Student protests and a political standoff punctuated the penultimate week of the 55th Oklahoma Legislature’s second session. On Monday, more than 1,000 OKCPS students demonstrated against ongoing cuts to the state’s education budget by staging walk outs. On Wednesday, a smaller faction from Classen School of Advanced Studies marched on the State Capitol.
Not to be outdone, the Legislature created its own spectacle later Wednesday with HB 3210, aka the tobacco tax. Despite last-ditch PR efforts from lobbying groups, a press conference with Gov. Mary Fallin, and rumors of re-opening the vote after 10 p.m., the measure failed miserably with regard to meeting a super-majority threshold. It will likely be reconsidered.
eCapitol.net reporter Christie Southern summed it up thusly:
It’s Wacky Wednesday, y’all. The Republicans are asking the Democrats to pass a tax increase. #okleg
— Christie Southern (@ChrissySouthern) May 18, 2016
As House Democrats posed for a picture on the floor late Wednesday night, another eCapitol reporter termed the scenario a “debacle”:
House Dens pose for photo following today’s debacle pic.twitter.com/tb8JlHKeI3
— eCapitol House (@eCapitol_House) May 19, 2016
When the Senate adjourned Thursday morning around 10:40 a.m., discussion in the NonDoc news parlor centered on the appearance that the upper chamber is letting the House run the show, which makes for a slightly unusual scenario. One motivation for the power shrug could be that Senate leaders seek to avoid sullying their hands with any undesirable legislative votes and would rather cede the initial dirt work to the lower chamber. If tough votes pass in the House, only then will the Senate have to take the same votes on tax increases.
WTF: Legislating the womb, doctors
In a move the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) called “the first of its kind,” Senate approval of SB 1552 Thursday morning brings an all-out ban on abortions one step closer to reality in Oklahoma. Sen. Ervin Yen (R-OKC), who constitutes the only physician in the Senate, called the bill “insane,” as reported by the AP’s Sean Murphy.
DIY abortion searches: ‘Can I douche with bleach?’ by William W. Savage III
While a committee substitute created language that allows for abortions in the face of mortal danger for the mother, it denies the performance of abortions in cases where the mother threatens suicide after giving birth.
In one of its only accomplishments Thursday morning, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 33 to 12. In April, it passed the House 59 to 9. It now needs only Fallin’s signature to become law, but a statement from her office stated she would not be signing any bills Thursday. Even if Fallin refrains from signing it, the bill automatically becomes law after five days, according to the CRR.
In a letter to Fallin’s office, the CRR makes its case that the law is unconstitutional and points out that Oklahoma’s abortion-related restrictions have been challenged eight different times in the past six years. In the face of any potential court challenges to the law, it will be up to AG Scott Pruitt‘s office to determine the amount of funds necessary to defend such a challenge.
Update: Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed SB 1552 Friday afternoon.
WTF: Unborn children as political footballs
On a related note, and in the midst of wrangling over $30 million in Oklahoma City Public Schools budgeting, there’s still time for some political football.
HB 2797 would create the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act, in turn creating optional educational materials for schools to provide to students. Rep. Ann Coody’s (R-Lawton) bill passed the House 69 to 15 on Thursday and, in April, passed the Senate 45 to 0.
As part of the act, the State Department of Education and State Department of Health, both of which are currently en fuego with regard to financial solvency, would be charged with creating an informational campaign that local school boards could then choose to incorporate into their curricula.
Because implementation of the bill hinges on the availability of funds for the program, it is unlikely that local school boards will have to make that choice any time soon. Still, in the meantime, it makes a nice punt for term-limited Coody’s successor to field.
FTW: Budget-related bills make progress
As the Legislature attempts to unwind Roe v. Wade and the conservative majority panders to its religious base, some actual progress was made Monday on budgeting items that could benefit the state. To wit, estimates are that the following bill will collectively generate an estimated $243.9 million for the general revenue fund (GRF). Each has received Senate approval and now awaits House votes:
- SB 1582: caps the total amount of statewide credits manufacturers will be allowed for capital investment or new jobs for tax years 2016 through 2018 at $25 million annually; would generate an estimated $11 million
- SB 1604: makes the earned-income tax credit nonrefundable; would generate an estimated $24.5 million
- SB 1605: eliminates the child-care facility credit; would generate an estimated $110,00
- SB 1606: eliminates the “double deduction” and would require the amount of state and local sales and income taxes deducted at the federal level to be added back to Oklahoma income on state returns; would generate an estimated $83.3 million
- HB 3206: would authorize OMES to certify any funds remaining in the cash-flow reserve fund in December as available for transfer and appropriation; would yield an estimated $125 million
Another budget-related measure, the Retail Protection Act of 2016, was signed into law Tuesday and seeks to collect sales tax for items Oklahoma residents purchase from online vendors. A summary lists the 2017 and 2018 fiscal impact of the act as “unknown,” but the bill’s author, Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid) cited a figure in the “millions” in a press release.
Deadlines loom large
The deadline for the completion of all House standing conference committee meetings is no later than noon Wednesday, and the deadline for submitting all second and subsequent conference committee reports on House measures is no later than 3 p.m. Wednesday. The session will end no later than 5 p.m. Friday, but a special session may be ordered.