Property Tax Reforms Sent to Senate
Legislation reforming Oklahoma’s property tax laws passed out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week.
House Joint Resolution 1001 would impose a permanent freeze on property tax levels for seniors over 65 for as long as they own their homes.
One recent study by the Tax Foundation showed that Oklahoma has the eighth-fastest growing property tax levy in the nation.
House Joint Resolution 1001 passed on a bipartisan 83-13 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.
House Joint Resolution 1002 would allow Oklahoma citizens to vote to impose a 3-percent annual cap that would limit future property tax increases.
Under current law, property tax valuations can increase 5 percent each year.
House Joint Resolution 1002 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 81-16 vote. It now goes to the state Senate for consideration.
Oklahoma is not the only state considering such reforms this year.
New Jersey recently imposed a 2-percent property tax cap and 72 percent of Indiana voters recently voted to enact a 1-percent cap.
Corrections Reform Clears House
Legislation that would revise Oklahoma’s correction law to increase the use of alternative sentencing programs gained easy approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week.
House Bill 2131 proposes a number of reforms including changing the default sentencing structure from consecutive to concurrent terms, enhancing eligibility for community sentencing and Global Position System Monitoring programs, and limiting the governor’s role in the parole process for non-violent offenders.
The legislation is intended to reduce taxpayer expenditures on corrections while also reducing recidivism among offenders, ultimately improving public safety.
House Bill 2131 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 87-4 vote. It now proceeds to the state Senate.
Lawmakers Vote to Prevent Corrections Furloughs
House lawmakers voted this week to allow the Department of Corrections to access millions of dollars sitting idle in a special fund to pay officers and avoid significant furlough days.
Senate Bill 970 will allow the Department of Corrections to use up to $4 million from the Correctional Industries’ fund to reduce planned furlough days of corrections officers. The DOC is currently authorized to access only $1.25 million.
The bill’s passage will enable the Department of Corrections to reduce planned furloughs from four days a month to just one day a month.
The legislation also helps address critical needs in the Department of Corrections (DOC) without adding to the $500 million gap facing the state.
Senate Bill 970 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 92-7 vote. It now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin, who is expected to sign it into law.
Lawsuit Reform Advances
Legislation enacting lawsuit reform to reduce frivolous lawsuit seeking “jackpot justice” gained House approval this week.
House Bill 2128 would limit noneconomic damages (so called “pain and suffering” awards) for bodily injury to $350,000.
The bill includes an exception so there is no limit on the amount of noneconomic damages in a civil action for bodily injury resulting from negligence if the defendant acted recklessly, fraudulently, or intentionally, or was grossly negligent.
Because “pain and suffering” damages involve no direct economic loss and have no precise value, it is very difficult for juries to assign a dollar value to these losses. As a result, awards tend to be erratic and, because of the highly charged environment of personal injury trials, can become wildly excessive. The reforms of House Bill 2128 would provide greater clarity and predictability for the legal system.
The bill would continue to allow full recover for actual damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, etc.
House Bill 2128 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 57-40 vote. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
House Approves “Closing Fund”
The Oklahoma House approved legislation to create the Oklahoma Quick Action Closing Fund.
House Bill 1953 would allow the governor to dip into the fund to provide financial incentives to companies considering relocating or expanding in Oklahoma.
The incentives would have to be performance based and companies receiving state funds would enter into an agreement with the Department of Commerce. The bill contains guidelines should a company fail to meet the required performance provisions.
House Bill 1953 passed 79-17 and now goes to the state Senate.
House Votes to Reform Union Law
House lawmakers approved legislation that repeals a state law requiring collective bargaining for nonuniformed workers in nine cities.
House Bill 1593 would repeal a 2004 law that required unionization for nonuniformed employees in cities with at least 35,000 residents.
The bill would not affect the four cities that had collective bargaining agreements with nonuniformed workers prior to 2004 – Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and Muskogee.
The legislation would only affect nine cities.
House Bill 1593 passed 59-38 and now goes to the state Senate.
IT Modernization Advances; Measure Could Save Millions
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has approved legislation proposed to save millions of taxpayers dollars thought the implementation of information technology (IT) process reforms.
The reforms are part of Governor Mary Fallin’s plan to generate $190 million in savings this year – $140 million from the incorporation of the IT reforms, along with $50 million in savings from a temporary freeze on IT purchases.
House Bill 1304 seeks to implement a report from the Capgemini consulting firm, which found that the state utilizes 76 separate redundant financial tracking systems despite the fact that the state has one enterprise-wide financial software that all agencies should be using. There are 22 unique time and attendance systems, 17 imaging systems, 48 reporting and analytics applications, 30,000 desktop computers of which 2,000 are not in use, 25 different desktop operating systems, 133 email systems, and 27 SQL Server and Oracle systems with 92 percent of the SQL Server programs not being supported.
The study also referenced a report by the Gartner Group, which indicates Oklahoma is spending $35.6 million more than the average IT spend of other state governments.
House Bill 1304 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 52-45 vote and now to the state Senate for consideration.
Bill to combine school superintendents advances
Legislation providing financial incentives to school districts that hire the same superintendent as part of an effort to consolidate administrative functions gained House approval this week.
House Bill 2115 would allow school districts that share administrators to receive funding from the School Consolidation Assistance Fund. The extra funding would cover up to 50 percent of the superintendent’s salary for three consecutive years up to $200,000 total.
Cash in the School Consolidation Assistance Fund comes from the state lottery.
The bill’s author said it is an incentive for school districts to reduce administrative costs and devote more money to the classroom.
Oklahoma currently has 526 school districts.
House Bill 2115 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 90-7 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.
Music Therapy Gets House Approval
Legislation that would allow licensure of music therapists and potentially increase a form of treatment for children with special needs, including those with autism, gained House approval this week.
House Bill 1462 creates the Music Therapy Practice Act. Under the legislation, the Disability Determination Services Division (DDSD) of the Department of Human Services (DHS) would have oversight of the profession, including licensure power.
To be eligible to work as a licensed music therapist, an applicant would have to be a graduate of an approved bachelor’s degree program and successfully complete a board certification exam.
The bill declares that licensure is necessary “to safeguard the public health, safety and welfare, to protect the public from being misled by incompetent and unauthorized persons, to assure the highest degree of professional conduct on the part of music therapists and to assure the availability of music therapy services of high quality to persons in need of such services…”
House Bill 1462 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on an 83-12 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.
House Votes to Reduce Vending Machine Fee
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to roll back last year’s fee increase on vending machines, potentially helping many small businesses survive.
Last year, lawmakers voted to triple the fee paid by vending machine operators, increasing it from $50 per machine to $150 apiece. The increase was, in part, a response to last year’s budget shortfall.
House Bill 1634 would reduce the fee from $150 to $75.
According to Tax Commission records, there are 54,323 vending machines across the state.
Members of the vending machine association and soft drink bottlers have predicted the fee increase will result in a 30-percent reduction in machines on the Oklahoma market.
If that prediction is correct, the $150 fee could actually result in a loss of $6.5 million to the state once associated job reductions are included. That is a dramatic contrast with the $8.5 million increase originally estimated.
House Bill 1634 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 96-0 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.
House Votes to Increase Regulation of Abortionists
House lawmakers voted this week to increase regulatory oversight of abortion providers and increase safeguards for women.
House Bill 1642 would require any abortion provider to have “clinical privileges at a hospital which offers obstetrical or gynecological care” that is located within 30 miles of the site where abortion is performed or induced.
House Bill 1642 passed on a bipartisan vote of 89-7 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It now goes to the state Senate.
Bill to Improve Response to Family Challenges Advances
House Lawmaker’s have voted to streamline state services directed at preserving Oklahoma’s families
House Bill 1220 creates the “Prevention Services Efficiency and Consolidation Act of 2011.”
The bill declares “the prevention of family fragmentation” to be a priority of state government due to “attendant human and financial cost to the citizens of Oklahoma.”
Under the legislation, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would be the coordinating agency in charge of streamlining services and carrying out the act pursuant to the requirements of the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant.
The measure proposes utilizing an existing state board to analyze various state services that are designed to “identify, mitigate and prevent the negative social consequences of addiction, abuse, mental illness, psychological trauma, family fragmentation and dysfunction.”
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would be required to develop an annual plan to combine services and improve delivery in a way that achieves a minimum savings of 20 percent overall on statewide expenditures for those services.
The legislation was the result of over two years of study that suggested that significant savings could be achieved.
One study, “The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing,” was an early catalyst that precipitated the efforts that led to House Bill 1220. That study conservatively estimated that the impact of divorce on the cost of state government (largely through public assistance programs) was as much as $430 million per year in Oklahoma.
Research also shows children from broken homes are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated, seven times more likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be expelled and receive lower grades. They also are more susceptible to substance abuse and mental health disorders.
House Bill 1220 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 93-2 vote. It now goes to the state Senate.