The Business Advocate - March 4, 2021

View the 2021 Chamber Legislative Agenda

Business Advocate Newsletter

 

March 4, 2021

 
 
 

Introduction

The 2021 Legislative Session began on Feb. 1 when Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-Tulsa) delivered his third State of the State address detailing what he described as “a peoples’ agenda” to a joint session of the House and Senate. The governor’s agenda includes making Oklahoma a top 10 state for business, delivering taxpayers more for their money and investing in fellow Oklahomans.

This session a record total of 3,047 bills and joint resolutions (1,942 House bills, 44 joint resolutions; 1,035 Senate bills and 26 joint resolutions) were filed by lawmakers. The 2021 Legislative Session began with an 82-19 Republican majority in the House and a 38-9 Republican majority in the Senate (with Senate District 22 open).

The Oklahoma Board of Equalization met on Feb. 16 to officially certify the estimate of revenue that will be available this session for lawmakers to build the Fiscal Year 2022 state appropriated budget. The Board estimated the Legislature will have approximately $9.6 billion available, representing an increase of more than $1 billion over the $8.5 billion it estimated at its December 2020 meeting two months ago. Approximately $1.6 billion of the $9.6 billion is one-time, non-recurring revenue, however, so the Board also voted to restrict appropriations from that amount to $7.9 billion which will be available for the FY 22 budget. Gov. Stitt called for putting the bulk of non-recurring revenues into the state’s savings accounts.

Even with a projected surplus, however, there are still additional expenses the Legislature will face, such as including an estimated 200,000 new Oklahomans to the state’s Medicaid system, which is expected to cost an estimated $164 million or more in the first year.

This introductory update, which encompasses legislative activity occurring during the month of February, including the first legislative deadline of the session on Feb. 25, highlights several of the economic development issues the Chamber is engaged in at the State Capitol.

 

Chamber seeks to protect, improve and extend critical economic development incentive programs

The Chamber utilizes several state economic development incentives to attract companies seeking to relocate to Oklahoma and to help existing companies grow. We therefore attempt to protect critical incentives from being repealed, sunset or scaled back. Since many incentive programs contain a sunset provision, the Chamber will seek to extend those programs providing a positive return on investment to Oklahoma taxpayers and businesses. Several bills addressing Chamber priority programs advanced past the Feb. 25 deadline. These measures include extending the Oklahoma Quality Events Act to 2026 under SB 431 by Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) and HB 1121 by Rep. Jeff Boatman (R-Tulsa), and a bill to address educational certification issue with the Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit through SB 893 by Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond). Additionally, the Chamber is engaged in conversations on legislation regarding reforming the state’s five-year ad valorem exemption for new or existing manufacturing facilities, as well as legislation that would consolidate the Oklahoma Quality Jobs program.  

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Measures preempting local authority on masks fail to advance

The State of Oklahoma has not imposed a statewide mask mandate; however, local authorities have the authority to require masks be worn in designated places. As of January 2021, mask mandates had been enacted in seven of the state’s 10 largest cities, representing 40% of the state’s population. These mandates have played a role in limiting the infection and in allowing the economy to remain largely open. Several bills were filed this session which, if enacted, would have preempted the ability of a city or county to pass, extend or enforce a mask mandate. These bills failed to advance past the Feb. 25 deadline for bills to move further in the legislative process.

Those bills included SB 224 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow); SB 885 by Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee); and SB 352 by Sen . Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain). Each of these measures would have preempted local authority to impose mask mandates.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Chamber opposes gun measures harming business and property owner rights

The right to bear arms and the rights of private property owners are bedrock liberties in America. Those rights occasionally compete against each other when legislation is filed to allow firearms on privately owned property. For the past several sessions, the Chamber has led a group of more than 50 individual businesses, business associations, educational institutions and law enforcement organizations called “Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners’ Rights.” While not opposed to the responsible expansion of the second amendment or every individual gun bill, this group is committed to ensuring the property rights of business owners and event hosts are not ignored.  

Much progress has been made by working with the governor and legislative leadership to ensure business and property rights are a key consideration when gun legislation is moving through the legislative process. We will strive to continue this cooperation in 2021 as approximately 35 bills expanding gun rights were filed this session.  

Gun measures that advanced past the first legislative deadline on Feb. 25 include several measures that would allow guns to be carried into the designated bar area of a restaurant: HB 2645 by House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City); HB 1898 by Rep. Sean Roberts (R-Hominy); and SB 646 by Sen. Michael Bergstrom (R-Adair). 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Chamber supports continued dialogue on state Medicaid reform efforts

Gov. Stitt and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) are moving forward with plans to move an estimated 700,000 Oklahomans within the state’s existing Medicaid program to a managed care model by Oct. 1. At the end of January, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority awarded four contracts to Managed Care Organizations (MCO’s), third party companies that will each manage a large part of the state’s Medicaid population, at an estimated cost of up to $2.2 billion. Gov. Stitt believes making this change will lead to cost-savings, increased efficiency and improve health care outcomes. Forty other states currently use some form of this model. Legislative and private sector opponents point to the state’s previous experience with managed care, which ended in the early 2000s, as a cautionary tale, as well as the need for more engagement with the Legislature on the program’s structure.

Ultimately, the Legislature will consider whether to provide funding for the managed care system and discussions on this subject between the executive branch and Legislature are likely to continue throughout session. As the state seeks to improve health outcomes and to modernize payment models to incentivize and identify value within the state’s Medicaid system, the Chamber supports protecting current revenue streams and pursuing dialogue and efforts to most effectively address the state’s total health care needs on a system-wide basis.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

Legislation advances to assist development of central Oklahoma commuter rail system

Imagine boarding a commuter rail train in Edmond and traveling to a University of Oklahoma football game or stepping on a train in Norman for a ride to downtown Oklahoma City for a future Thunder game or dining experience. And rather than driving in traffic, you could use a passenger train to commute to and from work. The Chamber, as a long-standing believer in transportation investments as a driver of economic development, is partnering this year with the Central Oklahoma Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to pass legislation to increase the potential for these options to be available in the form of future rail transit service. This service could be launched in central Oklahoma and link Edmond, Oklahoma City and Norman, with future expansion opportunities across the metro.

To help ensure negotiations with class 1 railroads continue, the Chamber is supporting SB 967 by Sen. Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) and Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond). SB 967 was passed 8-0 by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 9. This legislation seeks to advance early-stage planning efforts and on-going negotiations by amending state law to provide liability protections for class 1 railroads which could step into the role of government on a limited basis by allowing the operation of publicly funded passenger rail on their commercial right-of-way. Similar legislation has been passed in Minnesota, Utah, Colorado and other states with commuter rail systems.   

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

Chamber supports increased access to rural broadband

Oklahoma ranks a poor 44th nationally in terms of how well and how fast Oklahomans can access the internet. In an age when doing business requires connectivity, improving broadband access, especially in the rural parts of the state, is critical to economic development. Without high-speed internet access, companies considering creating jobs may look elsewhere. Therefore, the Chamber will support legislative efforts to remove barriers to broadband access in Oklahoma to facilitate the development of telecommunication infrastructure.

Additionally, the Chamber opposes burdensome and costly data privacy regulation being placed on businesses that exceed the requirements of federal law or regulations. We have joined a coalition of businesses and business associations opposing HB 1602, known as the “Oklahoma Computer Data Privacy Act,” by Rep. Josh West (R-Grove) and Rep. Collin Walke (D-Oklahoma City). HB 1602 represents one of the most expansive privacy bills currently being considered in the U.S. It would negatively contribute to a patchwork state-by-state data privacy approach rather than a federal solution and create expensive compliance and regulatory issues for businesses across the United States.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks to Chamber membership

The Chamber extends its appreciation to Gov. Kevin Stitt for speaking to our membership at of our annual Chairman’s Event on Feb. 25. Gov. Stitt, in an event moderated by Chamber Chair Sean Trauschke (OGE Energy Corp.), covered a variety of important topics in his remarks. Stitt provided an update on the state’s COVID-19 response and his legislative priorities for this session. These priorities include advancing Oklahoma as a top 10 state nationally, getting Oklahoma students back into the classroom, properly investing the state’s budget surplus, continuing to pursue a Medicaid managed care system and working cooperatively with the State Legislature. The governor also answered several questions related to Chamber priorities.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Chamber hosts panel discussion by legislative leaders

The Chamber also extends its appreciation to leaders of the Oklahoma State Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives who served as panelists at our Legislative Kick-Off event designed to inform our membership of the Legislature’s priorities as the 2021 legislative session was set to begin. This event, moderated by Chamber Vice Chair for Government Relations Brad Krieger (Arvest Bank), included as panelists Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma City), House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and House Democratic Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) who covered topics such as COVID-19, economic development incentives, Medicaid managed care, gun laws impacting business/property owner rights and their top legislative priorities for the 2021 session.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

Higher education focuses on graduates with in-demand skills

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education included some innovative and targeted budget requests submitted to the Legislature in January. Chancellor Glen Johnson proposed spending $33 million to increase graduates with in-demand skills including health care workers, teachers and engineers. Of that amount, $10.5 million would be focused on gradating engineers from OU and OSU. The Chamber has been calling for increasing the number of engineering graduates to meet the demand for at least 3,000 engineers annually for the next decade.

The OSRHE and other higher education leaders will also focus on funding the $161 million backlog for the endowed chairs program. The Chamber has been a steadfast supporter of the endowed chairs program and many members provided initial private funding that the state has not matched.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

Chamber monitoring key education initiatives

The Chamber is closely monitoring bills that would require schools to base funding on the current year or previous year enrollment. Currently the state allows funding to be based on the highest enrollment level from the past three years. The controversial bill HB 2078 is supported by Gov. Stitt and has passed through committee and the House of Representatives.

The Chamber does not have a specific position on this issue but we are closely monitoring the potential impacts. Among our chief concerns is that Oklahoma City Public School District estimates this change could reduce their budget by $7 to 8 million and force them to implement an immediate reduction in force. There are efforts to determine how this would impact other suburban and rural districts.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

Multiple bills address growing mental health needs

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health needs of students. The Chamber and the Oklahoma City Schools Compact created a program called EmbraceOKC to help OKCPS address these needs. We are supporting multiple pieces of legislation to help the OKCPS effort and expand some of those efforts statewide. Two of the mental health bills we are following are HB 1103 by Rep. Mark Vancuren (R-Owasso) that would enable more districts to conduct the Oklahoma Prevention Needs Assessment and HB 1944 by Rep. Cindi Munson (D-Oklahoma City) that would instruct law enforcement to alert schools when a student has been part of a traumatic event or involved in a response for a 911 call.

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.

 

Visit the Business Advocacy Center to sign up to receive updates.