The Business Advocate - April 21, 2017

View the 2017 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter


April 21, 2017
Inside this issue

This edition of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Business Advocate covers activity at the State Capitol before, and immediately following, the April 13 legislative committee deadline. By April 13, House bills had to be approved by a Senate committee and Senate bills by a House committee to stay alive. Therefore, we have been focused on ensuring our priority measures advanced past this deadline and that legislation harmful to the business community did not.

Recent developments at the State Capitol include: 1) advancement of major criminal justice reform measures; 2) the reduction of many troubling gun rights expansion bills to a single measure; 3) continued progress of legislation to increase teacher pay; 4) advancement of A-F school report card legislation to the governor's desk and 5) advancement of legislation to create a new incentive for tourism facilities.



  Criminal Justice Reform Measures Advance, Issue Remains Contentious  

Enacting fundamental changes to how Oklahoma approaches incarceration of non-violent criminals was never expected to be a simple task. On one side are groups, including the Chamber, who believe the state's current approach to mass incarceration is fiscally unsustainable and siphons scarce tax dollars away from other core functions of government. On the other side are groups who believe the proposed reform efforts go too far and amount to being "soft on crime." Throughout this legislative session, the Chamber has worked in good faith with all legislators in an attempt to craft reasonable solutions, while remaining committed to achieving impactful reform that will help Oklahoma reduce its increasing prison population and prevent the need for building three new prisons - at an estimated cost of more than a billion dollars - which state taxpayers cannot afford.

Specifically, the Chamber has supported two measures requested by the Chamber's Criminal Justice Task Force, as well as a number of additional measures recommended by Governor Fallin's Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform Task Force. The following is a recap of recent legislative action taken on criminal justice reform:

Chamber Task Force Bills

SB 363 (Sen. David Holt/Rep. Terry O'Donnell): This measure sought to provide special judges clear authority to sign pre-trial release orders. Without it, many prisoners unnecessarily stay in jail awaiting trial and contribute to an already overcrowded prison environment. Ultimately, Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha), chairman of the House Judiciary - Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee did not hear SB 363 in his committee by the April 13 deadline. However, Chairman Biggs communicated to the Chamber that Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has agreed to issue a formal opinion stating that special district court judges in Oklahoma have authority under Oklahoma Law to sign pre-trial release orders. The attorney general's opinion, once issued, will clarify this issue for special judges in Oklahoma County and allow the Chamber's Task Force to achieve its goal, as special judges would be able to sign pre-trial release orders under the authority of the AG's opinion.

SB 342 (Sen. David Holt/Rep. Terry O'Donnell): This measure would create a task force to study fines and fees in the criminal justice system. The debt obligations generated by the continual assessment of fines and fees on prisoners, most of whom are low-income, contributes significantly to many who've interacted with the criminal justice system returning to jail for their inability to pay those fines, fees and costs. SB 342, previously passed by the Senate, passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee unanimously on April 3 and is now available to be heard by the full House.

Governor's Task Force Bills

Gov. Fallin's Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force recommended twelve criminal justice measures this session. Four of those bills were introduced in the House, were passed, and have now passed a Senate committee. The other eight bills were introduced in the Senate. Seven of those bills were passed and have now been passed by a House committee (the eighth bill was deemed unnecessary and was not heard in the House). Although a number of the Senate bills were amended by a House committee, all major criminal justice reform bills remain alive and we remain hopeful meaningful criminal justice reform measures will be enacted this year.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Measure to Increase Teacher Pay Continues to Advance, Funding Source Still in Doubt  

Successful passage of a meaningful teacher pay increase this year is a top Chamber priority. It also is a priority of Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and the House Republicans, who have been pushing legislation to address this issue. Without an increase in teacher pay, Oklahoma will continue to have difficulty retaining and attracting high-quality teachers.

The challenge is identifying additional revenues to fund a teacher pay raise with an estimated $878 million budget shortfall facing the state. HB 1114 by Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow), chairman of the House Education Committee, would provide a $6,000 pay increase to teachers over three years ($1,000 in 2017; $2,000 in 2018; $3,000 in 2019). This measure has advanced with strong support through the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee; however, there is still no funding mechanism for the raises. To address this, Speaker McCall has proposed a plan to fund the first $1,000 in increased pay by eliminating itemized deductions on Oklahoma Tax Returns - meaning that every taxpayer would take the standard deduction. This change is expected to generate $100 million a year in increased state revenues.

The Chamber will continue to call for decisive action this session on providing a teacher pay raise and work with the Legislature on this high-priority measure.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Number of Troubling Gun Bills Reduced to One  

The 2017 Legislative Session began with 49 gun bills to expand gun-owner rights in Oklahoma. The Chamber is leading a broad-based coalition of associations, businesses, universities and law enforcement organizations - Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners' Rights - to ensure legislators receive timely and accurate information on how proposed legislation would impact coalition members. At this point, we can report the number of troubling gun measures within the legislative process has been reduced to only one bill, HB 2322 by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) and Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow).

As currently written, HB 2322 would create a system of "jackpot justice" against municipalities and other political subdivisions, thereby undermining recent successful tort reform efforts. It would also have the negative effect of lowering the legal standard upon which such lawsuits may move forward by changing the threshold from having a person's "rights violated" to merely having the person "adversely affected by an order, policy, ordinance or regulation." This low standard would be a boon for trial lawyers. Furthermore, HB 2322 allows a plaintiff suing a municipality under this provision to recover all costs, including attorney fees, against a political subdivision even if it rescinds the ordinance prior to the completion of the legal action. Finally, HB 2322 does not allow a political subdivisions to recover costs and attorney fees incurred in defending frivolous lawsuits.

The Chamber and its coalition partners are working to either amend or defeat this bill on the Senate floor when it is considered.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Improvements to A-F School Report Card Bill Sent to Governor  

The Greater Oklahoma City 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.

HB 1693 by Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman), chairman of the Appropriations & Budget Education subcommittee, would improve the current grading system by utilizing more valid and reliable measurements. The legislation requires utilization of multiple measures of school progress such as performance on state assessments, graduation rates, school safety, student engagement and postsecondary readiness to create a single grade for each school. HB 1693 will provide parents, businesses and communities with an accurate and complete progress report on our schools.

The legislation has passed both the House and Senate and will be sent to Gov. Fallin, who is expected to sign the legislation into law.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.



  Oklahoma Tourism Development Act Legislation Advances  

The Chamber supports the Tourism Development Act, which was repealed in 2014 after it provided critical assistance to the developers of the landmark 21C Museum Hotel. HB 2131 by Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) would 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 building or renovating tourism projects. This new incentive would be critical in restoring and developing tourism attractions that bring visitors and their valuable tourism dollars to cities across Oklahoma.

HB 2131, previously passed by the House, passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee 32-8 on April 12 and will next be considered by the full Senate.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Government Relations Roundtable Breakfast Held with Freshman House and Senate Members  

Members of the Chamber's executive committee met for breakfast with freshman representatives and senators to discuss key topics of importance to the Chamber's legislative agenda such as teacher pay, economic development incentives, gun legislation, criminal justice reform and health care. Freshman legislators in attendance included: Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond), Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle), Rep. Mark Lawson (R-Sapulpa), Rep. Rhonda Baker (R-El Reno), Rep. Tammy West (R-Oklahoma City), Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew) and Rep. Scott McEachin (R-Tulsa). The following Chamber executive committee members were present: Rhonda Hooper (Jordan Advertising), David Rainbolt (BancFirst), Larry Nichols (Devon Energy), Bruce Lawrence (Integris), Percy Kirk (Cox Communications), Natalie Shirley (OSU-OKC), Judy Hatfield (Equity Commercial Realty), Teresa Rose Crook (Oklahoma City Community Foundation), Carl Edwards (Price Edwards) and Roy Williams (Greater OKC Chamber).

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham or Derek Sparks.




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