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 new tags have been created for the 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 State Question 416 in 1964.) The Legislature’s annual regular session convenes the first Monday in February and must adjourn by 5 p.m. on the last Friday of May.
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)
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
Sources for researching the Oklahoma Legislature
Please enjoy the following online state resources, which can help you research elections, lawmakers and legislation: