2015 Senate Session Overview


 Budget

  • We believe we have delivered a fiscally responsible budget that includes strategic spending cuts and much-needed apportionment reform
  • The Senate this year emphasized a more comprehensive examination of state spending to identify efficiencies, and structural reforms to give the Legislature greater flexibility in the appropriations process
  • We also met with state agencies for months in a collaborative effort to consider how they might be able to operate more efficiently in anticipation of these necessary cuts
  • We are pleased that we were able to protect funding for critical priorities like education, while ensuring that the Department of Transportation’s eight-year plan will remain unaffected
  • The budget also preserves funding needed to keep intact the five-year county road and bridge plan
  • Projections based on figures provided by counties show that adequate funding to fulfill all planned projects will still remain in the fund
  • Additionally, the County Road and Bridge Fund will receive more apportioned motor vehicle tax revenue for the duration of the 2015 fiscal year
  • The budget also preserves current funding levels for common education, a major victory considering the extent of the budget shortfall
  • Education remains the state’s largest investment, accounting for more than 50 percent of all state spending
  • In a major victory for transparency and fiscal reform, the general appropriations bill for the first time displays all funding available to agencies in order to present a comprehensive funding picture of state government
  • The budget also preserves and in some cases increases the state’s investment in health and public safety
  • 49 agencies receive funding cuts ranging from 0.75 percent to 7.25 percent, eight agencies receive appropriation increases and 12 agencies receive flat appropriations
  • Given the challenges we faced this year, we believe we have reached an agreement on a fiscally responsible budget that will allow us to make continued advancements in areas of need like education, transportation and healthcare

Tax credit reform

    • House Bill 2182 establishes a process to provide lawmakers with independent evaluations of tax credits and economic incentives, and Senate Bill 806 requires that tax credits and economic incentive provisions include a measurable goal, or goals
    • These proposals will establish a process to provide lawmakers with independent evaluations of economic incentives, and a clear picture of those that encourage growth and those that do not
    • The state currently provides more than $1.7 billion in economic incentives, and in order to protect taxpayers the Legislature needs to ensure they are accomplishing their goals
    • The system established by these measures will produce tremendous savings for Oklahoma taxpayers for many years to come
  • Senate Bill 498 ends the five-year ad valorem tax exemption for new wind farms beginning January 1, 2017, and Senate Bill 502 prohibits a wind facility from claiming the investment tax credit
  • These incentives were enacted at a time when our state was trying to encourage the development of wind farms and create jobs – now these credits are costing the state significant amounts of money
  • These bills will help that our incentives for the wind industry are reasonable and fair

Jobs and Economy

    • Encouraging economic growth will always be a priority for Senate Republicans and this session we advanced a number of measures to limit burdensome regulations, spur development and improve our state’s business climate
  • Senate Bill 809 prohibits municipal drilling bans that conflict with existing statute and Corporation Commission regulations
    • Oklahoma does not need a patchwork of rules and regulations that could leave too many loopholes in the regulatory process
    • Local control is a good thing in general, but the production and development of oil and gas resources is a matter of statewide concern, because all gross production revenues are shared by the state as a whole
  • Senate Bill 499 exempts out-of-state companies from paying Oklahoma taxes when they work to restore infrastructure after a disaster
    • This bill will eliminate certain tax and regulatory hurdles from out of state businesses who enter Oklahoma to assist in disaster recovery efforts
  • Senate Bill 411 allows private companies to hire their own commercial drivers license instructors and examiners
  • With a shortage of more than 200,000 truck drivers nationally, industry will benefit from private CDL training to expedite the licensing process
  • This legislation fixes a problem that has been restricting growth, and will help businesses to attract and retain workers

Education

  • The Senate this year advanced a number of measures to respond to the concerns of teachers and parents, make progress in addressing our teacher shortage, and expand choice
  • In a year where we faced a significant budget shortfall, we were able to protect funding for education, preserving it at current levels
  • Senate Bill 706 delays the implementation of a portion of the teacher evaluation system known as Teacher Leader Effectiveness
  • This measure will ensure the state’s system for evaluating teachers is implemented across a lengthier timeline to provide schools with adequate time to prepare their staff
  • Senate Bill 630 extends the current moratorium on automatic retention for most students who fail a reading test at the end of third grade
  • The bill expands the local committee, giving parents greater involvement in the process
  • Senate Bill 20 allows a teacher from out of state with 5 years of experience to teach in Oklahoma in the same subject area or grade level for which they are certified out-of-state, without having to take competency exams in Oklahoma
  • House Bill 1521 allows local school districts to make one-time incentive payments to recruit or retain individual teachers
  • Senate Bill 782 allows all districts to adopt a charter school model, and provides for an appeals process if a charter application is refused

Health and Human Services

  • This year, the Senate advanced a number of proposals to improve the health of Oklahomans, improve patient outcomes and control costs
  • House Bill 1948 is landmark legislation that will require doctors to check a database before writing prescriptions for highly addictive medications
  • This proposal will crack down on activities that have contributed to Oklahoma’s prescription abuse problem. More than 80 percent of drug-related deaths in Oklahoma are caused by prescription drugs
  • This proposal is a strong step in the right direction to reduce the pain and suffering caused by our epidemic of prescription drug abuse
  • We also advanced House Bill 1566 to initiate requests for proposals for care coordination models for aged, blind, and disabled persons
  • More than 25 other states have similar programs, which have proven effective in limiting costs and providing access to appropriate levels of care
  • Senate Bill 338 will help combat fraud within the state’s Medicaid program – the bill authorizes the Oklahoma Tax Commission to disclose state tax records of Medicaid recipients to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority for the purpose of determining eligibility for current or potential recipients of assistance from the program
  • Two important measures reaffirmed our caucuses’ pro-life position: House Bill 1409 initiates a three day wait period before a patient could have an abortion, and requires that patients be made aware that ultrasound and heart monitoring technology are available; and House Bill 1721 bans dismemberment abortions
  • These measures are part of a broader effort to establish a culture of life in our state – one which places protection of the innocent and vulnerable among our greatest values and priorities

Public Safety

  • Preserving and enforcing the death penalty was a caucus priority this year, and we approved two measures to ensure we can do so
  • Senate Joint Resolution 31 sends to a vote of the people a constitutional amendment that, if approved, ensures that death penalty statutes are in effect, that methods of execution can be changed, and that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment
  • House Bill 1879 will allow the use of nitrogen hypoxia for administering the death penalty
  • Oklahomans strongly support the death penalty, and it was important that the Senate act to ensure that we can carry out a punishment appropriate for the worst of crimes
  • We also prioritized combating the crimes of human trafficking and child pornography
  • House Bill 1047 makes aggravated child pornography an 85 percent crime
  • House Bill 1006 expands wiretapping statutes to cover crimes of human trafficking for labor, commercial sex and the prostitution of children
  • Senate Bill 721 adds a definition of “advertising” or “advertisement” to the statute relating to child trafficking
  • We took important steps in corrections and sentencing reform, with the passage of a series of bills to address problems in our corrections system, and ease overcrowding without releasing violent criminals before they have served sentences that are appropriate for their crimes
  • House Bill 1518 allows judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for certain offenders
  • House Bill 1548 allows for judicial review of sentence modification after completion of the Bill Johnson Correctional Center drug offender program
  • House Bill 2168 modifies employment licensing requirements to expand work opportunities for former offenders
  • We also achieved our objective of establishing a penalty for texting and driving with the approval of House Bill 1965, which establishes a primary offense for texting and driving

Government Reform

  • We advanced a number of measures this year to make government more efficient, including Senate Bill 189, which establishes the Performance Informed Budget and Transparency Act, to develop a comprehensive budgeting system that ties spending to measurable goals and outcomes
  • Our current budget situation clearly illustrates a need to examine in greater detail the structure of our budget and the needs of state agencies
  • Aligning state spending to measurable goals could also produce increased efficiency and transparency within the budget
  • Senate Bill 751 makes more efficient the often costly process of transporting inmates. The bill allows law enforcement entities to contract with third parties for the transportation of individuals for purpose of exams, emergency detention, protective custody, and inpatient services
  • We acted to protect religious liberty with the passage of House Bill 1007. The measure prevents any church or clergyman from being required to solemnize a marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion as protected under the First Amendment
  • This legislation will ensure that clergy members are not forced to act in violation of their religious beliefs or conscience
  • Given the decision of the Supreme Court not to take up our appeal of a lower court’s ruling on our ban on same-sex marriage, it was critical that the Legislature take action this session to defend religious liberty
  • We also approved a plan that will ultimately end the state’s financial obligation for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. House Bill 2237 authorizes a $25 million bond to complete the museum facility, ends the state’s ongoing appropriations for operations, and will ultimately divest the state of the property
  • Despite the challenge this facility has posed to previous legislatures, it still has great potential to be a major destination for tourism, a center of learning, and an engine for economic development
  • In addition, the proposed agreement eliminating the state’s fiscal responsibilities to the project would require museum revenues to fund the operations and maintenance of the museum

Other notable bills

    • We approved several measures to ensure we can provide better services for veterans
  • Senate Bill 195 creates the Voluntary Veterans’ Preference Employment Policy Act, and House Bill 1353 creates the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Act, requiring that preference be given to certain veterans
  • Senate Bill 839 will provide funding for the construction of the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, better known as OKPOP
  • The Oklahoma Historical Society has a track record of achievement in building self-sustaining facilities like the Oklahoma History Center and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, and the Cherokee Strip Museum in Enid
  • Private sector investors will contribute more than $15 million to the project, making it a true public-private partnership, and no state appropriations will be needed to fund ongoing operations
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