The Business Advocate - April 30, 2021

View the 2021 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter

April 30, 2021

 
 
 

Introduction

This edition of the Greater OKC Chamber Business Advocate highlights legislative action on Chamber priorities during April, including: 1) protecting critical economic development incentives; 2) protecting the rights of business owners/event hosts against harmful gun legislation; 3) enacting Chamber requested legislation critical to future consideration of regional commuter rail; and 4) advancing legislation to provide a funding solution for charter schools. Also discussed in this report are the OKC metro-area gaining a Senate and House seat through legislative re-districting, and meeting with Sen. Inhofe’s staff on federal transportation opportunities.

April was an eventful month at the Capitol with contentious disagreements emerging between the House and Senate. For a bill to remain under consideration this session, it needed to be passed by the opposite chamber by April 22, which not only resulted in many bills becoming dormant, but also in escalating the tension between the House and Senate. The Chamber’s legislative agenda continued to advance as the session approaches its conclusion in late May. As we move into the final month, just over 300 measures (excluding budget bills) remain alive.

Following is a report on significant legislative activities during April:

 

Chamber opposes legislation limiting use of Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act

The Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act (QJA) is the state’s premier economic development incentive program. Using it to recruit companies to Oklahoma and assist existing companies expand is critical to fulfilling the Chamber’s mission. We are concerned by legislation—SB 936 by Sen. James Leewright (R-Sapulpa) and Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston)—that passed the House 84-7 on April 22. SB 936 passed the House with a late amendment that would, in pursuit of the understandable goal of trying to level the economic development playing field between urban and rural Oklahoma, significantly restrict new/expanding companies in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas from utilizing the QJA. At least 50% of the projects in our current recruiting pipeline would not, under the amended bill language, qualify for the QJA.

SB 936 was sent to the Senate, which rejected the House amendments on April 27. SB 936 will be sent to House/Senate conference committee where the two chambers will attempt to agree on final bill language. We are thankful the bill is going to conference where its harmful impact on economic development in the state’s metro areas can be thoroughly evaluated.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Economic development project disclosure legislation fails to advance past deadline

HB 2929 by Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) was introduced to require the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to publicly disclose information on economic development project leads to provide counties a better awareness of active projects that may be attractive in their local area. The Chamber and other economic development organizations expressed concerns with the level of disclosure being proposed, as confidentiality is often a critical requirement in site selection process as many project recruitment efforts are governed by non-disclosure agreements. Although the bill was passed by the House, it did not advance past the April 22 deadline to be passed by the Senate.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Rights of business and property owners/event hosts protected from harmful gun legislation

Legislation negatively impacting the rights of business/property owners (and event hosts) to prohibit firearms if they choose is virtually non-existent this year. For the Chamber and the Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners’ Rights Coalition, this is a positive development. The Chamber extends our appreciation to those who have worked with us on this issue.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Governor signs Chamber-sponsored regional transportation legislation into law

On April 26, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed regional transportation legislation (SB 967) into law. SB 967 was Chamber-requested legislation that will allow negotiations to continue with Class 1 railroads regarding the potential development of regional commuter rail in central Oklahoma (connecting Edmond, OKC and Norman with possible expansions to Will Rogers World Airport and Yukon). The Regional Transportation Authority of Central Oklahoma (RTA), chaired by former Oklahoma governor Brad Henry, asked the Chamber to lead lobbying efforts in support of legislation to amend the Government Tort Claims Act to provide liability protection for Class 1 railroads which “step into the shoes of government” when operating public passenger rail on their right-of-way. After being paused last year due to COVID-19, SB 967 was re-filed this year in identical form and received strong support throughout the legislative process.

The Chamber extends its appreciation to Gov. Stitt for signing SB 967 into law, Sen. Pugh and Rep. Martinez for successfully carrying the bill, Gov. Henry and the RTA board/staff for their support, RTA consultant Kathryn Holmes, Norman Chamber/President CEO Scott Martin, former Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Mike Patterson, and Oklahoma Transit Association President Mark Nestlen, for their assistance during the legislative process.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

New infrastructure funding for brick-and-mortar charter schools

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber supports SB 229, The Redbud School Funding Act (by Rep. Hilbert and Sen. Montgomery). The amended bill passed the House 88-1 and will now be considered by the Senate. The legislation provides infrastructure revenue for both brick-and-mortar charter schools and certain traditional schools that face below average property valuations. The critical feature of the proposed legislation creates a funding stream from medical marijuana sales for the Common School Building Equalization Fund.

The Chamber supports traditional schools as well as charter schools. Charter schools face significant infrastructure funding challenges which have been recently acknowledged by the State Board of Education. We believe it is appropriate and necessary to provide additional brick-and-mortar funding to traditional districts and charter schools. In 2013, the Chamber helped pass legislation changing the Common School Building Equalization Fund by enabling the fund to provide infrastructure revenue to underfunded schools. In recent years, we have supported multiple bills, but all legislation failed because of concerns over the revenue sources.

This is an elegant solution to the infrastructure funding challenges faced by too many schools. The bill will make sure all schools receive a baseline of $330 per student for buildings and infrastructure.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

OKC metro likely to gain two seats in legislative redistricting

The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate revealed their proposed maps for new legislative districts on April 21. Due to population gains, the Oklahoma City metro stands to pick up one House and one Senate seat. Under the proposed maps, which are built with data from 2015-2019 American Community Survey (ACS), Senate District 18 would move from eastern Oklahoma to high-growth areas of Canadian and Oklahoma County. Additionally, House District 36 would move from Osage and Tulsa Counties to eastern Oklahoma County and the northwestern corner of Cleveland County and will include Luther, Jones, Harrah and Choctaw.

The Chamber extends its appreciation to the House and Senate redistricting chairs Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) and Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) and staff, who continue to conduct a professional and thorough redistricting process guided by data.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Chamber convenes meeting with U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s staff on federal infrastructure opportunities

U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-Tulsa) Washington, D.C., staff contacted the Chamber to coordinate a meeting in OKC with key transportation stakeholders. This provided an opportunity for the Chamber and its members to discuss important metro-area transportation projects as Congress prepares to draft, on a fast timeline, a substantial infrastructure package. This follows President Biden’s release of his estimated $2 trillion American Jobs Plan.

Dan Hillenbrand, legislative director, and Victor Sarmiento, legislative assistant, discussed the timeline for federal transportation legislation to be released and identified critical metro-area projects that will be considered as bill drafting continues. The Chamber is appreciative of this opportunity to participate, and of Sen. Inhofe’s leadership in advancing America’s transportation priorities and economic development.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

Learn more about Chamber priorities

Earlier this year, the Chamber released its 2021 Public Policy Guide, an annual publication that includes a full listing of the pro-business priorities that the Chamber will pursue at the Capitol. The guide also includes contact information for elected officials at the federal, state and local level. Read the guide at www.okcchamber.com/ppg.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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