Legislature focuses on budget, politics at Halfway Point – Oklahoma Watch

What a difference a year makes.

Hundreds of bills have survived the Oklahoma legislature’s first major political term, new Republican leaders have been elected, and the House and Senate are beginning budget negotiations in the weeks leading up to a candidate’s run for office. ‘this year.

That contrasts with a months-long stalemate over how to provide public funds for private schools that bogged down last year’s session to the point where a special session was finally needed to finish the job.

The Senate voted this week to send its initial negotiating position on the budget to the House, part of a new transparency initiative promoted by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. The $11.6 billion appropriations resolution passed on a 41-3 vote. Nearly $331 million is to make up for lost revenue from eliminating the states’ share of the grocery sales tax. Treat said it will be the only major tax cut the Senate is considering this year.

It just underscores that we said what we wanted to say and executed very well on what we wanted to do, Treat told reporters Tuesday. We passed a budget that ensures we maintain our commitment to public schools, infrastructure and healthcare. Obviously, it’s a first step. That’s what we authorized our team (appropriation) to negotiate, and have a little bit of back and forth.

Even Senate Democrats who voted against the budget resolution credited the new process with giving their caucus more of a voice. They said their no votes stemmed from political differences and what they saw as a need to invest more in critical public services. Gov. Kevin Stitts’ executive budget proposed in February left most agencies with flat budgets.

“Unfortunately, agencies were artificially limited in telling us what they really needed,” Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, said before Monday’s vote on the Senate budget resolution. We saw the executive branch limit what those agencies could ask for, so we saw a lot of flat budgets. I was challenged to see some of the health and human services needs that we have in this state, the rising costs, the rising needs of people in poverty and people with mental health issues.

House Republicans and the governor continue to push to cut additional taxes beyond eliminating the state grocery sales tax. So far, the Senate has stood firm.

We can’t do everything they sent us and balance the budget, Treat said of several other House tax cut proposals headed to the Senate.

Republicans, who hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, have been dealing with some domestic issues in recent weeks as they select the next generation of leaders. Both Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, are term-limited. The filing of candidates for state, provincial and federal offices will be from April 3 to 5.

Majority Leader Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, won the GOP caucus election to be appointed pro tempore to the Senate. Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, the current speaker pro tempore of the House, won an election among his fellow Republicans to become speaker-designate of the House. Formal votes to install them will come after the November election.

Hundreds of bills remain

The first major term of the legislatures marked the death of hundreds of bills as they failed to make it out of their chamber of origin. After a short spring break, lawmakers will resume committee work on Monday to consider bills from the other chamber.

Several bills were advanced that would make changes to Oklahoma’s Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, which allows the state treasurer to restrict investments with financial firms perceived as hostile to the oil and gas industry. Among them is House Bill 3541, by Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore. It would expand the law to cover the agricultural, mining and timber industries. It passed the House 78 to 15.

The House also advanced another Lepak bill, HB 1617, which was carried over from the 2023 session. It is based on a model bill offered by the American Legislative Exchange Council. HB 1617 would restrict the independence of pension plan trustees by using shareholder advisory firms that promise not to support policies involving environmental or social initiatives.

The Senate passed SB 1536, by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa. The attorney general should mediate disputes between the state treasurer and pension plan administrators over Energy Discrimination Elimination Act exemptions. It stemmed from a dispute last year between Treasurer Todd Russ and the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System. Another bill, SB 1510, by Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry, would exempt cities and counties from the law. It passed the Senate by a vote of 42-1.

The House and Senate sent bills to the other side to change the regulation of medical marijuana or step up enforcement. Among them is HB 3361, by Rep. TJ Marti, R-Broken Arrow, which would limit medical marijuana to only prepackaged items of 3 ounces or less. It passed the House by a vote of 57-23 and has an effective date of July 1, 2025.

HB 3458, by Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton, would allow the Oklahoma Tax Commission to share additional information with the attorney general’s office, district attorneys and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to combat money laundering money related to illicit marijuana.

SB 1939 would increase late fees for commercial medical marijuana license renewals to $500 per day. The bill, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is still a work in progress and addresses the transfer of business licenses. It was requested by the attorney general’s office, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and OMMA. Similarly, SB 1635 would require business owners to submit a new affidavit saying they are in compliance with local zoning, building codes and safety regulations after renewing a business license.

Lawmakers continue to tweak the states’ Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act, state government’s main transparency laws. HB 3779 , by Rep. Collin Duel, R-Guthrie, would require applicants to notify an agency or public official 10 days in advance if they plan to sue over a denial under the Open Records Act. HB 2730, a bill from last year’s session, made it out of the House this year. The bill, by Rep. Annie Menz, D-Norman, would require notification of delays in filing records if they cannot be filed within 10 business days.

Duels HB 3780 would clean up some references to video conferencing introduced in the Open Meetings Act during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. HB 3937, by Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, would clarify how public bodies provide meeting notices and agendas.

HB 2367, by Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ada, spurred discussions about what would constitute a public meeting for the three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The bill would allow corporation commissioners to discuss certain issues outside of a public meeting, as long as those discussions are posted within five days on the agencies’ website. The legislation aims to improve efficiency at the Corporation Commission, but Commissioner Bob Anthony opposes it. Before passing the bill, by a vote of 54-32, the House added a July 1, 2026, expiration provision.

Other invoices to see:

  • HB 3959, by House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would create an incentive for professional sports teams. The proposal, capped at $10 million, would work like states’ Quality Work Program that gives employers a quarterly rebate in exchange for creating jobs. The bill would apply to teams in the top five professional sports: football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer. It passed the House 72 to 22.
  • HB 3966 by Echols. This would lead the University of Oklahoma to establish the School of American Civic Thought and Leadership. Echols said the governor asked for this bill. It is inspired by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. Since this initiative began in 2017, similar schools have been established at flagship public universities in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and Ohio.
  • Hall’s SB 1430 would split the central procurement division of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services into a separate agency and make the state procurement director an appointee of the governor, subject to Senate confirmation. It passed the Senate by a vote of 42-3.
  • SB 1218 by Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant. It would prohibit licensed dealers from refusing to sell a firearm to anyone 18 or older unless prohibited by state law. It passed the Senate, 33-6.

Paul Monies has been a reporter for Oklahoma Watch since 2017, covering state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or pmonies@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.

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