The Business Advocate - March 9, 2018

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Business Advocate Newsletter


March 9, 2018
Inside this issue

The first deadline of the 2018 Legislative Session was reached on March 1, when bills that originated in either the House or the Senate had to be considered and approved by a committee in their chamber of origin (House bills in House committee; Senate bills in Senate committee) to advance further in the legislative process. As a result, out of the 3,943 bills available to be considered by the legislature at the start of this session, two-thirds of the bills failed to move forward by the March 1 deadline. Therefore, only 1,120 measures remain available for consideration by legislators this year.

The following is a report on actions taken by the legislature on Chamber priority measures through the March 1 legislative deadline and approaching the second deadline (March 15) when bills originating in the House have to be approved by the full House of Representatives and those in the Senate have to be approved by a vote of the full Senate.



  Criminal Justice Reform Agreement Announced by Governor Fallin, Legislative Leaders, Oklahoma District Attorneys  

The Chamber is pleased to report that an agreement was announced by Governor Mary Fallin (R-Tecumseh), legislative leaders and Oklahoma District Attorneys that will allow six key criminal justice reform measures to move forward during the 2018 session. This agreement will also lead to the creation of a state Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to oversee additional reforms, including a comprehensive review and rewrite of the Oklahoma Criminal Code. The Chamber was actively involved in negotiations leading to the agreement which will reduce the state's incarcerated population and put Oklahoma on a more sustainable path going forward. 

As detailed below, five of the six bills were carried over from last session where they remained stalled in conference committee. Two additional bills will also be considered this session. As a result of the agreement, it is expected the below measures will move forward:

  • HB 2281 - will create a tiered structure for property offenses, based on dollar valuations, with lower ranges of punishments;
  • HB 2286 - will create a streamlined administrative parole for inmates who are aging and/or medically frail;
  • SB 649 - will address sentencing enhancement structure for habitual offenders;
  • SB 689 - will provide improvements to supervision and other alternatives to incarceration;
  • SB 786 - will create a burglary in the third degree charge for burglary of vehicles, with a lesser range of punishment;
  • SB 793 - will retool the drug structure with regard to intent to distribute and trafficking.
  • SB 911 - will create a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to review and rewrite Oklahoma's criminal code to pursue additional criminal justice reform for low-level, non-violent offenders; and,

The Chamber has been a strong advocate for criminal justice reform and lobbied in support of legislation and funding for sentencing reforms 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 and return to their families more quickly. We have been supportive of legislation proposed by Governor Fallin's Criminal Justice Reform Task Force to address the incarceration crisis in our state that, if left unaddressed, is projected to result in the construction of three additional prison facilities at an estimated cost of $2 billion to the taxpayers, an unaffordable price tag at any time but especially during a period of annual budget crisis in Oklahoma.

The Chamber would like to thank Governor Fallin, legislative leadership and Oklahoma District Attorneys for coming to the table to take a meaningful first step in putting the state on a more fiscally sustainable and humanitarian approach to criminal justice. 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Chamber Criminal Justice Bill Passes House/Senate, Signed by Governor  

Legislation recommended by the Chamber's criminal justice reform task force and pursued by the Chamber became law on Thursday. SB 363, by Senator David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) and Representative Terry O'Donnell (R-Catoosa) will provide counties with a responsible avenue to address unnecessary and unsustainable jail overcrowding. The House voted 87-0 on February 14 and the Senate 32-13 on March 5 to pass SB 363, and Governor Fallin signed the measure into law on March 8.

In Oklahoma County and Tulsa County (and others) judges are faced with increasingly long dockets, often resulting in special district court judges being assigned (by the district judge) to handle certain criminal cases. SB 363 addresses an ambiguity in current law (confirmed by the Attorney General) to provide special district court judges clear authority to sign pre-trial release orders for inmates eligible for pre-trial release under current law. The passage of SB 363 will help ease jail overcrowding where many low-level, non-violent offenders are unnecessarily held while awaiting trial.

The Chamber would like to thank members of the House and Senate, as well as the bill authors, for passing SB 363, and Governor Fallin for signing the legislation.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Chamber Continues to Oppose Harmful Gun Legislation  

The Chamber continues to lead "Oklahomans for Business and Property Owners' Rights", a broad-based coalition of 45 businesses, associations, universities and law enforcement organizations established to oppose legislation that would irresponsibly or dangerously expand gun rights. Eighty-three gun bills were filed or carried over from last session to expand gun rights in Oklahoma. With its partners, the Chamber has been strongly engaged in working with the legislature to ensure no harmful legislation is enacted.  

For example, HB 2951 by Representative Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield) would eliminate the requirement that Oklahoma residents obtain a permit before carrying a loaded handgun in public. This measure would jeopardize public safety and enable dangerous individuals to carry loaded handguns in places frequented by Oklahoma families every day. If this legislation were enacted, Oklahoma would become one of the only states where it is legal to carry an open or concealed handgun in public without a permit. HB 2951 passed on a close vote (10-6) in the House Public Safety Committee on Feb. 28 and will move forward for consideration by the full Hosue. The Chamber and its coalition partners will continue to be vigilant in working to stop this, and other harmful gun measures, as the session continues.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.  



  Oklahoma Quality Events Legislation Passes Senate  

The Chamber's legislation - SB 1252 by Senator Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa) and Representative John Pfeiffer (R-Mulhall) - to extend the Oklahoma Quality Events Act (QEA) through 2021 and make the Act more user-friendly, has advanced after passing the full Senate by a vote of 29-5 on March 8. SB 1252 will now be sent to the House for consideration.

Important improvements to the program, first established in 2010, would be to adopt all recommendations by the Incentive Evaluation Commission and specifically, 1) Eliminate the process of estimating the projected economic impact prior to the completion of the qualifying event, and, 2) Designate a single point-person or office to respond to application questions.

The Oklahoma QEA allows communities across the state to capture a portion of sales tax revenue generated by hosting an event. This helps communities attract and retain high-quality, high-economic impact events such as horse shows, NCAA and Big XII sports championships, conventions and other events that are heavily pursued by other states and cities in a competitive marketplace.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.



  Local Tax Increment Finance Process Protected  

Oklahoma City, and many other communities across the state, utilize the Local Development Act to create Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts to promote and enhance economic development. Therefore, the Chamber was troubled by Senator Jason Smalley's (R-Stroud) bill SB 1279 that would have made it much more difficult to establish a TIF district by requiring 60 percent of the local taxing entities to approve the creation of a TIF. Under the bill's original language, the TIF formed from the construction of the Devon Tower to fund the renovation of Downtown Oklahoma City through Project 180 would likely not have occurred.

The Chamber worked with the City of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Municipal League, State Chamber, Tulsa Chamber, and others to defeat SB 1279 on a 21-10 vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 1. Therefore, the successful process established under state law to form a TIF district remains intact.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.



  Incentive Legislation Favorably Amended  

The Chamber was concerned by HB 3225, legislation authored by Representative Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs), which in its original form sought to sunset all of the state's economic development incentive programs by December 31, 2021 unless otherwise authorized by the legislature. The Chamber relies on a number of these critical programs to recruit companies to Oklahoma and help existing companies grow and is strongly opposed to the arbitrary sun-setting of these programs.

In a move strongly supported by the Chamber in 2015, Oklahoma established an Incentive Evaluation Commission to review all of the state's incentive programs on a data-driven and empirical basis. This Commission has served its purpose well to evaluate each incentive and provide (formerly unavailable) data to the legislature on whether programs are working and providing a positive ROI to taxpayers. To prematurely sunset incentives would eliminate critical programs necessary for Oklahoma to be competitive in the economic marketplace while undermining the purpose for the commission's existence and denying legislators useful data to make informed decisions on whether to retain specific incentive programs.

After passing the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance 7-1 on February 14, Rep. Nollan favorably amended her legislation to reflect the Chamber's concerns by removing the sunset date and entirely changing her legislation to require a "dash board" to be created by the Oklahoma Tax Commission to provide data to lawmakers, state government, businesses and taxpayers on the growth of incentive programs. HB 3225, as amended, passed the House Appropriations and Budget Committee 17-3 on February 28 and now awaits consideration by the full House of Representatives.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.   



  Heartland Flyer Protected  

Legislation (SB 1239) was introduced this year by Senator Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) that, if enacted, would have eliminated the state's entire estimated $2.8 million appropriation to the Heartland Flyer passenger train from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Texas and would have effectively eliminated passenger rail service in Oklahoma. The Chamber is a long-standing advocate for protecting the state's passenger rail investment and is pleased to report SB 1239 did not receive a committee hearing in Senator Stephanie Bice's (R-Oklahoma City) Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation by the March 1 deadline and, therefore, will not advance this session.

Protecting our investment for The Heartland Flyer is critical to central Oklahoma's efforts to: 1) Develop a regional commuter rail system to give residents more transportation options; 2) Protect the substantial investments ($28.4 million) that have already been made to develop the newly-dedicated Intermodal Hub at the Santa Fe Station in Downtown OKC; 3) Ensure we have the future ability to connect via passenger rail with Kansas City-St. Louis-Chicago and the rest of the national Amtrak network; and, 4) Ease congestion on the state's highway system.   

The Chamber will continue to work with partners at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the City of Oklahoma City, Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, the Chickasaw Nation and others to ensure this critical investment is protected and Oklahomans have more transportation options rather than less.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.




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