The Business Advocate - April 8, 2021

View the 2021 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter

April 8, 2021

 
 
 

Introduction

This edition of the Greater OKC Chamber Business Advocate reviews legislative action on several Chamber priorities during March. These issues include: 1) working with Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) on economic development disclosure legislation; 2) engaging with partners on gun legislation; 3) advancing Chamber-supported regional transportation legislation; 3) advancing legislation to extend the Oklahoma Quality Events Act; and 4) raising concerns over state influence in the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. Also addressed is information on the state’s expected receipt of additional federal Medicaid funding.

There was minimal legislative activity during the week of Spring Break (March 15-19) and the House used the following week to assign Senate bills to House committees. However, much work was completed in the month of March as the legislative process advanced to the midpoint of the legislative session.

Additionally, more than one million Oklahomans received at least one dose of the various COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of March according to the Oklahoma Department of Health. The state opened eligibility for all Oklahomans to receive the vaccine beginning Monday, March 29. Phase 4 includes all Oklahoma residents age 16 and over. This rapid progress is especially striking for those who experienced an unprecedented shut-down of the Capitol at the same time last year. We commend the entire health care community for their progress.

 

Chamber favorably amends leadership bill on economic development

The Chamber worked with Speaker McCall to favorably amend his House Bill 2929, which would have required the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to publicly disclose information on economic development project leads to provide counties with better awareness of active projects that may be attractive for their local area.

In its original form, HB 2929 contemplated using a public website to disclose this information. The Chamber and other economic development partners had concerns regarding the potential of confidential information being disclosed. This could have had a chilling effect on site selectors looking at Oklahoma for business relocation and expansion opportunities, as much of the information in that process is protected under non-disclosure agreements. The speaker and his staff were sensitive to these concerns and agreed to amend legislation to include a different model – a dashboard of results only – which the Chamber uses to track and publicly share information on economic development projects in a manner that protects confidentiality of ongoing recruitment efforts. The bill is now under consideration in the Senate.

The Chamber extends its appreciation to Speaker McCall for agreeing to work with us on his legislation.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Gun legislation remains active, Chamber focused on protecting business/property owner rights

The Chamber is a leading advocate of protecting the rights of business and property owners (and event hosts) to prohibit the carrying of firearms into their business if they choose to do so. We have concerns with HB 2645 by House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) and SB 646 by Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair) that would reduce the fine for carrying a firearm into the designated bar area of a restaurant from $1,000 to $250 and make this a misdemeanor offense.

Overall, there are far fewer gun bills negatively impacting the rights of business owners/event hosts at this stage of the legislative session than in recent years.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Regional transportation legislation advances

The Chamber, as a long-standing advocate of transportation investments serving as a driver of economic development, supports legislation important to early-stage planning efforts to consider construction of a regional commuter rail system ( connecting Edmond, OKC and Norman) in central Oklahoma.

SB 967 by Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) and Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) is advancing through the legislative process. SB 967 would amend the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act to provide necessary liability protections for Class I railroads that would, in the event of a new commuter rail system being built, be allowing use of their commercial right of way for operation of a passenger train. Extending these protections is critical to continuing negotiations between the Regional Transportation Authority and Class I railroads. SB 967 passed unanimously in both the full Oklahoma Senate on March 2 and the House Transportation Committee on March 25. SB 967 will now go to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

Oklahoma Quality Events Act Extension Advances

The Chamber is a strong supporter of the Oklahoma Quality Events Act (QEA), which was enacted through Chamber legislation in 2010. It is an important economic development tool allowing communities to capture a portion of the incremental sales tax revenue generated by high economic impact events to recoup part of their investment and attract future events. The State’s Incentive Evaluation Commission believes this incentive should be retained. Legislation is advancing this session that would extend the QEA, which is set to expire this year, to 2026.

HB 1121 by Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) passed the full House of Representatives 90-2 on March 2. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously passed HB 1121 (20-0) on March 24. This important measure now advances to the full Senate for further consideration.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Legislation expanding state authority over Oklahoma City-County Health Department will not advance this session

The Chamber heard concerns from its members regarding HB 2504 by Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) and Sen. Paul Rosino (R-OKC) which passed the full House by a vote of 54-10 on March 10 and had until April 8 to receive a hearing in both the Senate General Government and Senate Appropriations Committees. However, HB 2504 did not receive a hearing in either committee by the legislative deadline on April 8 and, therefore, will not move forward this session.

HB 2504, while significantly improved from its original form and containing some acceptable provisions, would have granted the State Commissioner of Health de facto appointment authority over the executive director of the Oklahoma-City County Health Department (and its equivalent in Tulsa). The Chamber was concerned that a state agency would have, under the provisions of HB 2504, obtained increased influence over a local agency it does not fund.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Oklahoma to receive additional Medicaid funding

Oklahoma expects to receive an additional $500 million in Medicaid funding from federal stimulus legislation over the next two years.  According to a report in The Oklahoman, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package recently signed into law by President Biden gives non-expansion states that opt to expand Medicaid a 5% boost to the federal match they receive for the current Medicaid population. The enhanced match, available after July 1 when the expansion population receives coverage, would apply to the nearly 1 million Oklahomans currently enrolled in Medicaid, and not the estimated 200,000 people that will be covered under the expansion.

The additional federal Medicaid funding that is available has generated conversations at the Capitol on how to utilize this funding for the state’s health care needs. Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) stated he would prefer to not use non-recurring revenues, such as this additional one-time funding, to pay for recurring costs such as Medicaid Expansion (an estimated $164 million annually is the state’s initial cost). He has signaled, however, an openness to potentially using this money to pay for Medicaid managed care costs. Medicaid managed care, one of Gov. Stitt’s major proposals this session, is expected to begin on Oct. 1. Four contracts have already been awarded to managed care organizations (MCO’s) to administer the majority of the state’s Medicaid population. The cost of this process is estimated at $50 million to meet existing billing obligations still in process on Oct. 1.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

State Board of Education makes dramatic charter school funding changes

The Chamber has been a steadfast supporter of charter schools and has supported providing infrastructure funding for charters. Our legislative agenda says, “We support creating a solution to ensure all public schools are funded equitably, and we support creating a solution to address the facility needs of Oklahoma charter schools.”

Although the business community has supported charter schools, we were surprised when the State Board of Education (SBE) passed a resolution that could provide millions of dollars in additional funding. The SBE resolution, passed with a 4-3 vote, said charter schools should be funded at a level equal to other public school districts. It specifically said charter schools “shall” receive a proportionate share of the sponsoring district general fund, building fund and local revenue. The resolution also added that charter schools “shall” receive its proportionate share of state dedicated revenue that may including gross production tax, motor vehicle tax, state school land earnings, and funds.

State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister and several local districts, including OKCPS, have questions about the constitutionality of the decision. Several legal challenges have already been filed. There will need to be judicial proceedings before this is finalized.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

Governor signs controversial education funding and open transfer bills

The Chamber has encouraged state leaders to implement a long-term funding plan for education. Our policy says, “The Chamber supports development of a long-term, strategic plan that will enable improvement in classroom teaching and academic performance.”

The Oklahoma Legislature passed and Gov. Stitt signed SB 783 and HB 2078. Both bills could limit the ability of school districts to make key planning decisions and adapt to changes in school populations.

HB 2078 would change the funding of schools from being based on the highest attendance in a three-year period to highest attendance level in a two-year window. OKCPS anticipates this could impact their budget by $8 to $10 million per year. SB 783 would expand the ability of students to transfer between districts.

The Chamber will monitor the long-term impact of these new laws.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

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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