Greater Oklahoma City Chamber - The Business Advocate - June 1, 2017

The Business Advocate - June 1, 2017

View the 2017 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter

 

June 1, 2017
Inside this issue
 
  Introduction  
 

The 2017 Legislative Session began with a new Speaker of the House, Rep. Charles McCall (R-Atoka), and Senate President Pro Tempore, Sen. Mike Schulz (R-Altus) and 44 new legislators (32 House, 12 Senate). The year witnessed the resignation of five legislators (three representatives and two senators) and the passing of Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Tulsa). One new legislator, Rep. Zack Taylor (R-Seminole), was seated for the last two weeks of session.

The Chamber was successful in achieving most all of its Legislative Priorities; however, the final weeks of session were disappointing, as a Teacher Pay Raise was not enacted and many Criminal Justice Reform measures were not brought up for consideration in the House.

This End-of-Session edition of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Business Advocate will report on how the Chamber fared in accomplishing its legislative priorities during the 2017 Session.

 

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  Legislature Passes Budget Agreement Before Adjourning on May 26  
 

The 2017 Legislative Session adjourned Sine Die on Friday, May 26, 2017 following passage of a $6.8 billion FY18 budget. Vigorous debates were held on the need to raise new revenue, in part to help fund a teacher pay increase, but the three-fourth's majority needed to do so (as required by S.Q. 640) served as an unattainable threshold when 26 House Democrats joined with at least a third of the House Republican Caucus to oppose most revenue raising proposals. The FY18 budget avoided catastrophic cuts to core functions of government with the passage of an additional $1.50/pack cigarette "fee" and the partial removal of a sales tax exemption on the purchase of vehicles that will add 1.25% to the cost of vehicles in Oklahoma. However, both of those bills are almost certain to be challenged in the Oklahoma Supreme Court as "revenue raising" measures - requiring a three-fourth's majority. Should one or both be held unconstitutional, the Legislature may be called into a special session later this summer.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit Extended for Eight Years, Other Key Economic Development Incentive Programs Protected  
 

The budget shortfall of almost $1 billion facing Oklahoma this session required legislators to identify cuts in many places, including several of the state's economic development incentive programs utilized by the Chamber. A variety of measures were introduced this session to repeal, sunset or place a cap on a number of these programs. However, all legislation negatively impacting the Chamber's priority economic development programs was successfully defeated.

Following is a recap of actions on those bills:

  • The Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit, a key reason Boeing relocated 3,000 jobs to central Oklahoma, was extended by eight years until 2026. SB 120 by Sen. Kim David (R-Wagoner) and Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee), was signed by Gov. Fallin (R-Tecumseh) on May 1.
  • SB 553 by Sen. Joe Newhouse (R-Tulsa) would have repealed the Aerospace Engineer Tuition Reimbursement Tax Credit for employers on July 1, 2017. This bill was not heard by the committee deadline and failed to advance.
  • SB 556 by Sen. Newhouse would have capped the Historical Rehabilitation Tax Credit at $5 million annually. This bill was not heard by the committee deadline and failed to advance.
  • SB 554 by Sen. Newhouse would have sunset the Oklahoma Quality Events Act in July 2017. This bill failed to advance before the committee deadline.
  • HB 2352 by Sen. Kim David (R-Wagoner) and Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang), Senate and House Appropriation Chairs, would have capped the Historical Building Rehabilitation Program at $7 million annually. This bill was not brought up for a vote in the full House before session adjourned.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  All Anti-Business/Economic Development Gun Measures Defeated  
 

The Chamber was asked to lead a broad-based coalition, "Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners' Rights", comprised of 45 businesses, associations, universities and law enforcement groups to oppose irresponsible expansion of gun rights in a manner that would be harmful to economic development or public safety.

The Chamber is pleased to report that of the 49 bills introduced this year to expand gun rights, no legislation harmful to economic development or business owners' rights was enacted into law. The Chamber and coalition members successfully stopped all legislation that would have: 1) negatively impacted business owners' rights; 2) allowed guns on college campuses; 3) allowed guns to be carried into high-economic impact events, and, 4) prevented law enforcement from protecting the public's safety.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Chamber Leads Effort to Defeat Discriminatory Legislation Threatening Devastating Economic Consequences for Oklahoma  
 

The Chamber joined with partners to defeat discriminatory legislation that would have led Oklahoma down the economically devastating paths taken by North Carolina and Indiana. The negative experiences of those two states, which passed discriminatory laws and then faced multi-billion dollar economic losses from cancelled sporting events, conventions, and other business investments, served as a clear warning to legislators that Oklahoma should avoid taking a similar path.

Senator Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) introduced SB 694, which would have prohibited cities and counties from enacting or enforcing ordinances that protect individuals from discrimination. That legislation was heard on the Senate floor on March 23 and failed by a vote of 15 to 28. After the failure of SB 694, Senator Silk pulled SB 197 from consideration by the full Senate. That legislation would have provided business owners the right to discriminate against those "whose marriage, lifestyle or behavior" was contrary to their own conscience or religious beliefs. The failure of these measures to advance prevented potentially catastrophic economic losses in Oklahoma and kept the state from joining North Carolina and Indiana as locations viewed as hostile to diversity.

The Chamber would like to recognize AT&T for its assistance in defeating these measures.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  State Questions 780 and 781 Protected  
 

In November 2016, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved State Questions 780 and 781, which were strongly supported by the Chamber. SQ 780 re-classified certain non-violent drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in an effort to reduce the number of state prison sentences for those crimes. SQ 781, which will be funded through the savings generated by SQ 780, will be used to create rehabilitation programs for low level, non-violent offenders so they can more quickly return to the workforce and their families.

The Chamber worked to protect SQ's 780 and 781 from legislation aimed at repealing many of these key reforms. SB 256, by Senator Michael Bergstrom (R-Vinita), would have reclassified many drug and property fines as felonies. SB 256 was not heard before the March 2 committee deadline and failed to advance. In addition, HB 1482 by Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha), would have reinstated certain drug possession crimes as felonies. That legislation, which passed the House, did not receive a committee hearing in the Senate and failed to advance.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Chamber Criminal Justice Reform Measure Signed into Law  
 

The Greater OKC Chamber's Criminal Justice Task Force, comprised of business leaders, elected/appointed officials and members of the local law enforcement and legal communities recommended two bills to be considered by the Legislature this session. One of the measures, SB 342 by Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City), was signed into law by Gov. Fallin on May 25.

SB 342 will create a task force to assess existing laws, policies and practices related to fines, fees and costs assessed on those interacting with the criminal justice system to determine the impact on jail and prison populations. It is believed many inmates cannot afford to pay significant fines, fees and costs and regularly find themselves back in a jail cell for failing to timely pay. This may be a major contributor to the state's jail and prison over-capacity that, if left unaddressed, is only expected to worsen.

The second measure recommended by the Criminal Justice Task Force, SB 363, also by Sen. Holt, would have granted special judges clear authority to sign pre-trial release orders. This legislation was passed unanimously by the Senate, but not considered by the House Judiciary-Criminal Justice Committee. Instead, the issue of whether special court judges have authority to sign pre-trial release orders will be addressed by a formal opinion of Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Tourism Development Act Signed into Law  
 

Gov. Fallin signed HB 2131 "The Tourism Development Act" by Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) into law on May 3. This incentive program was repealed in 2014 after it provided financing assistance to the developers of the 21C Museum Hotel. The Chamber strongly supported reinstatement of this program, which will allow a portion of the sales tax generated by new tourism destinations - such as the First National Center and the Convention Center Hotel in Oklahoma City - to be used as a tax credit against a portion of the costs incurred in constructing or renovating tourism projects.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  REAL ID Legislation Signed into Law - Oklahomans Will Not Be Required to Show Passport to Board Commercial Aircraft  
 

Oklahoma legislative leaders had to act before a June 6, 2017 deadline imposed by the U.S. government to bring Oklahoma into compliance with the federal REAL ID law enacted following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Failure to do so would have required Oklahoma residents, beginning in January 2018, to possess a federal ID such as a passport or military ID to fly commercially or to access military installations and federal buildings. State leaders took swift action to meet this deadline, and HB 1845 by Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus) was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Tecumseh) on March 2.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  ODOT 8-Year Plan Protected in Tough Budget Environment  
 

The Chamber has been a long-standing advocate of providing adequate funding to the state's transportation system, as the construction and maintenance of quality infrastructure is a key driver of economic development. In the closing weeks of session, it appeared the Oklahoma Department of Transportation was facing a $250 million reduction in its ROADS Fund, which is the primary funding source for the state's ongoing infrastructure needs. Such a cut would have been catastrophic and delayed work on key projects such as the Broadway Extension/I-44 and the Crossroads Project (I-240 and I-35). The potential negative impact to ODOT's eight year plan factoring in the loss of state revenues, federal matching funds and the cost of delaying or eliminating projects was $1.5 billion.

However, a more positive outcome was acheived under the final FY18 state budget agreement, which includes a $100 million cut to the ROADS fund, but maintains its $59.7 annual off-the-top payment and $575 million funding cap. Therefore, ODOT's current 8-year plan, which includes a historic number of OKC-area projects, will be protected and all current projects will continue to proceed toward completion.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

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  Funding Protected for Heartland Flyer  
 

The Chamber was highly involved in efforts to restore passenger rail service to Oklahoma City in 1999 after a two-decade absence and continues to be a vocal supporter of providing this transportation option to Oklahomans. The existence of The Heartland Flyer Amtrak Service from Oklahoma City to Ft. Worth, Texas has been a cornerstone of efforts to create a regional commuter rail system in central Oklahoma and has resulted in nearly $30 million being invested by the City of Oklahoma City in a downtown intermodal hub. Moreover, it represents an opportunity to link with the national Amtrak system via Newton, Kansas and onto Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago. Therefore, when a $1 million cut in rail funding appeared in the General Appropriations bill during the last week of session, the Chamber strongly opposed this cut which would have jeopardized the Future of the Heartland Flyer.

The Chamber worked during the last week of session with ODOT, the City of OKC and transportation appropriations committee chairs, Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Dustin Roberts (R-Durant), to amend the General Appropriations bill to restore funding to the Heartland Flyer.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

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  Efforts to Criminalize Scientific Research are Unsuccessful  
 

Senator Josh Brecheen's (R-Coalgate) SB 809, which would have criminalized human embryonic stem cell research, failed to be heard in committee before the March 23 deadline. If enacted, SB 809 would have imposed a minimum of a $100,000 fine and a minimum of one year in prison on those conducting the research.

It is important to note that embryonic stem cell research has never been conducted in Oklahoma and we are not aware of any plans to do so. The mere filing of such legislation carries a reputational cost for the state as a location that is open to scientific research and advancement.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Improvements to A-F School Report Cards Signed into Law  
 

The Chamber has historically supported meaningful K-12 accountability and performance assessment systems including the A-F school report cards. Parents, community members and employers want a school report card system that is easy-to-understand and reflects real performance. We support a single grade for each school.

Therefore, the Chamber supported HB 1693 by Representative Scott Martin (R-Norman) and Senator Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa) which was signed into law by Gov. Fallin on April 28. HB 1693 will improve the current grading system through more valid and reliable measurements. The law will also require collection of valuable information about school progress in certain areas such as performance on assessments, graduation rates, school safety, student engagement and postsecondary readiness.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Bill Passed to Help Oklahoma City Public Schools Bilingual Teacher Pipeline  
 

HB 2157 by Rep. Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs) and Sen. Jason Smalley (R-Stroud), an important measure helping Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) fill a dramatic need for bilingual teachers in an increasingly diverse student population, was signed into law by Gov. Fallin on May 25.

This law includes the ability for bilingual paraprofessionals who are becoming certified teachers to remain employees of the school district and be paid during their 12- week required student teaching. This is a critical element to ensure that OKCPS has a strong pipeline of bilingual teachers to meet student needs.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Session Adjourns Without Funding Teacher Pay Increase  
 

While acknowledging the State's almost $1 billion budget shortfall, the Chamber is disappointed to report the Legislature failed to enact a teacher pay raise. Oklahoma must provide teachers with a competitive salary if we are to recruit and retain qualified and competent teachers in the classroom. With an average teacher salary that is ranked an unacceptable 49th in the nation, the Chamber emphatically urged state leaders to enact teacher pay raise legislation in 2017.

A potential funding measure which experienced early momentum, HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow), would have provided a $6,000 teacher pay raise over three years. Although it failed to advance past the April 27 deadline, there was still hope the final budget agreement would contain a teacher pay increase. Unfortunately, the FY18 state budget that passed on May 26 did not include funding for increased teacher pay. This was partially attributable to the difficulty of obtaining 76 votes in the House (where revenue measures must begin) or 36 in the Senate to enact a revenue increase.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Many of Governor's Criminal Justice Reform Bills Stymied  
 

The Chamber was strongly supportive of legislation recommended by Gov. Fallin's Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force. Unfortunately, of the 12 task force bills that were considered, only three were signed into law. This disappointing outcome resulted from many bills not advancing out of the House Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice and Corrections after having been passed by the Senate. These reforms are desperately needed in Oklahoma, which is poised to surpass Louisiana as the state which incarcerates the most offenders.

If meaningful criminal justice reform is not enacted, Oklahoma will be required to incarcerate an additional 7,218 inmates over the next decade. To do so, the State will need to build three new prisons at a cost to taxpayers of $1.9 billion. This represents critical funding which will be diverted away from other core functions of government such as education, infrastructure and health care.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Common Sense Alcohol Licensing Measure Enacted  
 

HB 1302, by Rep. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) and Sen. Stephanie Bice (R-Oklahoma City), was signed into law by Gov. Fallin on May 16. HB 1302 removes the requirement that a chamber of commerce or other economic development organization obtain a special event license or charitable alcoholic beverage event license from the ABLE Commission for alcohol served at events when a licensed caterer is used to provide and serve beverages. This narrow exemption is limited to organizations, associations or non-profit corporations whose purpose is to promote the common interest of economic development and business growth within a community, provided the event is not used for fundraising. This legislation, proposed by our Chamber, will eliminate the need for double-licensing and more accurately reflect the nature of certain chamber events.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

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