The Business Advocate - March 31, 2017

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Business Advocate Newsletter

March 31, 2017
Inside this issue

During each Session, the Legislature adheres to a series of strict deadlines for hearing bills. For a bill to remain alive, it must be voted on and approved before each deadline expires. This edition of the Greater OKC Chamber Legislative Update covers legislative activity that occurred before the Thursday, March 23 deadline. By that date, House bills had to be passed by the full House of Representatives and Senate bills by the full Senate to advance. As of that deadline, 314 House bills and 337 Senate bills were approved. A total of 2,242 bills were introduced this year, so almost 1,600 bills failed to advance.

We are pleased to report the defeat of two harmful pieces of discriminatory legislation that would have placed Oklahoma on the disastrous economic path taken by North Carolina and Indiana, which recently enacted similar measures. We can also report: 1) a significant reduction in the number of anti-business gun measures; 2) fourteen critical Criminal Justice Reform measures have advanced; 3) the House passed legislation extending the Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit; and, 4) the scientific community has been protected from the criminalization of certain types of research.



  Discriminatory Legislation Fails to Advance - Oklahoma Avoids Negative Economic Consequences Faced by North Carolina and Indiana  

Significant victories were achieved to protect economic development and Oklahoma's reputation as a state open for business when two discriminatory measures, SB 694 by Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) and SB 197 by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow),failed to advance in the Senate. SB 694 was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 18-25 on March 23. It would have prohibited cities and counties from enacting ordinances to protect individuals from discrimination.

After the failure of SB 694, Sen. Silk pulled SB 197, "The Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act", from consideration and it was not voted on before the deadline. Therefore, SB 197 will not advance this session. SB 197 would have given business owners a license to discriminate against anyone whose "marriage, lifestyle or behavior" is contrary to one's conscience or religious beliefs. As it did not define behavior or conscience, the bill would have allowed an individual or business to commit and defend almost any form of discrimination.

The Chamber has been highly engaged in efforts to ensure Oklahoma does not take the perilous paths traveled by North Carolina and Indiana. Those states recently passed discrimination laws which generated tremendous economic damage. Indiana passed a similar law to SB 197 in 2015, and despite amending the bill later to weaken the measure, incurred an estimated $1.5 billion in short-term economic losses alone. North Carolina's HB2, transgender discrimination legislation which was enacted by the North Carolina Legislature in response to a city ordinance in Charlotte, has caused an estimated $3.76 billion in economic losses from the relocation of NCAA and professional sporting events, tourism/convention cancellations and the loss of a multi-billion dollar investment in the state by Paycom.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Measure Extending Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit Overwhelmingly Passes the House  

The Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit Program provides a tremendous economic benefit to the State of Oklahoma. Without it, companies such as Boeing and its 3,000 high-paying jobs would not have chosen to build such a strong presence in central Oklahoma. Extending this key tax credit program, which expires this summer, is one of the Chamber's top priorities.

Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang), chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, is author of HB 1839 which passed the House by a vote of 84-11 on March 21. HB 1839 would extend the Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit for four years to 2022, and will next be considered by the Senate.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Chamber and Coalition Achieve Significant Reduction in Troubling Gun Measures  

The Chamber is leading a newly-formed coalition - "Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners' Rights" - which is comprised of individual businesses, associations, universities and law enforcement organizations. The coalition is committed to opposing the irresponsible expansion of gun laws and is pleased to report that of the estimated 49 troubling gun measures filed at the beginning of session, less than five potentially harmful bills remain alive.

One specific measure that did not advance was HB 1803 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), which would have prohibited the use of public monies to lobby against the expansion of gun-owners' rights. Passage of this legislation would have prohibited economic development organizations such as the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber from lobbying against legislation that would, for example, allow guns on college campuses or allow guns to be carried into major sporting events. House leadership agreed to not bring HB 1803 to the House floor for a vote - therefore it did not advance.

Following is a brief description of several troubling gun measures that are still alive:

HB 2322 by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) would promote a system of "jackpot justice" by creating new civil causes of action against local governments that enact gun control ordinances. The bill also broadens punitive preemption to grant legal expenses, including attorney fees, to individuals who challenge a firearm ordinance, even if the political subdivision rescinds the ordinance prior to the completion of the legal action. HB 2322 passed the House 76-10 on March 29 and will now move to the Senate for consideration.

HB 2323 by Rep. Coody allows permit-less open or concealed carry of a loaded handgun in a vehicle by individuals over 21-years old who are not felons. HB 2323 passed the House 70-16 on March 21 and will next move to the Senate for consideration.

SB 288 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) removes liability protections for employers and businesses who restrict firearms. SB 288 passed the Senate 43-0 on March 22 and will now be sent to the House for consideration.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Chamber and Governor's Criminal Justice Reform Bills Continue to Advance  

Momentum for enacting changes to the way Oklahoma currently approaches incarceration of nonviolent criminals continued last week when a substantial number of Criminal Justice Reform measures advanced past the March 23 deadline.

The Chamber's Criminal Justice Task Force recommended two measures this session, SB 342 and SB 363 - both authored by Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City). SB 342 would create a Taskforce to perform a statewide assessment of fines, fees and costs imposed on individuals interacting with the criminal justice system, including an analysis of which agencies depend on those funds. These fines and fees are a tremendous burden on nonviolent offenders, who consistently find themselves back in jail for failure to pay. SB 363 would grant special judges, who are increasingly being called upon to handle criminal court dockets, clear authority to sign pre-trial release orders, which would ease overcrowding in the Oklahoma County jail. Both SB 342 and SB 363 passed the Senate unanimously (42-0) on March 22 and will now be sent to the House for consideration.

The Chamber is also supportive of the recommendations of Gov. Mary Fallin's Oklahoma Justice Reform Taskforce, which recommended 12 bills to achieve the following objectives: 1) Strengthen supervision; 2) Focus prison beds on serious and violent offenders; 3) Improve and enhance release practices; 4) Provide better support to victims of crime; and, 5) Ensure oversight and accountability.

The Senate passed the following eight Criminal Justice Reform measures that will now move to the House for consideration:

  • SB 603 by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City):  Establishes offender case planning in prison.

  • SB 604 (Sen. Treat): Provides for victim sensitivity and rights training for law enforcement.

  • SB 609 (Sen. Treat):  Provides for training and a certification process for professional victim advocates.

  • SB 649 (Sen. Treat): Distinguishes sentencing enhancements between those with prior nonviolent offenses and those with a history of violent offenses.

  • SB 650 by Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove): Authorizes offenders to apply for expungement earlier if they have had no new convictions and no pending charges.

  • SB 689 (Sen. Treat): Allows judges and prosecutors more options to divert people from incarceration to treatment and supervision; expands eligibility for certain alternatives to incarceration; establishes provisions to minimize financial barriers to successful reentry; and, expands the use of graduated sanctions and incentives when responding to behavior.

  • SB 786 (Sen. Shaw): Creates an additional burglary tier to distinguish severity of crime.

  • SB 793 (Sen. Treat): Requires data collection and reporting of key performance measures to track and measure the effectiveness of the Task Force recommendations and establishes an oversight body to monitor implementation.

The House passed the following four Criminal Justice Reform measures that will now move to the Senate:

  • HB 2281 by Rep. Terry O'Donnell (R-Catoosa): Aligns penalties for property crimes with the current property theft threshold and enhances penalties for crimes above $15,000.

  • HB 2284 (Rep. O'Donnell): Requires criminal justice stakeholders to receive targeted training on victims' rights, and effective law enforcement and advocate responses to domestic violence situations. 

  • HB 2286 (Rep. O'Donnell): Requires supervision providers use evidence-based practices, including a risk assessment; expands the use of graduated sanctions and incentives; creates a certificate of rehabilitation to help offenders get back to work; streamlines parole for compliant, nonviolent offenders; develops a geriatric parole process; and enhances transparency in the general parole process.

  • HB 2290 by Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha): Establishes evidence-based practices for the use of drug courts.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  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. The bill 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.



  Measure to Improve Alcohol Licensing Requirements for Non-Profit Organizations Overwhelmingly Passes House  

Legislation authored by Rep. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) to exempt an organization, association or nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to promote the common interest of economic development and business growth within a community - such as the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber - from obtaining either a special event or a charitable event license from ABLE, overwhelmingly passed the House 79-7 on March 22. This exemption would be granted provided: 1) the event is not conducted as a charitable fundraiser; and, 2) the services of a licensed caterer are used to provide and serve the alcoholic beverages at the event.

HB 1302 is a common sense measure that will conserve ABLE resources during a time of historic change to the state's alcohol laws, put in place appropriate safeguards in the form of a licensed caterer and reduce the burden faced by chambers across the state which must repeatedly obtain a special event or charitable event license for events.

HB 1302 now moves to the Senate for consideration.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.



  Chamber Holds Meetings with Legislative Leadership  

Members of the Chamber's Executive Committee held a Government Relations Roundtable Lunch meeting with Speaker of the House Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and several members of the House Republican Caucus on March 29 to discuss issues on the Chamber's Legislative Agenda. Additionally, the Chamber met with House Democratic Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) and several members of the House Democratic Caucus for a Roundtable Lunch on March 22.

Issues discussed included teacher pay raises, economic development incentives, health care, transportation, gun legislation and criminal justice reform.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.