Capitol Updates

 This week's Capitol Updates newsletter:


March 4, 2019

With the passage of the first committee deadline it's interesting to observe the bills the two top legislative leaders have filed. If they decide to throw the full weight of their office behind a proposal it is likely to become law, at least in some form. If there is strenuous opposition by the other chamber the proposal could develop into conflict between the two bodies that often causes a few days' delay in the legislative process with lots of news coverage about feuding between the House and Senate.

Sen. President Pro Tempore Greg Treat pre-filed SB 1 a few days after last year's election with Speaker Charles McCall as the House author. It creates the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) to conduct performance evaluations of state agencies, with a 12-member committee of legislators to oversee operations of the office. It directs the committee to hire an executive director and staff to accomplish the evaluations. Interestingly, Speaker McCall filed HB 2484, with Treat as the Senate author, which creates within the current Legislative Services Bureau an Office of Government Accountability tasked with making the performance evaluations. The two leaders will likely hammer out the differences, and it's a good bet we'll have some sort of legislative "accountability" office monitoring agency performance.

Along the same line, both Sen. Treat and Speaker McCall have filed different versions of change for state agency governance. Treat has several bills that abolish the boards or commissions and place both the policymaking and the hiring of directors with the governor, subject to Senate confirmation. McCall has filed bills that keep the agencies and commissions intact but split the appointing authority for the commission members between the governor, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore. His bills give the governor the power to appoint the directors with Senate confirmation, but policy would remain in the hands of the boards and commissions. McCall's bills preserve some input into agency policy through legislative appointment. Governor Stitt wants the authority to appoint directors, but he apparently is not heavily invested in which version of agency governance is adopted.

Another bill that Speaker McCall and Sen. Treat are authoring together is HB 1780, the $1200 pay increase for teachers. Speaker McCall filed the bill in the House, but Treat did not file a pay raise bill in the Senate. This could signal that the Senate position is not strongly for the pay raise but rather Senators want more funding through the formula for smaller class sizes, 5-day school week, more curricula offerings, text books and technology. This could be another point of contention as the session progresses. Gov. Stitt has supported the teacher pay raise.

Neither of the two leaders filed criminal justice reform bills, but some other members of the leadership such as Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols in the House and Sen. Roger Thompson, Senate Appropriations Chairman have filed bills. It remains to be seen how much support criminal justice reform will receive from Speaker McCall and Pro Tempore Treat. Treat carried the criminal justice measures the last several years. Even though it enjoys public support, criminal justice reform is difficult for a myriad of reasons: It's complex and not well understood, many employed within the current system prefer the status quo, and fear is an easy weapon to employ. It will take strong support from the leadership for the reforms to see the finish line and be signed by the governor.

Abortion prohibition 'trigger bill' passes during tense committee meeting

Tyler Talley, eCapitol

Tensions flared during Monday's meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee as members were asked to consider "trigger bill" that would make abortion illegal in Oklahoma if Roe v Wade were overturned or an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is approved prohibiting abortion.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat announced Thursday he would run a committee substitute to SB0195 and was met with opposition from both sides of the abortion debate at Monday's meeting as both pro-choice and abortion abolition advocates attended in full force.
Members from the latter group were disruptive at multiple times during the meeting, with one attendee being escorted out of the room for continuing to taunt and condemn legislators after the vote was completed.
The committee substitute for SB0195, by Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, repeals laws imposing regulations on abortion. The bill is effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court overrules the central holding in Roe v. Wade or an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is adopted restoring the state's authority to prohibit abortion.
Pro-choice advocates oppose the bill due to it moving the state closer to the criminalization of abortion should Roe v Wade be overturned at a federal level, a potential reality made all the more possible given the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
Conversely anti-abortion advocates argue the bill doesn't go far enough as it would not stop abortions immediately, favoring SB0013 instead. Several anti-abortion protestors carried signs that even referred to SB0195 as the "coward's version" of SB0013.
SB0013, by Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, creates the Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act. The bill states it is the intent of the Legislature to provide to unborn children the equal protection of the laws of this state; to establish that a living human child, from the moment of fertilization upon the fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum, is entitled to the same rights, powers, privileges, justice and protections as are secured or granted by the laws of this state to any other human person; and to treat as void and of no effect any and all federal statutes, regulations, executive orders and court rulings, which would deprive an unborn child of the right to life. The bill removes exemptions from court actions acts which cause the death of an unborn child if those acts were committed during a legal abortion to which the pregnant woman consented or acts which are committed pursuant to the usual and customary standards of medical practice during diagnostic testing or therapeutic treatment. It requires district attorneys to ensure the enforcement of certain criminal statutes related to acts punishable in a foreign jurisdiction in regards to abortion regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, or court decisions. The bill removes exemptions from criminal prosecution acts which cause the death of an unborn child if those acts were committed during a legal abortion to which the pregnant woman consented and acts which are committed pursuant to usual and customary standards of medical practice during diagnostic testing or therapeutic treatment. It prohibits the mother of the unborn child be prosecuted for causing the death of the unborn child unless the mother has committed a crime that caused the death of the unborn child. The bill defines the term "abortion" to mean the act of using or prescribing an instrument, drug, medicine or any other substance, device or means with the intent to cause the death of an unborn child. It defines the term "unborn child" to mean the unborn offspring of human beings from the moment of fertilization, through pregnancy, and until live birth, including the developmental stages of human conceptus, zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo and fetus. It defines the term "fertilization to mean the fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum. It adds acts which cause the death of an unborn child during an abortion to the definition of the term "homicide." It removes language that permits only physicians to perform abortions. It provides there will be no cause of action under the Genetic Counseling Licensure Act against any person for failure to mention, discuss, suggest, propose, recommend or refer for abortion and removes the exception from the exemption for instances in which an abortion is necessary to protect the life of the mother. It removes the term "abortion" from the list of procedures listed in the definition of the term "hospital." It removes an abortion from the list of medical procedures upon which an employer cannot discriminate. The bill removes a reference to counseling for abortion from the definition of the term "health services." It requires the attorney general to monitor the enforcement of certain criminal statutes related to acts punishable in a foreign jurisdiction in regards to abortion regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, or court decisions and requires the attorney general to direct state agencies to enforce those laws regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal statutes, regulations, executive orders, or court decisions. The bill provides that any federal statute, regulation, executive order or court decision that purports to supersede, stay or overrule the act to be in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution and the Constitution of the United States of America and therefore void. The bill prohibits the State of Oklahoma, its political subdivisions, and agents thereof from entering an appearance, special or otherwise, in any federal suit challenging the act. It declares the provisions of the act inseverable. The bill repeals language providing for State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision review of partial-birth abortions; language regarding procuring the destruction of a quick child; and language related to procuring and submitting to or soliciting an abortion. It repeals language concerning the regulation of Mifepristone RU-486 and abortion-inducing drugs. The bill repeals various sections of law establishing the requirements and procedures for legal abortions.
The divide between Treat and Silk was made apparent as Treat took questions on the bill that eventually bled into debate.
"If you're interested in protecting life, SB0195 does absolutely nothing right now so when we go to bed tonight there will have been 20 children that were murdered in our state...tomorrow when you go to bed, there will have been another 20," Silk argued in his debate against the bill. "Every single business day this body, this government stands by and does nothing to actually end the greatest massacre that this nation has ever seen."
Silk went so far as to liken abortion in the United States to the atrocities of Adolf Hitler, arguing the former has murdered over 63 million people by way of abortion.
"We are continuing to play political games and author bills to do nothing and just stand by and wait and wait and wait," he continued, positing the original Roe v Wade opinion was itself unconstitutional.
He summarized, "I'm going to vote no on this bill because it doesn't do anything. It brings zero justice to murdered children."
Treat countered that drastic bills such as Silk's did nothing to actually prevent abortion as they were often challenged and thrown out, only serving to hurt the progress the state has made. Treat's approach instead favors an incremental method, something he argued has proven to be more effective.
Treat was also highly critical of Silk's support of nullification, arguing such a process has never been successful in the past.
"I am a huge believer in the 10th Amendment," Treat noted. "To wrap yourself in a nullification banner is to be on the wrong side of history."
SB0195 passed on a vote of 11-4. Chants of "Unseat Treat" from anti-abortion advocates could be heard from the hallway after the vote.

Stitt still pursuing agency performance audits

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

Gov. Kevin Stitt called on lawmakers in his executive budget to claw back the $30 unnecessary appropriation to the State Department of Health and to use the money to pay for performance audits at nine agencies and to increase the balance of the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund.
Lawmakers began the process Wednesday when the Joint Committees on Appropriation and Budget (JCAB) approved HB2735, which takes the $30 million from the health department, and HB2739, appropriating $5 million to the closing fund. Absent, however, was money for the money requested by Stitt for the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission to pay for the audits.
"What we did (Wednesday) in JCAB is an agreement between the House, the governor and the Senate," Senate Appropriations and JCAB Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, explained. "We were able to draw back the $30 million from four or five (Health Department) funds. Two point five million of that will be used as a supplemental to the courts, $5 million into the governor's closing fund and the remainder of that will be going into Special Cash (Fund)."
Thompson said there are certain appropriations yet-to-come that will require cash-on-hand, such as the annual appropriation to the ad valorem reimbursement fund. The fund repays school districts for tax revenue lost due to the state's five-year tax ad valorem tax exemption for certain manufacturers. Thompson said the state will need to appropriate approximately $99.6 million to meets its obligation to schools.
But that does not mean Stitt's plan to audit the nine agencies is dead. "The governor does still intend to pursue audits of state agencies and we are working on the best way to fund this important need moving forward, said Donelle Harder, deputy secretary of state and a spokeswoman for Stitt.
The nine agencies include: Oklahoma Health Care Authority, Department of Education, Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, State Regents for Higher Education, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Health, Department of Career and Technology Education, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Those agencies, along with the Department of Corrections, the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Juvenile Affairs that the commission audited in 2017 and made recommendations to the Legislature in late January, account for 90 percent of state spending, Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei said Feb. 4.
Stitt's budget did not put provide a specific cost for the performance audits. Mazzei they would go through the same process used in 2017 when the commission sought bids for the firms that performed the audits. The six audits conducted in 2017 cost a total of $1.3 million.
HB2735, by Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew, Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, reduces FY2019 appropriations to the State Department of Health by $30 million.
HB2739, by Wallace, Hilbert, Rader and Thompson, appropriates $5 million to the Quick Action Closing Fund from the Special Cash Fund.
Both bills passed the House on Thursday and are now eligible for consideration by the Senate. Once approved by the Senate, they will go to Stitt for his signature.

Stitt names three new appointees to Pardon, Parole Board

Shawn Ashley, eCapitol

Gov. Kevin Stitt named three new appointees to the Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday.
The board's five members' terms are coterminous with that of the governor, including the individuals appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice and the Court of Criminal Appeals' presiding judge. That means Stitt had three appointments to make to the board.
Stitt announced Tuesday the appointment of Kelly E. Doyle, Adam Luck, and Robert Gilliland to his three positions on the board.
"The collective knowledge of our three new Pardon and Parole Board appointments, and their experience around criminal justice in Oklahoma, will bring a fresh perspective to the review process," said Stitt. "I look forward to working alongside the entire board to address the backlog in the system and move the needle in criminal justice reform for non-violent offenders."
Doyle will fill one of the positions that requires five years of experience or training in mental health services, substance abuse services or social work. As the deputy executive director at the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), Kelly oversees CEO's program and operations in Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, and Colorado. Since joining CEO in 2011, Doyle has led the launch of nine CEO offices, assisting communities as they increase employment opportunities for people coming home from prison and jails. Doyle has been working in the employment reentry field for over 10 years. Prior to joining CEO, Kelly managed the Department of Labor's Prisoner Reentry Initiative through the Community Service Council in Tulsa. She began her career in finance and administration for an international aid agency completing tours in Darfur, South Sudan, and the hurricane-affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.
Luck is the chief executive officer of City Care, a non-profit organization seeking to inspire those willing to look social injustice and extreme poverty in the face and empower them to do whatever it takes to create change. City Care has built and manages 114 units of permanent supportive housing in Oklahoma City, operates the Oklahoma City day shelter in partnership with the Homeless Alliance, and oversees the Whiz Kids program. He is an Oklahoma native and left the state to serve five years in the U.S. Air Force as a Korean Cryptologic Linguist. Luck served as a member of the Oklahoma State Board of Corrections and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Center for Employment Opportunities, a national non-profit that provides comprehensive employment services to individuals with recent criminal convictions. Prior to joining City Care, Adam served as the policy director at the E Foundation for Oklahoma and the Oklahoma state director for Right on Crime, an initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation focused on criminal justice reform.
Gilliland is a veteran trial lawyer whose prior practice concentrated in the area of business litigation in both state and federal courts. Following his admission to the Oklahoma Bar, Gilliland served four years as a captain in the Judge Advocate General's Corps of the US Army in the United States and the Republic of Vietnam. Throughout his legal career, both while serving in the US Army and while in private practice, Gilliland represented numerous defendants in criminal trials, and also served as a prosecuting attorney while in the JAG Corps. Gilliland served as thecChair of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission from June 1, 2015 to August 25, 2017.
Stitt's appointment of three new members to the board means it will have only one veteran member: Former Judge Allen McCall. McCall originally was appointed to the board by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017. He was reappointed to the board this year by Supreme Court Chief Justice Noma Gurich.
Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge David Lewis appointed Larry Morris, a newcomer, to the board.

House, Senate cross first major deadline, trim bills available for consideration

Shawn Ashley and Tyler Talley, eCapitol

Lawmakers cut the numbers of bills available to be heard by more than half during the four-week committee process that ended Thursday, eCapitol records show.
Lawmakers filed 2,815 bills and joint resolutions in advance of the January pre-filing deadline. Another House bill was added after the deadline. When the gavel fell at the end of Thursday's Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting, the last committee meeting of the week, 999 bills and joint resolutions subject to the legislative deadlines remained alive.
That includes:
* 456 House bills;
* Two House joint resolutions;
* 539 Senate bills; and
* Two Senate joint resolutions.
None of the bills that were considered by committees received a do not pass. That means no measures have been subject to final action under House and Senate rules and the language in them could resurface at a later time.
Ten House bills have been filed thus far under the Joint Committees on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB). Five of those were passed by the House and awaiting Senate consideration. The other five are shell bills and remain active since JCAB bills are not subject to deadlines.
One bill already has been signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt: HB2597, which makes Oklahoma a constitutional carry state. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday and Stitt signed the measure, which takes effect Nov. 1, a few hours later.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said based on the progress of the past three weeks not only is the House Republican Caucus running more uniformly but the entire House as a whole is moving at better pace than any of his previous sessions serving in the Legislature.
"Right now, we're very pleased with the direction we're going," Echols said. "We've had very robust committee meetings...we've tackled some big issues, from constitutional carry to getting out a teach pay raise right away off the floor (and) passing the Unity Bill (the medical marijuana referendum) off the floor right away."
Echols posited, "We can do things different than the way we've done them for the last two years and that doesn't just include policy. That includes how this building functions and right now this building is a beacon as to how politics can work."
He continued, "Right now, the building is functionally better than it ever has been and I believe why good policy is coming out of this building."
House Republican Caucus Chair Tammy West, R-Bethany, noted it had been an interesting week for her members, particularly with the large class of freshmen lawmakers.
"I think we've gotten a tremendous amount accomplished in the last three weeks, especially considering we have 47 new freshmen members," West said. "They've worked well. We have worked well together. We are continuing to work well together, not only as a caucus but in a bipartisan way with the minority caucus."
House Minority Caucus Chair Emily Virgin, D-Norman, also praised the work of the freshmen within the House Democratic Caucus.
"Our freshmen members have really hit the ground running and done a lot of great research on bills," she related. "I've been very impressed with our freshmen being thrown into this situation where it's really trial-by-fire."
Virgin was critical of recent instances of new language for bills appearing minutes before committee meetings, leaving members little time to actually read and review potentially radically different legislation.
"We're hopeful that that isn't a process that will continue but our members are being asked to vote on bills that they've only seen 15 to 20 minutes before the meeting actually starts," Virgin said. "That's not a recipe for good policy."
Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, described the final days of legislative activity prior to the deadline as a "busy week."
"The Senate Republican Caucus laid out four agenda items...and we have had progress on every one of them," Treat said.
"It's been a very efficient session so far. Committee chairs have done an excellent job stewarding their committees and Sen. [Kim] David is doing a fabulous job running the floor and allowing to already pass 81 bills off the floor and over to the House," Treat added.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, also referred to it as a "busy week."
"I am very pleased every member of my caucus got at least one bill through committee and they are headed to the floor. So they are all pretty excited about that."
Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, Floyd noted, already has three bills passed on the floor and they are now in the House's hands. "So, she is doing well."
"Sen. (Julia) Kirt and Sen. (Allison) Ikley-Freeman (Wednesday) in Rules Committee had some great questions for Sen. Treat on his bills regarding agency heads being removed and replaced by the governor," added Floyd.
"I think overall everything is going well for the caucus," Floyd said.
Lawmakers have two weeks, until March 14, for their bills and joint resolutions to receive a hearing on their chambers' floors. Treat noted Thursday that 81 bills already have been approved on the Senate floor and sent to the House. Fifty-three House bills have received that chamber's approval and been sent to the Senate.
That leaves up to 865 to be considered by the March 14 deadline.

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