Capitol Updates

 This week's Capitol Updates newsletter:

 

April 23, 2018

For those who remember, history in some respects is poised to repeat itself. The events unfolding now bear a close resemblance to how Oklahoma became saddled with SQ 640. SQ 640 imposed the requirement of a 75% majority on the legislature for revenue measures and prevented the attachment of an emergency clause-available for all other measures-even when an emergency clearly exists. The back drop for passage of SQ 640 was an on-again-off-again 20-month special session lasting from August 1989 to April 1990 that resulted in passage of HB 1017. HB 1017 was the final revenue increase in a series that had been passed in the 1980s to keep the ship of state afloat.

HB 1017 passed with the emergency clause, which required a 2/3 majority of the legislature, allowing the law to take effect immediately on signature of the governor. The emergency clause prevented the implementation of another Constitutional provision allowing circulation of a referendum repealing the law by vote of the people. Not to be denied, a group of fervent anti-tax proponents, with the backing of powerful conservative interests circulated initiative petitions calling for the repeal of HB 1017. Their efforts contained what became SQ 639 and the tax limitation language that became SQ 640.

The difference then to now is that HB 1017 had already been in effect for a year when SQ 639 was voted on. People had seen the positive effects of the smaller class sizes, new curriculum offerings and other reforms of HB 1017 plus the lift in enthusiasm and the pride of teachers who felt supported by legislators and the people of the state for the first time in many years. But even with the enthusiastic support for HB 1017, it took a monumental campaign by education supporters to defeat SQ 639 by a vote of 54% to 45% in October 1991.

The vote on SQ 640, meantime, had been delayed by litigation and was not voted on until March 1992. All the energy of the education supporters had been depleted by the battle to save HB 1017. After the victory, the field for protecting the future revenue of the state was left open for the anti-taxers. An uncontested anti-tax message is always powerful and SQ 640 passed by a 56%-44% vote. Thus, began a generation of Oklahoma state government unable to provide revenue increases but fully capable of passing tax cuts.

If a new generation of anti-taxers, with the powerful support of Tom Coburn and other ultra conservative interests, succeeds in getting a referendum on the ballot to repeal this year's revenue, it will require a rigorous and probably expensive campaign just to keep the revenue intact. Even if that succeeds, which in my opinion seems likely, it will leave supporters of adequately funding state government exhausted, just as education supporters were in 1992. It could be a long time before the legislature decides to tackle the revenue issue again or the people decide to correct the mistake that is SQ 640. It's unlikely that anyone can reason with Coburn and his fellow travelers-no one in Congress, Republican or Democrat, was able to. So, people should be thinking about a way to avoid another generation of impoverished state government services in Oklahoma. We've seen the opportunity costs of this kind of thinking.



Treat 'hopeful' Legislature can complete its work early

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat seemed Thursday not to be buying into the House's hype about a May 4 sine die adjournment.
"It's always good to set goals," Treat said during a meeting with reporters.
Treat said he is "hopeful" the House and the Senate can complete their work in advance of May 25, the last Friday in May by which the Legislature must adjourn the regular session. "But nothing is done yet," he added.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and House Appropriations and Budget Chair Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said Wednesday their plan has always been to sine die regular session by May 4 and the House is on schedule to meet that goal.
Treat said the Senate had a productive week that included passing "substantive criminal justice reform," working toward the April 26 deadline for House bills and joint resolutions to be heard on the floor and making progress on the budget.
Asked how realistic a May 4 sine die adjournment might be, Treat said, "I don't get stuck on dates as long as we are out of here by the prescribed constitutional date of May 25 this year. The last Friday in May is my biggest concern. If we can get the peoples' work done more quickly, I am all for that, but I also don't want to rush and agree to something without thinking through all the ramifications."
Treat said he hoped specific details of the budget will be made available next week. "Once (the budget) is done, you know how it works: When that dam is breached we are probably going home pretty quick after that."
Treat said members were not the only ones suffering fatigue from a regular session and two special sessions, including one that partially ran concurrent with another special session.
"I think there is fatigue," he said, "not just among my colleagues, but I hear it from the press corps, too. I hear it from constituents and I hear it from agency heads. Yes, there is definitely fatigue. We've been up here non-stop since last February really. We've had two special sessions and regular session, and not just a typical regular session. Regular is a misnomer on this session. Just the intensity of the last few weeks with the teacher walkout, the intensity of the last few years on the budget shortfalls.
"The good news is the budget looks so much better this year and we are going to be able to make up some of the ground we lost in the past and I am excited about that," Treat added.
He credited policy decisions the Legislature has made and improvements in the economy for the better budget picture.
"We've taken bold steps, even before this year, on trying to bring more revenue into the picture. Also, there are things we can't take credit for. The economy is improving," Treat said.
Treat said the two special sessions did give legislators more time to work together on bills and issues they started on in 2017.
"We really haven't left each other's presence since a year ago February," Treat said. "So, a lot of disagreements that we've had have been taken care of because we have been up here, and believe it or not during special session one and two we talked about legislation that was still pending from the previous legislature even though we could not take it up. I think a lot of work was done just being in each other's presence."
Treat said senators have not yet requested as many conference committees as he had anticipated.
"But I really haven't pushed that either," he said. "I hope that members when they saw the House start talking about May 4 get serious about requesting those if they are serious about their legislation."

Educators aren't done at the Capitol

Sidney Lee, eCapitol

The Oklahoma Education Association announced an end to the teacher walkout Thursday afternoon.
But the state's largest teacher union said it would still support districts continuing the walkout and would encourage districts to send groups of teachers to the Capitol.
Education advocates were certainly back in the building on Monday morning. Groups of parents and educators came from across the state independent of OEA or as a lobbying delegation from their districts.
Berryhill Public Schools was one district unassociated with OEA that sent a group on Monday.
Jamie Hill, a Berryhill teacher, said she and fellow Berryhill teachers want to show lawmakers they will continue the fight.
"Today is our last day at the Capitol. Tomorrow we will be back in school, but I think we just wanted to send the message that we're not going to stop until we get what we need for our students," Hill said.
She planned to spend the day mainly talking with her senator about protecting teacher retirement funding and the possibility of raising more revenue through the wind industry.
Hill said the other educators and parents in the building on Monday want to send the same message to the state of Oklahoma and she believes small delegations will continue to come through for the rest of the session.
While Berryhill is not associated with OEA, Hill said they will also be sending delegations throughout the rest of the session.
Santa Fe South teachers Abby Savage and Rachel Bohbot said their district is taking it day-by-day.
"I think a lot of people really have mixed feelings," Bohbot said. "There are a lot of people who want to be here, showing their support, but a lot of people miss our kiddos and we would all rather be at school."
Savage said there was a lot of discouragement when OEA called off the walkout and on Friday among the Santa Fe teachers, as well as teachers from other districts who still came up to the Capitol, because they felt like nothing was going to happen but they would not get any closure.
Her district is supporting teachers who come to the Capitol on Monday then teachers are making a decision together, giving everyone a voice.
"We were really encouraged to have the support of our district and our superintendent today, and I think it is largely because we wanted to give our parents a chance to come up today with a little bit less of a crowd," Savage said. "We also were interested to see if the filing being done would put any more pressure on a few candidates."
Now that some law makers who Savage described as unwilling to budge are not guaranteed their seats, she hoped they might be willing to vote in favor of education-favored legislation.
Hill said group of parents from Berryhill are also planning a visit and she believes when members of the public, not just teachers, are demanding a change it will have a greater impact.
The Berryhill teacher said it is fabulous there are so many candidates running for office and teachers in her district plan on researching each candidate's stance on revenue, funding and education policy.
"I'm really encouraged because I saw multiple candidates for every seat and multiple candidates from multiple parties for almost every seat, so that was exciting just to get more variety and opinions out there," Savage said. "I'm hoping for some more moderate Republican candidates coming up because I believe that is the only way we're going to be able to move forward, is with bipartisan support."
Savage said teachers and parents from her district want to hear legislators' plans for how to support education. Many people have said there is already funding available for schools, the budget just needs to be reworked.
"If that's true, show me where you are going to take money out of, because it will likely hurt our students still, just taking from other services," Savage said.
She also wants to hold her legislators accountable for why they haven't voted in favor of revenue-raising legislation.
Hill said the past month has shown her how important it is to be informed and stay involved. She also said teachers, parents and administrator are learning they have to speak up about their needs before the situation becomes dire as it is now after 10 years of inadequate funding.
Educators and supporters from her district plan are also planning a voter registration push so more voices will be heard in their community.
"We want the legislators to know that we are still following them, that we're still watching how they vote, what they do and whether they want to help us help our kids and help our schools or not," Hill said. "And then come November, we might see some big changes."

Senate approves criminal justice reform measures

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

The Senate approved five criminal justice reform measures during its afternoon session Wednesday that one of its authors said would slow the trajectory of the state's population growth in coming years.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City and author of three of the bills, said Oklahoma's prison population is on a steep upward curve. "These bills will bend that cure toward flat," he said after the bills passed. 'It won't be a downward trend right now. There is more work to be done."
Treat told his fellow senators on the floor Wednesday afternoon that the five measures, if taken together, could reduce the state's prison population by 9,267 offenders over time. That, he said, will lead to cost savings while also maintaining public safety.
There were few questions and no debate on each of the bills, which included:
* Conference Committee Report (CCR) for SB0649, by Treat and Rep. Terry O'Donnell, R-Catoosa, revises penalty enhancements for certain felonies. The bill allows habitual nonviolent offenders' sentences to be enhanced so that they receive a sentence of up to twice the maximum penalty authorized for the first offense. It excludes simple possession of drugs from being used as a prior felony conviction in the enhancement of a subsequent sentence. The CCR was adopted by unanimous consent and the bill passed 39-1. Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, cast the only nay vote.
* Second CCR for SB0650, by Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove and Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, modifies availability for persons authorized to file a motion for expungement by minimizing time limits for those convicted of a nonviolent felony offense from in the last 15 years to seven. It allows the petition to be made five years after the felony conviction has passed. It modifies the time period for those convicted of violent crimes from 20 years to 10 years after the conviction has passed. The CCR was adopted by unanimous consent and the bill passed 38-0.
* CCR for SB0689, by Treat and O'Donnell, permits a court imposing a sentence to modify the sentence of any offender sentenced to life without parole for an offense other than a violent crime, who has served at least 10 years of the sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections upon a finding that the best interests of the public will not be jeopardized, provided that prior to granting a sentence modification the court provides notice of the hearing to determine sentence modification to the victim or representative of the victim and allows the victim or representative of the victim the opportunity to provide testimony at the hearing. The bill requires the court to consider the testimony of the victim or representative of the victim when rendering a decision to modify the sentence of an offender. The bill modifies language related to the Court of Criminal Appeals implementing procedures and rules for methods of establishing payment plans of fines, costs, fees, and assessments by indigents. The bill provides any departure from the mandatory minimum sentence not reduce the sentence to less than 25 percent of the mandatory term. The bill modifies language related to risk and needs assessments. The bill expands the types of community sentencing to which an offender may be ordered. It permits a judge to determine that no additional assessment is required if one was completed within the previous six months. The bill allows the court to order an assessment of someone convicted of battery and participation in a certified intervention program for batterers. The bill also permits the court, when the defendant alleges they are the victim of domestic abuse and the current conviction is a response to that abuse, to require the defendant to undergo an assessment by a domestic violence program certified by the Office of the Attorney General, and, if the defendant is determined to be a victim of domestic violence, the defendant to undergo treatment and participate in a certified program for domestic violence victims. The bill prohibits any supervision being extended for a failure to pay fines, fees and other costs, excluding restitution, except upon a finding of willful nonpayment. The bill adds misdemeanor convictions for unlawful carry of a firearm, illegal transport of a firearm, and discharging of a firearm to the list of misdemeanor for which someone arrested, charged or convicted is required to provide a DNA sample. The bill prohibits a suspended sentence from being revoked for a technical violation unless a petition setting forth the grounds for revocation is filed by the district attorney with the clerk of the sentencing court and competent evidence justifying the revocation of the suspended sentence is presented to the court at a hearing to be held for that purpose within 20 days after the entry of the plea of not guilty to the petition, unless waived by both the state and the defendant. The bill permits the State to dismiss the petition without prejudice one time upon good cause shown to the court, provided that any successor petition must be filed within 45 days of the date of the dismissal of the petition. It provides that any revocation of a suspended sentence based on a technical violation shall not exceed six months for a first revocation and five years for a second or subsequent revocation. The bill defines the term "technical violation." The bill provides the failure of an offender to pay fines and costs cannot serve as a basis for revocation, excluding restitution, absent a finding of willful nonpayment by the offender. The bill permits the court when it has ordered restitution as a condition of supervision and that condition has not been satisfied to at any time prior to the termination or expiration of the supervision period order an extension of supervision for a period not to exceed three years. . The CCR was adopted by unanimous consent and the bill passed 39-1. Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, cast the only nay vote.
* CCR f or SB0786, by Treat and Loring, D-Miami, provides that every person who breaks and enters on any commercial or residential property or any room, booth, tent, railroad car, automobile, truck, trailer, outbuilding or vessel of another, in which any property is kept, with intent to steal any property therein or to commit any felony, is guilty of burglary in the third degree. The bill establishes a penalty for burglary in the third degree. The CCR was adopted by unanimous consent and the bill passed 35-3. Brecheen, Murdock and Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, voted against the bill.
* CCR for SB0793, by Treat and Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, modifies prison sentences for transporting or possessing with intent to distribute a Schedule 1 or II controlled dangerous substance, except marijuana; for transporting or possessing with intent to distribute a Schedule III, IV or V controlled dangerous substance or marijuana; for an imitation controlled substance; for manufacture or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance; for using or soliciting the use of services of a person less than 18 years of age to distribute, dispense, transport with intent to distribute or dispense or cultivate a controlled dangerous substance or by distributing a controlled dangerous substance to a person under 18 years of age; and for transporting with intent to distribute or dispense, distributing or possessing with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance to a person in, on, or within 2,000 feet of the real property comprising a public or private elementary or secondary school, public vocational school, public or private college or university, or other institution of higher education, recreation center or public park, including state parks and recreation areas, public housing project, or child care facility. The bill modifies references to cocaine. The bill modifies language and punishments related to trafficking. It removes the requirement that someone convicted of transporting a Schedule V controlled dangerous substance be guilty of a felony and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for not more than five years and a fine of not more than $1,000. The CCR was adopted by unanimous consent and the bill passed 39-1. Murdock also voted nay on this bill.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

Senate approves Medicaid work requirement, other measures

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

A bill requiring certain Medicaid recipients to work or meet certain other work-related requirements was approved Wednesday morning by the Senate, along with three other bills.
Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, said HB2932 would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to meet the same qualifications as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to receive medical coverage. Pugh said the new requirements would apply to 8,032 current recipients, as well as new enrollees.
The bill, by Rep. Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa and Pugh, prohibits an individual from being eligible to participate in Medicaid unless they are: working 20 hours or more per week, averaged monthly; participating in and complying with the requirements of a work program 20 hours or more per week; volunteering 20 hours or more per week; meeting any combination thereof or participating and complying with the requirements of a workfare program. It sets new exemptions for the Medicaid work requirements described therein. It requires the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to submit any state plan amendment or waiver needed to implement the provisions therein. It requires the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and Department of Human Services (DHS) to promulgate rules.
Most of the questions on the bill came from Senate Democrats, who asked how many people would lose coverage because of the new requirements. Pugh stressed the bill does not eliminate any coverage but it does require those who are able to work or meet other requirements to continue to receive Medicaid.
"It is entirely possible that if you choose not to pursue the requirements in this bill that you would lose your medical coverage," Pugh said in response to a question from Sen. J.J. Dossett, D-Sperry.
Pugh also stressed that those who were exempt from the program's existing requirements would continue to qualify for those same waivers under the new program, ensuring their continued benefits.
Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, asked Pugh what impact the bill might have on the time it takes to qualify to receive benefits. Floyd said she and other attorneys in her firm had worked with clients applying for benefits and in some instances it took upwards of a year and a half. Pugh said he thought it would accelerate the process since the program would rely on SNAP requirements, rather than entirely unique rules or parts from other programs.
In debate on the bill, Dossett said he was concerned about "collateral damage," particularly among those who would have difficulty meeting the requirements because they do not have transportation or for some other related reason.
"I think this could negatively affect their health," said Dossett. "They don't have a lot of education or the money to go pursue that. These community program, I don't have any knowledge of those and the author didn't have any knowledge of those. I think this is dangerous."
Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, and Sen. Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, took issue with Pugh's inability to give specific answers to some members questions and said they were concerned about the lack of information about the potential impact of the bill.
"Why are we working so hard to shave years off peoples lives?" asked Ikley-Freeman. "We already have one of the lowest life expectancies in the nation."
Floyd said she was concerned the Senate was not listening to the professional and experts in the filed who did believe the bill would work as intended and were not considering the "real world applications of the proposal."
Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie and chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services, said she did not believe the bill would inspire people to work who are not dealing with their substance abuse or mental health problems. "I wish we could pass a bill that would inspire people to greatness," Griffin said, noting such a thing was impossible.
What the bill would do, she said, was shift the costs of taxpayers provided health care from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to other agencies, such as the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
"I have a feeling this bill will pass," Griffin said. "We are cost shifting the cost to the taxpayer from one agency to another. I really, really wish we were inspiring work, but I am just afraid we are not."
Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, said, "We may feel like we are getting the lazy folks by not providing them health care. That may provide use emotional satisfaction...Unfortunately, the health care affects of that are cumulative. We will pay for that when they need additional services. To think that they majority of people covered under this are the lazy folks are incorrect."
He added, "The cost of us feeling like we are getting the lazy folks will eventually come back to us."
Closing debate, Pugh directly addressed the nearly full Senate gallery for a moment. "The funny thing is, for those in the gallery, everyone who walked into the chamber today knew how they were going to vote on this bill...That is really a sad thing in my opinion because I think it hinders the process we are going through."
Pugh reminded members that HB2932 or his version of the proposal, SB1179, had each passed the Senate Health and Human Services and Senate Appropriations Committees, and the Senate and the House. "All those times this bill was presented, no one asked these questions," Pugh said.
Pugh said he took exception to what he called the hypocrisy of those who argued individuals would be denied services when those members had voted against efforts to raise revenue that would provide those services. Pugh said he also took exception to suggestions that he and those who proposed similar legislation were branding the poor as lazy.
"I grew up poor," said Pugh, who added his mother had worked multiple jobs to care for him.
"This is about individuals in this country who aren't working who should be able to work...This bill does not take away medical coverage from those who need it..." he said.
The bill passed 31-11 with its title restored. It now must return to the House for final consideration.
The following bills also passed Wednesday morning:
* HB2567, by Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, exempts municipal, county or state law enforcement officers certified by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training from jury duty. The bill passed 34-5.
* HB2691, as amended, by Rep. Travis Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, and Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, requires an advisory committee of representatives of child care facilities to designate two people to serve on the Department of Human Services' Stars Administrative Review Panel and at least one designee by the owner or operator of a licensed child care center. The amendment provides the supervision be in accordance with DHS rules. The bill and its emergency clause passed 40-2.
* HB2825, by Rep. Scott McEachin, R-Tulsa, and Dahm, directs the Department of Human Services to pursue service providers for training program referrals. The bill passed 40-0.

Fourkiller, 14 other legislative candidates withdraw from races

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

Rep. William Fourkiller ended his bid for reelection Tuesday when he withdrew from the race for House District 86. He was joined by 14 other candidates who also withdrew from legislative races.
Fourkiller, D-Stillwell, was eligible to serve two more terms before term limits would have prevented him from running again. He did not announce his reason for withdrawing from the race.
Fourkiller faced two other Democrats in that party's primary. The winner of the primary will face one of two Republicans who also filed for the seat.
He became the twelfth House member and only Democrat eligible to seek reelection who chose not do so.
Two candidates withdrew from the House District 27 race: Angela Phillips, the only Democrat in the race, and Justin Fletcher, a Republican. Phillips' withdrawal ensures the seat will remain in Republican hands. The seat is currently held by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, who is one of representatives not seeking reelection.
Democrat Tom Brennan removed his name from the ballot in the House District 3 race. That guarantees Tom Dyer the Democratic nomination and a place on the ballot in November against one of two Republicans seeking to replace Rep. Rick West, R-Heavener, who is among the House members not seeking reelection.
Stan Sanders, another Democrat, ended his House District 12 campaign, ceding the nomination to Cyndi Ralston. Ralston will face one of two Republicans vying for the seat, including Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, who faces a primary challenger in his bid for reelection.
Justin Calvert, a Republican, abandoned his bid against Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Seminole, in the House District 16 race. Fetgatter will face a Democrat and an Independent on November's general election ballot.
House District 21 Republican candidate Steve Taylor ended his candidacy Tuesday. Because there is no Democrat, Independent or Libertarian in the race, Taylor's withdrawal ensures Rep. Dustin Roberts, R- R-Durant, who originally announced in February that he would not seek reelection, a fourth term.
Isaac Scott, one of nine Libertarians to file for a House seat, withdrew Tuesday from the House District 53 race. Three Republicans and three Democrats are competing for the seat currently held by Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore.
House District 57 Republican candidate Jason Paul Smith ended his campaign Tuesday. That leaves Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, who is seeking reelection, and Jody Smith competing for the seat in the primary election. There is not a candidate from one of the other parties vying for the seat.
Mackie Moore, one of four Democrats in the House District 80 race, withdrew Tuesday. One of those Democrats will move on to face one of three Republican, including Rep. Mike Ritz, R-Broken Arrow, who are competing for the seat.
Tracy Thomas withdrew from the Democratic primary in House District 95. The seat is currently held by Rep. Roger Ford, R-Midwest City, who is not seeking reelection. Thomas' withdrawal leaves a three-way Democratic primary. The winner will face one of two Republicans, an Independent and a Libertarian in November.
Barbara Crisp ended her bid to unseat Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, in the Senate District 2 race, setting up a general election contest between Quinn and a Democrat.
Democrat Donald Russell withdrew from the Senate District 20 race. That ensures Heady Coleman will win the party's nomination and move forward to face one of two Republicans vying for the seat currently held by Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, who also chose not to seek reelection.
Bartlett Ramsey, a Republican, ended his bid in the Senate District 22 campaign, leaving two other Republicans on the ballot, including Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City. The winner of the Republican primary will face a Democrat on November's general election ballot.
Rachel Proper will not continue her campaign for the Republican nomination to succeed Sen. Jack Fry, R-Midwest City, who is not running for reelection. That ensures Brenda Stanley, Proper's primary opponent, will move on to the general election against a Democrat.

Have a good week. Give me a call at 918.671.6860 if I can be of help in any way.