Chamber achieves 2016 legislative priorities

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Despite the challenges of the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall, the Chamber achieved almost all of its legislative priorities during the 2016 session. The following is an overview of the session’s highlights. 

Chamber Protects All Six Critical Economic Development Programs
The Chamber relies on several of the state’s economic development incentive programs to attract businesses that will bring economic growth to Oklahoma. The following six programs are especially critical to economic and community development:

  • Quality Jobs Act
  • Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit
  • Historical Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit
  • Five-year ad valorem abatement and sales tax exemption on manufacturing facilities
  • Freeport (Inventory) Exemption
  • Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit

Despite the pressure placed on scaling-back or repealing economic development programs, all six of these key programs were successfully preserved. The Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit was capped at $25 million annually, but earned credits may be carried forward and claimed in subsequent years.

Governor Signs Pro-Business Gun Legislation to Protect Events 
One of the top priorities for the Chamber this session was to pass gun legislation to allow event hosts to prevent guns from being allowed into high-economic impact events. The Chamber worked closely with the NRA and OK2A to introduce SB 1057 by Sen. Jack Fry (R-Midwest City) and Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Oklahoma City). Under this legislation guns cannot be brought into: 

  • Horse Shows and the State Fair
  • Big XII and NCAA Sporting Events, including the Women’s College World Series;
  • Concerts (Chesapeake Energy Arena; Zoo; OKC Fest)
  • State High School Basketball & Wrestling Tournaments at the Fairgrounds
  • U.S. Olympic Qualifying and many other events.

SB 1057 received strong majorities in the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Fallin in April.

Chamber Works to Defeat Two Pieces of Harmful Gun Legislation
The Chamber organized and led a broad coalition of businesses, law enforcement agencies and universities to defeat anti-business gun legislation that, if passed, would have undermined SB 1057.
HJR 1009, by Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Yukon), would have threatened to make SB 1057 irrelevant by having Oklahoma courts decide whether the business owners’ rights provisions of SB 1057 met the “strict scrutiny” test, the most stringent form of Judicial Review - under which many state statutes have been held unconstitutional. This legislation posed a direct threat to the right of a business or event host to preclude weapons.

HB 3098, by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield), would have allowed Oklahoma residents 21 years or older not convicted of a felony to carry an open or concealed handgun without a license. The Chamber’s primary concern with this legislation was that unlicensed gun owners represent an insurance risk and cost to all businesses that would have led insurance companies to either withdraw from the market or increase rates for liability and workers’ compensation coverage (the same was true of HJR 1009).

Key Criminal Justice Reform Measures Enacted
The Chamber’s strong support of criminal justice measures passed by the Legislature this session was directly connected with the important work being undertaken by the Chamber’s Criminal Justice Reform Taskforce. This taskforce, composed of prominent leaders from the Oklahoma City criminal justice, law enforcement and business communities, was created out of a desire to address ongoing issues with the Oklahoma County jail.

All four criminal justice reform bills supported by the Chamber were signed into law:

  • HB 2472 gives DA’s discretion in filing misdemeanor charges for some non-violent crimes.
  • HB 2479 removes mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug possession crimes.
  • HB 2751 re-classifies several property crimes as misdemeanors.
  • HB 2753 allows judges to sentence certain offenders to community service or drug court instead of prison.

Chamber Prevents Economic Hit by Defeating Transgender Bathroom Measure
During the last week of session, the Chamber organized and led an effort to defeat transgender bathroom discrimination legislation that, if passed, would have been devastating to economic development in terms of lost federal funds, business investment, and conventions. North Carolina is expected to lose $5 billion annually in economic activity after passing similar legislation.

Oklahoma’s measure, SB 1619, would have allowed a student with a religious objection to request the use of separate bathroom, shower, or athletic changing facility while denying this right to a transgendered individual. The Chamber immediately engaged to educate legislators on the economic impact of the North Carolina law.

The measure was killed when it failed on a 10-10 vote in the House Joint Committee on Appropriation and Budget.

Legislation Improving the Municipal Board of Adjustment Process Signed Into Law
The Chamber was asked to take the lead on introducing legislation, SB 1341 by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), to make improvements to the municipal Board of Adjustment Appeals process that has been abused in the past. Under the existing BOA process, a person without a property interest in an area under development has the right to file an appeal in state district court that would automatically stay a municipal BOA decision and indefinitely halt development on a project. The subsequent delay resulted in substantial lost economic investment and jobs.

SB 1341, which was unanimously passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Fallin, will stop frivolous appeals of BOA decisions to state district court by requiring those filing an appeal to have some property interest in the outcome and to post bond to cover the cost of delay if the appeal is unsuccessful.

ODOT’s Eight Year Plan Protected in Tough Budget Environment
The budget shortfall placed tremendous pressure on protecting funding for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) Eight-Year Construction Plan, which includes a historic number of key OKC-area projects. The Chamber strongly supports providing adequate funding for the eight-year plan so this, and other projects critical to economic development, can continue to move forward and be completed without delay.

Despite challenges throughout the session, the FY2017 budget agreement passed by the Legislature provides $200 million in bonds to protect funding for ODOT. With this bond funding, all projects in the current eight-year plan are protected and can move forward as scheduled.

New Oklahoma Education Standards Adopted
The Chamber supported the adoption of new Oklahoma education standards. The State Department of Education led an 18-month process, which included extensive public and professional input, to develop the new standards.

The new K-12 education state standards were adopted when the House and Senate passed separate resolutions recommending changes to the standards. Since the resolutions were different, the standards became law.