The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, Mar. 14, to Thursday, Mar. 17, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

• The Senate met briefly Monday and took up no business. This week is spring break for most Oklahoma public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities.

• The House took up no bills during a brief meeting Monday. The House also requested the consent of the Senate to adjourn for more than three consecutive days starting Thursday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

• The Senate approved two appropriations from the Rainy Day Fund during its floor session Tuesday, in addition to a bill related to assisted outpatient treatment.

-SB1571, by Sen. Clark Jolley, Sen. Greg Treat, Rep. Dennis Ray Casey, and Rep. Earl Sears, appropriates $27.6 million from the Rainy Day Fund to the Department of Corrections. The bill and its emergency clause passed 42-0.

-SB1572, by Sen. Clark Jolley, Sen. Greg Treat, Rep. Dennis Ray Casey, and Rep. Earl Sears, appropriates $51.0 million from the Rainy Day Fund to the State Department of Education. The bill and its emergency clause passed 42-0.

Both SB 1571 and SB 1572 now go to the House for its consideration.

-HB1697, by Rep. Lee Denney and Sen. A J Griffin, creates the Labor Commissioner Mark Costello Act. The bill modifies the definition of the term "licensed mental health professional" to include a psychiatrist who is a diplomat of the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. The bill defines the terms "assistant outpatient" and "assisted outpatient treatment." The bill requires petitions filed to determine if an individual should be ordered to assisted outpatient treatment only be filed by a licensed mental health professional employed by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or employed by a community mental health center certified by the department. The bill establishes criteria by which the court may order an individual to assisted outpatient treatment. The bill incorporates references to "assisted outpatient" treatment into the statute.

-By unanimous consent, the Senate granted the request from the House to be adjourned for more than three days and not to meet Thursday. The Senate also requested the House permit it to be adjourned for more than three days and not to meet Thursday.

• The House took up no bills during a brief meeting Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

• The Senate met briefly Wednesday morning but took up no business other than weekly acknowledgement of pages and guest introductions.

• The House granted the request of the Senate to adjourn for more than three days beginning Thursday, March 17, 2016 and ending Monday, March 21, 2016.

• The House met briefly but took up no business.

Thursday, March 17, 2015

• The House and Senate were not in session on Thursday and no committees met.

Other news this week

• On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council agreed to plans to complete construction of the Native American Cultural Center and Museum, fulfilling the requirements of HB2237, which was approved during the 2015 legislative session. The council agreed to return surrounding land to the city, and have the city assume responsibility for managing and maintaining the museum once it opens. The vote was unanimous after a nearly 40-minute presentation by Finance Director Craig Freeman and a handful of questions by council members. According to Freeman, should it fail to enter into a partnership with the Chickasaw Nation, the city could terminate its agreement with the state.

• State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax announced this week the deadline for registered voters to change their party affiliation for upcoming primary and runoff primary elections is March 31. By statute, changing party affiliation is not allowed from April 1 to Aug. 31. All requests to change party affiliation submitted after March 31 will be processed Sept. 1.

Oklahoma has a modified closed primary system, meaning registered voters of a political party may only vote in their party's primary and runoff primary elections. However, the law allows the parties to notify the State Election Board every two years if they would like to let Independents vote in their primaries. The Democratic Party is allowing Independent voters to participate in its primaries and runoffs in 2016 and 2017. The Libertarian Party has turned in petitions seeking recognition as a political party. If they are determined to be sufficient, the Libertarian Party will become recognized. The Libertarian Party also intends to let Independents vote in its primaries if it becomes a recognized political party.

• Stating it has exhausted all other money-saving options, the Oklahoma Historical Society announced this week it will place all its employees on a two-day furlough due to the recent budget cuts.

The Historical Society received a 3.6 percent cut, totaling $427,581 for the FY2016 fiscal year. Two reductions implemented as a result of the General Revenue Fund revenue failure have cost the agency an additional $810,461, Office of Management and Enterprise Services Records show.

Recent reductions in other agencies include:

? The Oklahoma Military Department and the Oklahoma Department of Military Affairs received approval in February for reductions in force of four and three positions, respectively, Office of Management Enterprise Services Records show.

? The Department of Human Services offered voluntary buyouts to more than 500 staffers in January. Fewer than expected accepted the buyout offers and a second voluntary buyout to 214 employees was offered in March, according to OMES records.

? The Department of Health has offered voluntary buyouts to 100 staff members and the Department of Tourism and Recreation to four employees.

? The Senate also made a voluntary buyout offer to its staff members, excluding members' executive assistants and leadership staff, last week.

• A number of Oklahoma agencies aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect face significant cuts to their respective programs by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to help fill the state's FY2017 budget hole. In a statement released last week by Parent Promise, the Oklahoma chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America, it and 14 other agencies across the state were notified by the OSDH that all funding to Oklahoma Child Abuse Prevention (OCAP) programs would be discontinued beginning July 1, saving a total of $2.2 million.

In the statement, the agency argues that studies show it ultimately saves taxpayer dollars by investing in prevention programs. Researchers set the average estimated average lifetime cost per victim of nonfatal child maltreatment at $228,274, culminating in a $3.4 billion burden to Oklahoma taxpayers. According to Parent Promise, 738 families were served by OCAP programs.

Parent Promise's release was in response to OSDH's proposed budget reduction plan announced Tuesday, which equated to a $4.2 million loss for the agency for FY2016. In addition to cuts to OCAP services, the agency recommends the closure of five to seven county health department sites as well as the elimination of funding to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) to start new clinic sites and pay for the care of the uninsured. According the agency, OSDH has received a 25 percent reduction in its state appropriations since 2009, including the latest round of cuts.