Saturday, May 18, 2024
history of the Oklahoma Legislature
The Oklahoma Legislature begins its annual regular session at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City on the first Monday in February. (Michael Duncan)

The Oklahoma Legislature did what?

Often, the answer to that question is complex. Here at NonDoc, we work to cover each session of the Oklahoma Legislature in a manner that provides accurate and in-depth information about policy proposals, political posturing and the overall sausage-making process. To do that, institutional knowledge is key, and we spend a great deal of time trying to stay informed about current happenings while also seeking historical context about any given policy.

To help improve public access to this information, we have created this page to chronicle the history of the Oklahoma Legislature as a running recap of past legislative sessions. Our full #okleg tag remains a great way to find all of our content related to the Oklahoma Legislature, but specific tags exist for the 2023 session, 2022 session, 2021 session, 2020 session, 2019 session, 2018 session, 2017 session and 2016 session in our coverage archives.

The Oklahoma Legislature is a bicameral body featuring 101 seats in its House of Representatives and 48 seats in its State Senate. (State voters decreased Senate seats from 52 to 48 by passing SQ 416 in 1964.) The Legislature’s annual regular session convenes the first Monday in February and must adjourn by 5 p.m. on the final Friday of May.

Use the buttons below to scroll session recaps by year.

2023:  First session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature

  • Governor: Kevin Stitt (fifth session)
  • Senate: 40 Republicans; 8 Democrats (Pro Tem Greg Treat)
  • House: 81 Republicans; 20 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
  • New members: Senators: Jerry Alvord, Todd Gollihare, Grant Green, Dana Prieto, Ally Seifried, Jack Stewart, Kristen Thompson, Tom Woods; Representatives: Arturo Alonso-Sandoval, Nick Archer, Chris Banning, Josh Cantrell, Jared Deck, Collin Duel, John George, Neil Hays, Ellyn Hefner, John Kane, Cody Maynard, Annie Menz, Suzanne Schreiber, Clay Staires, Amanda Swope, Mark Tedford, 
  • Resigning members: Sen. John Michael Montgomery resigned in July; Rep. Ryan Martinez resigned in September.
  • Official session summariesHouse / Senate

The 2023 regular session of the Oklahoma Legislature technically ended on the final Friday in May as constitutionally required, but that didn’t mean lawmakers went home for a normal summer. Elongated and intense negotiations over a major education package — including more than $625 million of new funding and new refundable tax credits for private school and homeschool families — significantly delayed conversations about the rest of the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.

To ensure they would have the ability to override any budget vetoes from Gov. Kevin Stitt, legislators called themselves into a concurrent special session in which they passed most of their FY 2024 budget bills.

Stitt’s veto of a pair of bills extending expiring state-tribal compacts on tobacco taxes and motor vehicle registration by one year led to lawmakers returning in June and July for (multiple) veto-override attempts. Eventually, both compact extensions became law despite the objections of the governor, who interrupted everyone’s interim plans further by calling the Legislature back for another special session (on taxation issues) in early October. While the House prepared a slate of tax-cut concepts, the Senate summoned Stitt to testify before its appropriations committee. When he declined, senators adjourned Stitt’s special session the same day it began. It was not the first time the Senate had taken offense with the governor that year.

During the 2023 regular session, Stitt attempted to cajole the Senate into approving the House’s version of the education funding and “school choice” package. In late April, the governor vetoed 20 “unrelated” Senate bills and a handful of House bills over his frustrations. The Senate responded by rejecting a pair of Stitt’s Cabinet secretary nominees, and the strained relationship carried over into the year’s special sessions and beyond.

After reaching their education deal — which included teacher pay raises between $3,000 and $6,000 depending upon longevity — lawmakers finally revealed more than 50 proposed budget bills in late May, near midnight and only about nine hours before scheduled JCAB votes. Stitt ultimately allowed almost every measure featured in the legislative budget deal to become law without his signature, including:

  • $215 million for new programs aimed at incentivizing affordable housing around the state;
  • $600 million for a new Legacy Capital Financing Fund to allow selected capital projects to be self-financed at state agencies;
  • A pair of tax code changes to eliminate the so-called “marriage penalty” and the state’s franchise tax;
  • A bill prohibiting the denial of state funds based solely on religious considerations;
  • Extension from 15 to 30 years in the eligibility for sports teams — functionally, the Oklahoma City Thunder — to qualify for payments under the Oklahoma Quality Jobs Act;
  • A $122 million increase to the University Hospital Authority and Trust, which functionally allowed for a $96 million one-time appropriation to support uncompensated indigent care in the OU Health system;
  • Appropriation of more than $160 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for education, workforce and human services initiatives; and
  • Commitment of $145 million toward capital work at the MidAmerica Investment Park if global manufacturer Panasonic elected to build a battery plant there. (Ultimately, Panasonic announced it would not be building the plant.)

Amid lingering disagreement between the two chambers, five bills initially revealed as part of the Legislature’s grand budget “deal” fell short of final approval. Those included a new program for evaluating and educating state judges, an increase in salary for future statewide elected officials, a matching appropriation to the stalled Oklahoma Popular Culture Museum, an appropriation to a county reinvestment fund created in State Question 781 and re-expansion of the duties of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission from advisory to governance.

While Capitol consternation over the education package and the state budget clogged many policy proposals shy of the finish line, some policy initiatives that did pass during the 2023 legislative session include:

  • Six weeks of paid maternity leave for state employees and school district employees;
  • A series of common education changes, including adjustments to the state funding equalization formula, changes to Redbud Fund parameters, and three-year pilot programs for literacy instruction and school resource officers;
  • Increased monthly phone service fees to pay for 911 system upgrades;
  • Modification of rules regarding the assessment and transport of people that a law enforcement officer reasonably believes need mental health treatment. It removes a 30-mile minimum requirement for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services or a contracted entity to transport the individual instead of law enforcement;
  • An increase from $20 to $50 per day compensation for jurors;
  • A bill moving Service Oklahoma out from under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to become a stand-alone agency. It refers to tag agents or motor license agents as “licensed operators” and establishes payment percentages to them. It provides for Service Oklahoma to make compensation changes for license agents annually before the last day of September;
  • Creation of the Caring for Caregivers Act, which establishes a new tax credit starting in the 2024 tax year for family members who act as caregivers for disabled Oklahomans who are age 62 and up and who live at a private residence. The bill allows for a tax credit up to 50 percent of eligible caregiver costs, capped at $2,000 per year for most participants and $3,000 per year for those caring for veterans or people dealing with dementia. The bill provides a flexible cap of $1.5 million total for the program annually, with adjusted calculations made in future years if a prior year exceeds that amount;
  • Creation of a tort exemption for any restaurant or public school cafeteria that, in good faith and without compensation, donates prepared food for charitable purposes “unless the damages by the restaurant result from an intentional act, omission, gross negligence” or the establishment “knew or should have known of the condition of the food that resulted in the damages.”
  • A bevy of changes to the medical marijuana industry, such as prohibition of most foreign land and prohibition of straw ownership interests. Lawmakers also established a new ability for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to suspend industry licenses and granted OBNDD the ability to enforce medical marijuana laws. Another bill passed in 2023 allows the OMMA to purchase vehicles, create a petty cash fund, operate a testing assurance laboratory, and allow secret shoppers. The bill also modified the calculation for indoor and outdoor growing operations and required credentialing for dispensary employees. Lawmakers also approved an increase in the annual fee paid by grow operations and a requirement for applicants seeking a grow license to file proof of a $50,000 surety bond.
  • A bill prohibiting gender-transition surgeries and puberty-blocking drugs for Oklahomans under age 18, with exemptions for certain disorders of sexual development. The bill also creates civil liability and professional misconduct criteria for physicians found in violation;
  • A bill eliminating the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and creating the Statewide Charter School Board as the sole authorizer of virtual charter schools;
  • A bill requiring school districts to allow tribal citizens to wear tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies;
  • A bill requiring students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to graduate high school;
  • A bill requiring public school districts to undergo a school safety risk assessment;
  • A bill allowing school districts to issue alternative diplomas to students with learning disabilities who are unable to meet regular graduation requirements;
  • A bill requiring the State Department of Education to create and make available a civil rights movement history curriculum;
  • A bill requiring public school districts to post bond election information on their websites;
  • A bill prohibiting a person serving on a local school board from being appointed to the State Board of Education.

The 2023 regular session also featured the censuring of two legislators in the House of Representatives. Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) was censured after initially denying Highway Patrol troopers entry to their office during the investigation of someone throwing water on Rep. Bob Ed Culver (R-Tahlequah). Weeks later, Rep. Dean Davis (R-Broken Arrow) was censured after police arrested him on a bar patio after hours. Davis argued with an Oklahoma City police officer about whether he was exempt from detention. (He was not.)

Similarly, House Appropriations and Budget Committee Vice Chairman Ryan Martinez was arrested in a bar parking lot after erroneously claiming that legislators cannot be arrested during session. (They can.)

Sen. John Michael Montgomery (R-Lawton) resigned in July to become director of the Lawton Ft. Sill Chamber of Commerce.

2022: Second session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature

    • Governor: Kevin Stitt (fourth session)
    • Senate: 39 Republicans; 9 Democrats (Pro Tem Greg Treat)
    • House: 82 Republicans; 18 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
    • New Members: None
    • Resigning members: Rep. Jose Cruz resigned just prior to the state of session.
    • Members terming out: Senators: Mark Allen, Kim David, Marty Quinn, Frank Simpson; Representatives: Dustin Roberts, Sean Roberts, Emily Virgin, Tommy Hardin, Toss Russ, Jadine Nollan.
    • Members not seeking reelection: Senators: Zach Taylor, James Leewright; Representatives: Avery Frix, Garry Mize, Merleyn Bell, Sheila Dills, Carol Bush, Denise Brewer, Collin Walke.
    • Official session summaries: House / Senate

In 2022, the Oklahoma Legislature expended much of its regular session energy on two issues — private school vouchers and an incentive program to lure an international battery manufacturer — and convened for two special sessions, one of which appropriated more than $1.5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding.

During regular session, Gov. Kevin Stitt again found himself at odds with legislators, vetoing a handful of budget and policy measures. Stitt axed the Legislature’s $75 and $150 “inflation relief stimulus” payments, and he vetoed the repeal of a 1.25 percent excise tax on motor vehicle purchases, which the Legislature had created in 2018. He also vetoed increases in two private-prison per diem rates, but the Legislature overrode the governor on the private prison funding bills and a measure authorizing the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to revoke driver’s licenses based on traffic offense convictions in tribal courts. As legislators advanced the override motions, Vice Chairman of Appropriations and Budget Ryan Martinez called Stitt “racist” and brandished a bottle of mayonnaise on the House floor, a dig at the governor saying lawmakers were going to spread ARPA dollars like the condiment across state government. (One week prior, legislators had modified their process for ARPA appropriations to minimize Stitt’s influence.)

In announcing his vetoes near the end of regular session, Stitt called the Legislature into a simultaneous special session for the purpose of eliminating the state portion of the sales tax on groceries. Both the Senate and House had advanced similar bills earlier in the session, but Senate leaders announced they were creating a task force to study wholesale tax structure changes for the 2023 session and would not act on the grocery tax until then.

Overall, lawmakers passed and Stitt signed a Fiscal Year 2023 state budget about 8 percent higher than Fiscal Year 2022, with many agencies receiving a 4.2 percent increase in funding, although some agencies received one-time investments dedicated to specific projects and payroll. Many Department of Public Safety employees, such as state troopers, received pay raises, and judges received a 7.67 percent pay raise as recommended by the board of judicial compensation. The Department of Human Services received an additional $32 million to fund the elimination of a waiting list for home-based development disability services. The budget’s education investments were limited, with the most money dedicated to a new-teacher incentive payment program funded through the State Regents for Higher Education. Meanwhile, $250 million was designated to a new Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity (PREP) Fund for a variety of infrastructure and economic development investments, which were specifically designated around the state during the ARPA-related special session.

Legislators began the year with bumper state revenues triggering an organic deposit of $230.1 million into the Revenue Stabilization Fund and other deposits into the Constitutional Reserve Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund. Beyond those deposits, lawmakers faced a decision on how to allocate additional undesignated savings, and they ultimately created a new state incentive program aimed at drawing a Panasonic battery plant to the MidAmerica Industrial Park. Panasonic eventually announced its initial plant for a site in Kansas, but Oklahoma officials expressed hope that the company could build a second plant the Pryor industrial park. Lawmakers placed $698 million inside their new Large-scale Economic Activity and Development Fund, but the money will not be spent unless Panasonic’s battery plant — or a similar project hitting investment and job benchmarks — comes to fruition. Still, the hullabaloo surrounding whether and how to create the new LEAD investment program slowed down other elements of the 2022 regular session, which saw several major policy proposals languish in the Legislature: a private school voucher proposal that failed to pass the Senate, a state law enforcement unification proposal that fell apart during conference committee, and a bevy of bills killed when negotiations between the House and Senate judiciary committees imploded.

Policy initiatives from the 2022 regular legislative session that did pass included:

  • A bill criminalizing abortion starting at conception and allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers;
  • An agreement to implement managed care in the state’s Medicaid program, which also resulted in additional federal funding;
  • Funding for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to address a backlog in online child predator tips;
  • The establishment of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority as a stand-alone state agency, removing it from under the State Department of Health;
  • The establishment of a mental wellness division within the Department of Public Safety;
  • A shift in punishment for underage possession of tobacco and vapes from fines to education programs;
  • Reforms regarding how industrial property tax protests are handled;
  • The creation of Service Oklahoma, functionally moving the state driver’s license program from the Department of Public Safety to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

During their special session focused on appropriating ARPA dollars, legislators tied funding for OU Health projects — a new pediatric behavioral health wing, expansion of cancer treatment services to Tulsa and electronic health records — to the prohibition of “gender reassignment medical treatment” at the state-funded hospital, with certain exceptions.

2021: First session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature

    • Governor: Kevin Stitt (third session)
    • Senate: 39 Republicans; 9 Democrats (Pro Tem Greg Treat; Sen. Jake Merrick sworn in April 14)
    • House: 82 Republicans; 19 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
    • New members: Senators: Jake Merrick, Blake Stephens, George Burns, Warren Hamilton, Shane Jett, Zack Taylor, Jo Anna Dossett, Cody Rogers, Jessica Garvin; Representatives: Eddy Dempsey, Rick West, Bob Ed Culver, Steve Bashore, Wendi Stearman, Danny Williams, Gerrid Kendrix, Dick Lowe, Anthony Moore, Eric Roberts, Mauree Turner, Jose Cruz, Max Wolfley, Preston Stinson

Coming on the heels of the compressed 2020 regular session where several policy initiatives stalled owing to pandemic disruptions, the first session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature was particularly busy at times. However, a temporary stalemate in negotiations between Senate and House leadership also created tense moments when it felt like little work was being completed. 

When budget negotiations concluded, lawmakers approved a Fiscal Year 2022 budget that was $587 million (or 7.6 percent) larger than the previous year, more than restoring the 3 percent cuts of FY 2021 and depositing $800 million into state savings accounts that had largely been depleted the year prior. Additional appropriations for common education — including a nearly 100 percent increase for textbook purchases — totaled more than $171 million and triggered a class-size cap for kindergarten and first grade classrooms.

Despite increasing agency appropriations, lawmakers also cut a pair of taxes: the personal income tax rate by 0.25 percent and the corporate income tax rate by 2 percent. According to budget chairmen, the corporate rate cut was expected to decrease annual collections by about $110 million, while the personal income tax rate cut was expected to drop future collections by about $170 million.

Lawmakers also expanded the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Program, which allows entities like the Opportunity Scholarship Fund to provide tax credits for donations to private and public schools. The tax credit’s expansion became a top sticking point in negotiations, but the program caps were ultimately raised — from $3.5 million for private school donations and $1.5 for public school donations — to $25 million each.

Negotiations over Gov. Kevin Stitt’s proposal to implement private, third-party managed care in the state’s Medicaid system hung over the 2021 session like a damp towel. The Legislature passed a bill to place “guardrails” on any third-party managed care program, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the entire managed care program because justices said it needed explicit approval by the Legislature.

Lawmakers also passed HB 1775 — perhaps the year’s most controversial and controversially interpreted bill — to prohibit public schools from engaging in race or sex-based discriminatory acts. The bill’s language specified that no school employee shall require or include in their course a list of eight concepts, including: teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior, that an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by their race or sex, and that persons bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by members of the same race or sex. Various legislative proponents of the bill oscillated between proclaiming that it banned the teaching of critical race theory and denying that it targeted critical race theory. In signing the bill, Stitt issued a proclamation saying, “It is my intent that no topic of our history or present inequalities are to be hidden from view.” But critics argued the law was simultaneously unnecessary and discriminatory toward teachers who wanted to discuss historic racism and inequality in their classes. Stitt was removed from the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission after signing HB 1775. The Oklahoma State Board of Education subsequently passed emergency rules outlining the law.

Among other policy initiatives, the 2021 legislative session involved lawmakers passing:

  • An adjustment to the state aid formula in an effort to tie funding more closely to current student enrollment by ending the ability for districts report their enrollment from two years prior;
  • Modification to the statewide student transfer policy, which was intended to offer parents greater opportunity to enroll their children in other school districts;
  • A bill directing the use of medical marijuana tax revenues to equalize certain elements of local ad valorem funding for charter schools and traditional school districts with lower property valuations;
  • Authorization for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to establish a contracted network of regional transportation providers for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Previously, only local law enforcement agencies were responsible for mental health transports;
  • An overarching reform to the civil service program for employment with the state of Oklahoma;
  • A new electric vehicle tax of three cents per kilowatt hour at charging stations, effective 2024;
  • An increase in criminal penalties for protestors who block roadways and a grant of immunity for motorists who “unintentionally” harm protestors in a roadway;
  • Authorization for harm reduction — or “needle exchange” programs — in the state of Oklahoma;
  • A law requiring the Oklahoma Supreme Court to maintain a calendar of pending cases and other information about case statuses on their website;
  • The creation of a Joint Committee on Administrative Rules featuring both Senate and House members and the creation of a new “expedited rule repeal process” by which agencies can request that lawmakers authorize the repeal of a rule during regular session. (SB 913 also adjusted other requirements for agency rule-making);
  • A task force directed to study potential needs related to the development of a hydrogen fuel industry in Oklahoma;
  • A bill increasing and reforming parameters of the state’s film rebate program;
  • A law allowing single-serve wine and cocktails to be sold in to-go containers by establishments with mixed-beverage and caterer licenses;
  • A bill directing the Oklahoma State Department of Health to hire 76 more staff positions for administrative, enforcement and compliance operations within the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority;
  • Several bills limiting abortion access, some of which were challenged in court ahead of a Nov. 1 effective date.

2020: Second session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature

  • Governor: Kevin Stitt (second session)
  • Senate: 38 Republicans; 9 Democrats (Pro Tem Greg Treat)
  • House: 77 Republicans; 23 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
  • New members: None
  • Official session summaries: House / Senate

The second session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature was disrupted in mid-March by the COVID-19 pandemic. Two legislators and three staff members tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and the Legislature moved March 16 to temporarily prohibit public access to the State Capitol. Lawmakers met only twice under those emergency restrictions: once March 17 to amend the Open Meeting Act, and once April 6 to address a Fiscal Year 2020 revenue failure. On April 6, the Legislature also granted Gov. Kevin Stitt extraordinary authority under the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which was implemented for the first time in state history. CHEPA required that the Legislature be convened for a special session, which ran through April and May in conjunction with Stitt’s expanded powers to combat COVID-19.

In regular session, lawmakers approved a Fiscal Year 2021 budget $237 million (3 percent) lower than the previous year after a breakdown in negotiations with the Stitt administration. Most state agencies received a 4 percent cut. Calling for leaner appropriations with an eye to the FY 2022 budget, Stitt vetoed the general appropriations bill and three other key budget measures. But lawmakers overrode his vetoes on all four bills, and they spoke of frustrations with the first-term governor, particularly concerning his nomination of agency leaders who did not meet the statutory requirements for the positions. The Senate did not confirm the nomination of Gary Cox as commissioner of health, a position he held from September 2019 through May 2020. Lawmakers did pass a series of measures limiting tort liability related to COVID-19.

In terms of broader policy, the abbreviated 2020 legislative session saw an inordinately low number of bills become law. However, lawmakers did pass:

  • The first cost of living adjustment for state pension recipients in more than 12 years;
  • A reclassification of domestic violence charges as violent crimes;
  • A series of changes to charter school laws, including a drop in the fee percentage a sponsoring district can charge and a transparency package concerning virtual charter schools;
  • An agreement to change from “supervision” to “collaboration” the legal relationship between anesthesiologists and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs);
  • An agreement to address licensing issues and billing problems for physician assistants;
  • The legalization of curbside alcohol sales and home alcohol delivery statewide;
  • $161 million in bonds to finance the state’s matching obligation for donations for endowed professorships. The Legislature also ended that obligation moving forward. (Vetoed and overridden);
  • A law emphasizing a 2008 federal requirement that health insurers cover mental health and substance abuse treatment at the same level they cover medical care;
  • The creation of a new Rural Broadband Expansion Council. (Vetoed and overridden);
  • A boost to the pension deposit formula for deputy sheriffs and county jailers.

The GOP-controlled Legislature sent a series of other bills to Stitt, but the Republican governor widely wielded his veto pen in 2020, axing 18 bills and part of another in total. In addition to the four budget bills, the Legislature overrode the vetoes for six other measures, but several major vetoes remained standing when the Legislature officially adjourned.

The Legislature also approved a 4.5 percent pay increase for state judges and district attorneys. The Board on Judicial Compensation had recommended a 9% pay raise months prior to the coronavirus pandemic and Oklahoma’s resultant economic upheaval.

2019: First session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature

  • Governor: Kevin Stitt (first session)
  • Senate: 39 Republicans; 9 Democrats (Pro Tem Greg Treat)
  • House: 77 Republicans; 24 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
  • Official session summaries: House / Senate

During the first session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature, lawmakers approved a Fiscal Year 2020 budget $456 million higher than the previous year. In addition, Gov. Kevin Stitt pushed for and secured an additional $200 million in savings beyond the state’s Constitutional Reserve Fund (also known as the “Rainy Day Fund”). Lawmakers appropriated $157.5 million more for common education, roughly half of which covered a $1,200 mandatory teacher pay raise for state districts on the funding formula. Dozens of smaller districts that are “off” of the equalization formula owing to higher local property tax revenues received extra flexibility with their additional funding.

Stitt also pushed for and received direct appointment authority over directors for five agencies:

  • Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • Oklahoma Health Care Authority
  • Oklahoma Department of Corrections
  • Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs
  • Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

The Legislature retained appointment authority over a majority of those agencies’ board positions.

Criminal justice reform advocates received approval of one item on their agenda: retroactivity on State Question 780, which led to more than 500 people being released from prison in November 2019. But other reform efforts on the bail system and sentence enhancements stalled at the end of session.

The state’s new medical marijuana law was amended by multiple bills during the 2019 session. Those measures made changes such as the establishment of testing guidelines, inventory tracking, waste disposal rules, additional licensing requirements and restrictions, clarifications to public smoking laws and stronger municipal and county regulatory authorities.

The first bill signed by Stitt in 2019 legalized permitless carry of firearms. Other events from the year included:

  • Passage of a bill authored by Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa) eliminating the prohibition on legislators and their family members becoming tag agents within two years of their legislative service. In December 2021, O’Donnell and his wife were indicted by a grand jury for actions involving the bill and their family’s tag agency;
  • An agreement between retail stores and the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians to loosen restrictions on the employment of optometrists;
  • Passage of a bill reiterating the duties of the Oklahoma Attorney General when settling lawsuits;
  • A workers compensation agreement to provide solvency for the Multiple Injury Trust Fund and extend the otherwise-expiring Court of Existing Claims, which hears cases filed before the new law took effect in 2014;
  • A $2-per-hour pay raise for 41 different classifications of Department of Corrections employees;
  • A pay raise of up to $1,400 for state employees;
  • The establishment of network adequacy, reimbursement and “any willing pharmacy” regulations on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs);
  • Funding and statutory changes to address current and prevent future backlogs of untested rape kits;
  • A requirement that public school sexual education courses include material teaching the legal definition of “consent”;
  • New performance requirements for public school districts wanting to hold a four-day school week;
  • The repeal of an April 1 consequence-free deadline for establishing the next fiscal year’s common education appropriation;
  • Regional representation requirements for service on the Oklahoma Supreme Court were modified;
  • Creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency to obtain, retain, analyze and utilize data regarding state agency budgets; the same agreement disbanded the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, which had been created in 2018 and developed a list of roughly five dozen “proposals” for state agencies.
  • A twist of Oklahoma’s new liquor laws that would require makers of the state’s 25 most popular brands to sell to any distributor. A challenge of the new statute’s constitutionality is being heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

2018: Second regular session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature

  • Governor: Mary Fallin (eighth session)
  • Senate: 40 Republicans; 8 Democrats (Pro Tem Mike Schulz)
  • House: 75 Republicans; 26 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
  • Official session summaries: House / Senate

The second regular session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature coincided with the body’s second special session, made necessary by a budget bill veto from Gov. Mary Fallin after lawmakers adjourned their first special session in October 2017 without a bipartisan agreement to raise revenue. The House needed 76 votes (a three-fourths majority) to pass any revenue raising measure, and one package failed by five votes on Nov. 8, 2017. Some Republicans opposed the package because it raised the gross production tax (GPT) incentive rate on oil and gas wells, and some Democrats voted in opposition because they did not believe it raised the tax enough.

Beginning in February 2018, lawmakers resumed negotiations over tax increases needed to fill a budget hole, restore funding cut from state agencies and increase education appropriations to address a growing teacher shortage. A group of state business leaders — including bankers, chambers of commerce, oil and gas companies and tribal nations — formed the Step Up Oklahoma coalition to push a larger tax package than the one that failed in November 2017. Their package featured additional GPT revenue and was paired with a series of governmental reforms, but fewer House Democrats supported it than before, leading to only 63 votes in favor, 13 shy of the 76 needed to raise taxes.

As public frustration over the Legislature’s inability to strike a bipartisan compromise grew, a Stillwater educator launched a Facebook page calling for a teacher walkout similar to one that had started in February 2018 in West Virginia. The state’s largest teacher organizations — including the Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers’ OKC chapter — supported the walkout as well, which they ultimately scheduled for Monday, April 2. On Monday, March 26, the House hit 79 votes on a historic bipartisan revenue deal projected to bring in about $450 million in new money. The Senate passed it as well two days later, and Fallin signed the state’s largest tax increase before the week ended. The bill, HB 1010XX, raised the GPT incentive rate from 2 to 5 percent, added $1 to the state’s tax on smokeable tobacco, increased the gas tax by $0.03 and the diesel tax by $0.06. The bill included a $5-per-room-per-night tax on hotels, but prior to its vote on the measure, the Senate agreed to repeal that provision afterward and replace it with other available revenue.

Lawmakers used the historic tax package to pass a common education budget into law before April 1 for the first time in state history. It included an average $6,100 raise for all teachers, $1,250 pay raises for school support staff and additional money for schools. The Legislature also funded a state employee pay raise. As a result, lawmakers approved a budget for Fiscal Year 2019 $686 million higher than the previous year.

On April 2, however, the teacher walkout began anyway, with tens of thousands of educators, students and families rallying at the Capitol for two weeks. The first week of the walkout coincided with the OEA’s internal officer elections, and the second week coincided with the 2018 filing period for elected office. Dozens of educators filed to seek legislative seats, and the Oklahoma walkout made national news while pressuring the Senate to legalize the games of roulette and craps in Oklahoma casinos. Because the Oklahoma Tax Commission said it could not confidently certify that new gambling games would bring in revenue that fiscal year, the measure did not allow legislators to appropriate additional money for the 2018-2019 state budget. The same education budget approved by lawmakers before the walkout remained in effect after the walkout ended.

Major policy bills passed by the Oklahoma Legislature in 2018 included:

  • Adjustment of the Oklahoma State Board of Health to be an advisory body and making the commissioner of health position appointed by the governor instead of the board;
  • Adjustment of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission to be an advisory body, shifting management authority of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to its executive director and making that position appointed by the governor instead of the commission;
  • A mandatory increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates for long-term care facilities and care providers;
  • Direction of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to seek to implement work requirements for Medicaid populations, although federal actions and legal uncertainty led to such requirements not being implemented;
  • The elimination of life sentences for drug convictions and other changes to the sentencing guidelines for drug crimes. Lawmakers also created “burglary in the third degree” as a criminal charge for breaking into automobiles, trailers or other vessels;
  • The creation of an industrial hemp pilot program;
  • A requirement that information about Juneteenth be included in state social studies curriculum;
  • Authorization of $116 million in bonds for facility improvements within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and $5.1 million for improvements to dams within the state;
  • An increase in the per-diem rate paid to private prisons for housing state inmates;
  • A 50 percent reduction in the time required before a convicted offender can expunge his or her records;
  • A new law that child placement agencies not be required to place a child in a certain home if doing so goes against their religious or moral convictions;
  • A series of adjustments to state alcohol laws, viewable on pages 17 and 18 of this document.

2017: First regular session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature

  • Governor: Mary Fallin (seventh session)
  • Senate: 41 Republicans; 7 Democrats (Pro Tem Mike Schulz)
  • House: 74 Republicans; 27 Democrats (Speaker Charles McCall)
  • Official session summaries: House / Senate

The first regular session of the 56th Oklahoma Legislature began with a revenue failure and saw Republican leadership attempt to pass a revenue-raising measure without meeting Democrats’ demands that an increase in the oil and gas gross production tax be included. With three-fourths legislative majorities required to raise taxes, House Democrats blocked Republicans from passing only a cigarette tax and a fuel tax.

House GOP leadership decided to pass a cigarette “fee” instead, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the fee was a tax and needed to pass with supermajority support. That caused a structural deficiency for the FY 2018 budget and led to Gov. Mary Fallin calling a September special session.

During that special session, House Republicans tried again to pass a revenue package without a GPT increase. While that vote was on the board, House Minority Leader Scott Inman announced he was resigning office and withdrawing from the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial primary. The vote failed, but the Senate passed a resolution the next day requesting that the House include a GPT increase in the revenue package as an effort to break the stalemate.

Weeks later, on Nov. 8, the House did just that and held another vote on the new grand revenue deal — called “Plan A+” — but bipartisan opponents joined forces to make it fall five votes shy of the supermajority needed. The Legislature did increase the GPT paid on a handful of “legacy wells,” functionally bumping up the date by which those wells would reach the 7 percent rate. Even still, Republican legislative leaders decided to balance the budget by cutting appropriations to state agencies.

On Nov. 17, Fallin vetoed much of the revised state budget that would have cut state agencies 2.4 percent. Fallin announced her veto while Rep. John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando) was getting married inside the State Capitol. The veto paved the way for Fallin to call a second special session for January 2018, a month before the next regular session was to begin.

Other events from the 2017 session include:

  • The legalization of alcohol sales at liquor stores on Sundays, subject to approval by voters on a county-by-county basis;
  • The legalization of alcohol sales at movie theaters;
  • An expansion of the ability to drill long-lateral horizontal wells in all oil and gas producing environments. Previously, such wells were limited to shale formations. Called the “long laterals” proposal, SB 867 passed the House 51-46 on a late-May vote that had pitted small producers against large operators for much of the session. The bill also raised an acreage cap from 640 acres to 1,280 acres for pooling purposes;
  • The repeal of statutory language that would have automatically triggered another income tax rate reduction. While the bill passed both chambers with strong support, House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz were both absent during their respective votes;
  • The acceleration of the sunset date for a wind energy tax credit criticized as costly;
  • The decoupling of the state’s standard deduction from the federal standard deduction, which was increased by Congress for subsequent tax years;
  • Establishment of a “pay for success” model to support the nonprofit Women in Recovery program with a portion of what it costs the state to incarcerate an individual;
  • An extension of the prosecutorial deadline for sex crimes committed against minors to allow for prosecution up to the 45th birthday of the alleged victim;
  • An expansion of career tech options and an increase in the parental income eligibility cap for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program;
  • Creation of the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, which developed a list of roughly five dozen “proposals” for state agencies before being disbanded in 2019;
  • Adjustments to the Oklahoma Lottery Commission;
  • A prohibition against minors using tanning beds;
  • An investigation into allegations that an aide to Gov. Mary Fallin took photographs up the skirt of a member of the public during a House appropriations committee hearing. Travis Brauer was found to have been drinking Coors Light at the State Capitol — #Chug #Budget — and law enforcement’s review of his computer records indicate he Googled “How to completely wipe a phone before police” prior to complying with a request to review his cell phone. Brauer resigned his job and ultimately pleaded guilty to two crimes: offering false evidence and destruction of evidence.

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