The Business Advocate - Feb. 17, 2017

View the 2017 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter

February 17, 2017
Inside this issue
  2017 Session Begins  
The 2017 Legislative Session began on February 6 with Gov. Fallin's State of the State address.  Gov. Fallin proposed more than $1 billion in new state revenue to address Oklahoma's recurring budget shortfalls.  The governor expressed strong support for several of the Chamber's top priorities by calling for a teacher pay increase and continuing to pursue criminal justice reform. 

The legislature will consider 2,242 pieces of legislation during the 2017 session.  In the Senate, 831 bills were filed as well as 46 senate joint resolutions.  In the House, 1,341 bills were filed along with 24 house joint resolutions. 

With term limits taking full effect, the composition of the Oklahoma State Legislature is substantially different this year with 44 freshmen members (12 Senators, 32 Representatives). Two House seats are unfilled due to resignations.  

Both the House of Representatives and State Senate have new leaders and Republican super-majorities (73 House Republicans, 42 Senate Republicans).  Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) is a community banker from southeast Oklahoma who was first elected to the House in 2012.  Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz (R-Altus) is a cotton farmer from southwest Oklahoma who was first elected to the Senate in 2006. 

The Oklahoma City area is well-represented in leadership this session.  Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) will serve as Majority Floor Leaders.

The Chamber's top priorities this session include:  1) enacting a teacher pay increase; 2) protecting critical economic development incentive programs; 3) defending against legislation that would unreasonably expand gun rights; 4) pursuing criminal justice reform measures; 5) enacting a cigarette tax to address the state's health care needs; and, 6) protecting transportation funding to ensure major OKC-area projects are timely completed.


  The Chamber Supports Teacher Pay Increase  
  The Chamber supports an immediate $5,000 pay increase to increase teacher salaries and, if necessary, revenue increases to fund the increase.  An estimated thirty bills have been introduced this session aimed at increasing teacher pay.  With an $850-$900 million budget shortfall and the challenges associated with enacting new revenue sources, alternative approaches are being considered. 

Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Broken Arrow), chairman of the House Education Committee, introduced legislation (HB 1114) that would provide a $6,000 raise over three years - with $1,000 in the first year, $2,000 in the second, and $3,000 in the third.  House Leadership has publicly expressed support for Rep. Rogers' plan. 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham        


  Economic Development Incentives  
  The Chamber has a list of critical incentive programs we will seek to protect: 
  • Quality Jobs Act (QJA), 21st Century QJA, Small Employer QJA and the Prime Contractor QJA;
  • Aerospace Engineer Tax Credit;
  • Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit;
  • Historical Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit;
  • Freeport (Inventory) Exemption;
  • Five-year ad valorem abatement and sales tax exemption for manufacturing facilities (except wind); and
  • Oklahoma Regional Home Office Insurance Premium Tax Credit.
Legislation has been filed targeting several of these programs.  Sen. Joe Newhouse (R-Tulsa) has introduced bills that would cap the state's Historical Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit at $5 million annually (SB 556) and limit the tuition reimbursement tax credit for employers of aerospace engineers (SB 553). 

The Chamber supports the Incentive Evaluation Commission process that was enacted into law in 2015 to create a data-driven, non-partisan, evidence-based approach for evaluating the effectiveness of the state's economic development incentive programs.  The Chamber worked with the Commission's consultants last year to provide information on Chamber-supported incentive programs that were being reviewed.  We believe this process is effective and should be allowed to work without prematurely seeking to repeal, scale-back or place on moratorium key incentive programs before data is available.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham


  Chamber Leads Coalition to Oppose Unreasonable Expansion of Gun Rights  
  The Chamber has agreed to lead a broad coalition - Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners' Rights - composed of more than 40 businesses, associations, universities and law enforcement organizations who are opposed to the unreasonable expansion of gun rights.  Forty-nine bills have been introduced this session to expand gun-owner rights.  

Legislation that will be opposed by the Coalition includes measures that would: 1) negate business owners' rights to prevent guns from being carried into their businesses; and, 2) jeopardize the rights of event hosts to prohibit weapons at NCAA and Big XII sporting events, horse shows and concerts; 3) eliminate the ability of colleges to maintain a safe campus environment; and, 4) lessen the ability of law enforcement officials to protect the public's safety. 

The Chamber and this coalition are fully supportive of 2nd amendment rights and reasonable legislation to broaden the rights of Oklahoma gun owners. We worked with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and OK2A (Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association) during the 2016 session to expand gun-owner rights in parks, recreational areas and fairgrounds, while at the same time protecting high-economic impact events that are required to prohibit weapons.  We will continue to work with these groups and legislators to ensure these issues will be addressed responsibly.

 For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham


  Criminal Justice Reform  
  The Chamber supports legislation and funding for sentencing reform and rehabilitation programs to ease the financial drain on Oklahoma's criminal justice system, lessen the burden on jails and prisons throughout the state and allow non-violent offenders to enter the workforce more quickly. 

To pursue these objectives, the Chamber created a Criminal Justice Taskforce composed of elected officials, law enforcement and community leaders.  Additionally, the Chamber supports the recommendations of the Governor's Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform.

The Chamber's taskforce has recommended two changes in state law for the current legislative session:  Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) authored SB 342, which would create a task force to study fines, fees and costs imposed throughout the criminal justice system and how the money raised by those fines, fees and costs is spent; and, SB 363, which would allow special judges in Oklahoma and Tulsa County to sign pre-trial release orders (which would decrease the Oklahoma County jail population).  SB 342 was passed by the Senate Public Safety Committee by a unanimous vote on Feb. 16 and will next be heard by the full Senate. 

Dozens of Criminal Justice bills have been introduced this session, some of which would nullify Criminal Justice Reforms approved by Oklahoma voters (through State Question's  780, 781) just three months ago.  For example, Sen. Bergstrom's bill (SB 256) would reclassify a number of drug possession crimes as felonies.  SB 256 was scheduled to be heard on February 9, but after being opposed by the Chamber and other groups, the bill was pulled from the agenda. It might however be heard at a later date.  

We will continue to oppose proposed roll-backs of these reforms.  A return to overly harsh sentencing laws for non-violent crimes, including drug possession, will have long lasting negative consequences on Oklahoma's state budget, families and communities.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham or click here.


  REAL ID Legislation Advances  
  The federal REAL ID Act was passed in 2005 and establishes minimum requirements for the issuance and production of state-issued driver's license and identification cards.  The law prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses from states that do not meet these standards. 

As Oklahoma passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting our state from complying with REAL ID standards, beginning on January 22, 2018, Oklahoma residents must have a federal ID such as a passport or military ID to fly commercially.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted Oklahoma an extension through June 6, 2017, to meet the requirements in the REAL ID Act.  Failure to act this legislative session-before the June 6 extension expires-will likely result in devastating consequences for Oklahoma residents and our economy. 

For example, Tinker Air Force Base is the largest single site employer in the state with approximately 24,000 employees.  The Aerospace industry in central Oklahoma generates a $5 billion annual economic impact.  If Tinker's contractors and other personnel cannot conveniently access the base, Tinker's critical operations in support of national defense will be jeopardized.

Passing legislation this session to bring Oklahoma into compliance with REAL ID is a top priority for legislative leadership.  Legislation that would create a REAL ID compliant Oklahoma driver's license advanced out of committee in the House and Senate during the first week of session.  HB 1845 by Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) was passed by the full House by a vote of 78-18 on Feb. 16; and, SB 0791 by Senate President Pro Tempore Schulz (R-Altus) and Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee 34-8 on Feb. 8. The bill will now move to the full Senate for consideration. 

We are hopeful the legislature will take swift action to pass these bills to solve a problem that must be fixed immediately.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham


  Legislation to Increase Cigarette Tax Advances  
  The Chamber supports a tax increase on cigarettes to ensure:  1) Medicaid providers are fully compensated for their services; 2) mental health services are adequately funded; and, 3) health coverage is provided to more uninsured Oklahomans.  

The State of Oklahoma ranks 46th nationally in health care outcomes.  Increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes will lead to a healthier workforce and provide much needed funding for health care - a core function of government that has experienced significant funding cuts. 

Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang), chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, has authored HB 1841, which would increase the tax by $1.50 on a pack of cigarettes, raising an estimated $184 million in new state revenues to address health care needs.  If enacted, it would also qualify for an almost 2:1 federal match.  On Feb. 13, HB 1841 was passed by the House Appropriations and Budget 17-10. 

The Chamber is supportive of Rep. Osborn's legislation, which will now advance to the full House of Representatives for consideration. 

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks


  Chamber Seeks to Protect Oklahoma's Transportation Gains  
  Following twenty years of flat funding, tremendous strides to address the state's infrastructure needs has occurred over the past ten years.  Oklahoma is making significant progress to eliminate all of its structurally deficient bridges by 2020 and the current 8-year plan includes a historic number of major OKC-area projects such as the I-235/I-44 interchange and the I-35 and I-240 (Crossroads) Interchange. 

However, with an almost $900 million budget shortfall, full funding for transportation could be in jeopardy.  A safe and efficient transportation system is critical to economic development, and adequate funding for transportation should remain a top priority for State Government.

The Chamber will continue to make the case for protecting Oklahoma's share of funding for The Heartland Flyer Amtrak Service from Oklahoma City to Ft. Worth.  Without continued state investment in passenger rail, The City of Oklahoma City's nearly $30 million investment in an Intermodal Hub at the Santa Fe Station, as well as efforts of six central Oklahoma cities (Oklahoma City, Edmond, Norman, Moore, Del City, and Midwest City) to create more regional transportation options, could be placed in jeopardy. 

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks