Wednesday, the Senate unveiled a portrait of Oklahoma-native Lt. Col. Ernest Childers, a full-blood Creek Indian who is the only Native American Guardsman to earn the nation's highest award for valor, and the Medal of Honor. Former Senator Charles Ford presented the portrait, which was sponsored by Senator Bill and Linda Brown and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Senator Ford introduced the artist, Mike Wimmer, who addressed the Senate. Senator Brown then presented the portrait as a gift to the Senate. The portrait was commissioned by the Senate Historical Preservation Fund.

• Pro-life advocates marked the 25th Anniversary of Rose Day on Wednesday by visiting with legislators and other elected officials to express their support for pro-life issues. The group heard from several state officials, including Senate Floor Leader Mike Schulz, R-Altus, Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee, and Rep. Lisa Billy, who served as master of ceremonies for the event. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb also spoke to the group.

• On Wednesday, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services officials and Commissioner Terri White addressed the department's $9.8 million budget reduction that will go into effect for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year due to a general revenue shortfall declared in December. White spoke to the inaccuracies in the complaints received by state leaders that the department was foregoing cuts to salaries and administration in favor of cuts to crucial services. Oklahoma currently ranks 46th in the nation in funding for mental health services and the recent 3 percent cut will cause about 6,000 children to lose services, according to the department. White stated the cuts were implemented in a way that would do the least damage possible while still being able to serve the most ill population.
About $4.4 million will be a direct cut to the department in administrative costs, personnel and services. Another $1.5 million that was slated for the expansion of mental health courts will also be cut. White told legislators that an additional $1.3 million was cut from the department's safety net services, which pays for services over and above what is budgeted out to private providers because some provide more services than ODMHSAS can pay for. Another $1 million will be cut by the postponement of the Systems of Care, which provides services for kids with complex mental health issues and their families, while $400,000 will be cut from prevention services.

• Oklahomans for Modern Laws filed an initiative petition Wednesday with the Secretary of State's Office that could allow voters to decide whether strong beer and wine can be sold in grocery and convenience stores. If enough signatures are gathered and the proposal is placed on November's general election ballot, it would be State Question 783 and would replace Article 28 of the Oklahoma Constitution. The new language would permit beer and wine capped at 8.99 percent alcohol by volume to be sold in grocery and convenience stores. It also establishes licensing requirements and divides the fee between the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission and the community-based substance abuse revolving fund created in the amendment. Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, introduced SB 383 in 2015 – which is aimed at reforming Oklahoma's liquor laws. The bill was tabled to give interested parties an opportunity to be involved in the process of formulating the final language.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

• The Senate met briefly Thursday morning before adjourning for the weekend. Floor leader Senator Mike Schulz indicated bills are starting to report out of committee and work will continue on Monday.

Other news this week

• State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said this week Oklahoma school districts are ready to implement the new academic standards and urged lawmakers to consider their quick approval during a joint meeting Monday of House and Senate members. Hofmeister, joined by members of her staff, presented the newly written academic standards in English Language Arts and Math to lawmakers in a non-official meeting.
OSDE officials said last week they'd like to get a joint resolution passed within the first week of session in order to expedite the process at the district level.

• Gov. Mary Fallin outlined her plan to overcome a more than $900 million fiscal year 2017 budget deficit and significant cuts to agency budgets by calling for a restructuring of the state's budget system. Her budget could generate just over $910 million in recurring revenue for the state.
The estimate approved by the Board of Equalization in December shows $900.8 million less in General Revenue Funds to spend in FY2017 than was spent for the current fiscal year. The board will meet again later this month to consider an updated FY2017 estimate.
The budget makes specific recommendations for $910.5 million in recurring revenues for appropriation, including:
• $181.6 million from an increase in the cigarette tax;
• $125.0 million from non-appropriated agency revenue sharing; $19.7 million by eliminating non-statutory, non-critical pass through appropriations;
• $125.0 million from a proposal by Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, that requires automatic reconciliation of agency revolving funds and a transfer of excess revenue;
• $40 million by reallocating apportionments back to the General Revenue Fund that currently are used for "non-critical functions," according to the governor's budget;
• $200 million from eliminating some sales and use tax exemptions and from expanding the tax to cover some services;
• $120 million from modifying the way June revenue collections are handled so that a portion of the money may be certified by the Board of Equalization;
• $85.3 million by eliminating the person income tax double deduction;
• $40.3 million by redirecting apportionments to the Department of Tourism and Recreation, the Historical Society and other areas back to the General Revenue Fund;
• $9.2 million by requiring certain non-appropriated agencies to take a reduction when a revenue failure occurs and appropriated agencies' budget are cut;
• $19.7 million by eliminating pass-through funding; and
• $4.5 million by requiring employers to file annual tax withholding reconciliations with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, which would help identify fraudulent and inaccurate returns.

On the spending side, Fallin's budget calls for a $20 million supplemental appropriation for the Department of Corrections for FY2016, the current fiscal year, which will be annualized, and $10 million more for FY2017. Fallin's FY2017 budget also calls for an additional $11.3 million to the Department of Human Services to fully fund the Pinnacle Plan. On net, however, the agency also receives a cut, resulting in a loss of $8.5 million or 1.29 percent.

Fallin proposed cuts of 6 percent to 53 agencies in her executive budget. Three agencies - the Department of Environmental Quality, the Department of Tourism and Recreation and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs - that were not impacted by the current fiscal year's revenue failure will receive reductions of 9 percent "to equalize these agencies with those affected by the revenue failure," Fallin's budget indicates.

The following seven agencies, which the budget indicates provide critical core services, receive 3 percent cuts:
• Department of Education;
• Health Care Authority;
• Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
• Health Department;
• Office of Juvenile Affairs;
• Department of Public Safety; and
• Oklahoma School of Science and Math

• Steven Buck announced he is expected to officially begin his term as the new executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs on February 15 during a House Budget Subcommittee meeting Wednesday. Buck, who currently serves as deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), told members of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services that he is currently in a transitional period between the two positions.