April 9, 2021
The cross-chamber committee process concluded this week as Oklahoma lawmakers completed their 10th week of the 2021 legislative session this week. Bills not heard by Thursday’s deadline are now considered dormant for this session. Surviving legislation has until April 22th to be heard on the floor of the opposite chamber of origin.
House Higher Ed, CareerTech Committee removes claw back from OHLAP bill 
The House Higher Education and CareerTech Committee voted unanimously Monday to pass SB 639 after an amendment removed its controversial claw-back language.
SB 639, by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond and Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, permits Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma's Promise, awards for postsecondary career and technology programs that have been identified as critical occupation areas. It directs Oklahoma Department of Commerce executive director, in consultation with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, to publish by Oct. 1, 2021, and each June 30 thereafter, a list of critical occupation areas that meet the guidelines of identified core competencies of the state based on wealth generation, growth potential and competitive advantage. The bill also directs the State Regents for Higher Education, in consultation with the State Board of Career and Technology Education, to identify postsecondary vocational-technical programs that correlate to identified critical occupation areas. It prohibits, beginning with students who entered into participation in the program in the 2021-2022 school year, an award to be used for courses or other postsecondary units taken in excess of the requirements for completion of a baccalaureate program or a postsecondary vocational-technical program taken more than six years after the student's first semester of postsecondary enrollment. It permits the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to award OHLAP benefits for courses of postsecondary units taken more than six years after the student's first semester of postsecondary enrollment only in hardship circumstances, provided no participant may receive benefits beyond a cumulative time period of six years.
Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, and Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, both applauded Baker's amendment removing the claw-back language.
Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, asked Baker if the Senate author was onboard with the change.
"I have not asked him that question directly," Baker said, though she has had a frank conversation with Pugh about the claw-back language and her meetings with members of the committee, informing Pugh the bill would not go forward if that language was not removed.
Gross receipts exceed prior year for second time in past year, McDaniel reports 
Oklahoma's gross receipts climbed above collections from the same month of the prior year in March for just the second time in the past year, Treasurer Randy McDaniel announced Tuesday, propelled by rising oil and gas revenue.
Collections from all sources in March totaled $1.1 billion, up by $35.1 million or 3.2 percent from March 2020. The last time monthly receipts exceeded prior year collections was in July, but that boost was due to a three-month delay in income tax filings, McDaniel noted.
"This positive economic report is encouraging news," McDaniel said. "Among the more favorable signs is the upward trend in oil and natural gas activity."
Gross production taxes on oil and gas jumped to more than $90 million for the month, up by more than 15 percent from March of last year. That marks the first positive month for gross production in a year-and-a-half, the treasurer said.
McDaniel said gross production receipts are expected to continue to rise for at least the next few months. March remittances are based on oil field production in January, when West Texas Intermediate Crude Oil averaged $52 per barrel. The price in February averaged above $58 per barrel, and the average price in March topped $62 per barrel.
  • Compared to gross receipts from March 2020, collections in March 2021 show:
  •  Gross income tax collections, a combination of individual and corporate income taxes, generated $412 million, up by $29.3 million or 7.7 percent. Individual income tax collections were $365.6 million, an increase of $37.2 million or 11.3 percent. Corporate collections were $46.4 million, down by $7.8 million or 14.5 percent.
  •  Combined sales and use tax collections, including remittances on behalf of cities and counties, totaled $423 million, up by $1 million or 0.2 percent. Sales tax collections totaled $363.6 million, a decrease of $4.6 million or 1.3 percent. Use tax receipts, collected on out-of-state purchases including internet sales, generated $59.4 million, an increase of $5.6 million or 10.4 percent. 
  • Gross production taxes on oil and natural gas totaled $90.8 million, an increase of $11.9 million or 15.1 percent.
  •  Motor vehicle taxes produced $79.7 million, up by $7.2 million or 9.9 percent. 
  • Other collections composed of some 60 different sources including taxes on fuel, tobacco, medical marijuana, and alcoholic beverages, produced $120.1 million, down by $14.3 million or 10.6 percent. The medical marijuana tax produced $5.9 million, up by $2.5 million or 73.7 percent from March 2020.
Combined gross receipts from the past 12 months of $13.15 billion are below collections from the previous 12 months by $572.9 million or 4.2 percent. All major revenue sources show reductions during the period, but the bottom-line contraction was reduced by 0.2 percent compared to last month's report.
Treat: No support in Senate for McCall's corporate income tax phase-out 
The Oklahoma Legislature will return for a fall special session to complete the congressional redistricting process and possibly tweak the legislative redistricting maps that they are constitutionally required to pass before the end of the 2021 regular legislative session.
The unusual scenario is the result of Oklahoma’s constitutional redistricting requirement and this year’s delay in the federal government’s release of 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data. States have been told to expect that data sometime this fall, months after it would typically be finalized. States adjust their legislative and congressional district boundaries based on that data every 10 years, but many states do not have a deadline for completion enshrined in their constitutions.
But the Oklahoma Constitution specifies a deadline for legislative apportionment in Article 5, Section 10:
The apportionment of the Legislature shall be accomplished by the Legislature according to the provisions of this article, within ninety (90) legislative days after the convening of the first regular session of the Legislature following each Federal Decennial Census. If the Legislature shall fail or refuse to make such apportionment within the time provided herein, then such apportionment shall be accomplished by the Bipartisan Commission on Legislative Apportionment, according to the provisions of this article.

The U.S. Census Bureau said in February that it will deliver states their census data by Sept. 30, a scenario that Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) said has placed states like Oklahoma in a complicated position.

“The question becomes is the completion of the U.S. census when they stop counting or when they release the data to us?” Treat said in late March. “To be in compliance, we feel like we need to have legislative redistricting done this session to have sine die because the census was completed last year even though we don’t have the numbers and won’t have the numbers until sometime this fall.”
Oklahoma’s legislative apportionment process allows for a 5 percent variance in population levels among the 101 House of Representative districts and the 48 State Senate districts. That means the House and Senate’s redistricting leaders can use the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015-2019 American Community Survey data to craft legislative districts now before the end of regular session in May. With special session looming to handle the congressional districts, lawmakers will be able to adjust any legislative districts that end up falling outside of the 5 percent variance once official 2020 census data is available.
“We will absolutely have to come into special session to do congressional redistricting because you have to have an exact number of people per district in that,” Treat said. “And then anywhere where the variances are too big in the legislative redistricting we complete this spring we can adjust those in that special session.”
Asked if he thinks special session will be a less stressful time for lawmakers to complete redistricting, Treat decided that the glass is half full.
“It’s the only option we have,” he said. “So yes, I’ll be optimistic. I think it’s going to be awesome.”
‘I am honestly interested to see what we get’
While 22 public meetings have already been held to receive feedback from Oklahomans, April should be a busy month for redistricting efforts.
Senate redistricting director Keith Beall briefed media on the process this morning, and he noted that the deadline for members of the public to submit their own maps is 5 p.m. Sunday.
“As we sit here right now, we have zero maps from the public. I do know of a few that will be submitting,” Beall said. “I actually had predicted we would get lots of public maps, so we will see what happens between now and Sunday.”
If public maps are submitted, Beall said Tuesday, April 13, will likely be the day when a public comment period is held to hear feedback about those maps.
“I thought we would get 50 to 60 maps, and we’re on pace for three, if we’re lucky,” Beall said. “I am honestly interested to see what we get.”
Rep. Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) is coordinating redistricting efforts in the House, and he also said he wants public map submissions.
“As many people that submit who can, the better,” Martinez said. “We’re interested in hearing what the public has to say, and so far it’s going really good.”
Beall noted that, based on the census estimates available for the past 10 years, county populations have climbed around the state’s urban areas and have either dropped or underperformed overall statewide growth of 5.5 percent in many rural counties.
The OKC metro area has outpaced the Tulsa metro area as well. Based on estimates, Oklahoma County has grown 11 percent, while Canadian County, which includes Yukon, Mustang and parts of Oklahoma City, has seen a 28.3 percent population increase. Cleveland County, containing Moore and Norman, has grown 10.9 percent.
Tulsa County has grown 8 percent, while Rogers County has grown 6.4 percent.
The situation for rural counties has been much different, with Texas County in the panhandle declining in population by 3.2 percent and Pittsburg County (where McAlester is the county seat) losing 4.7 percent of its population. Carter County has seen 0.8 percent growth, and Woodward County has seen 0.6 percent growth, but both marks are far below the statewide growth of 5.5. percent.
“It’s not only an Oklahoma issue, it really is a nationwide trend you see where we are losing a lot of population in rural areas who are moving into suburban and urban areas,” Martinez said. “Kind of the silver lining is, it used to be we would lose that population and people would move to Dallas, Denver or Kansas City, but instead you see them moving into Edmond, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and staying in Oklahoma. So I do think that is a testament to some of the great things that are happening in our urban areas.”
That means at least one district in both the House and Senate is expected to shift from a rural base to an urban or suburban constituency. Martinez said he wants to hear from any Oklahoman, urban, suburban or rural.
“Contact your representative,” he said. “Contact my office. I’d really love to hear from you. The more input we get the better product we are going to have.”
Student Borrower’s Bill of Rights Closer to Becoming Law
House Speaker Charles McCall's proposal to phase-out the corporate income tax does not have support in the Senate, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat said Thursday. 
"There is not an appetite to do the corporate income tax cut," Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said during a meeting with reporters Thursday afternoon. "In the Oklahoma State Senate, there's not the appetite. Within my caucus, I don't have that appetite."
Thursday was the deadline for House bills to be head in Senate committees. Neither McCall's personal income tax credit bill, HB 2041, nor his corporate income tax phase-out proposal, HB 2083, received hearings.
HB 2041, by McCall and Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, establishes an individual income tax credit equivalent to 0.25 percentage points for all tax rates. It also provides for proration of Oklahoma income to federal adjusted gross income for nonresidents and partial year filers. The bill reestablishes refundability of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). It modifies the personal exemption.
HB 2083, by McCall, Rep. Terry O'Donnell, R-Catoosa, and Daniels, creates a corporate tax deduction for tax deductible years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2022, from Oklahoma taxable income at the amount of 20 percent for the year beginning Dec. 31, 2021 and before Jan. 1, 2023, 40 percent for the year beginning Dec. 31, 2022 and before Jan. 1, 2024, 60 percent for the year beginning after Dec. 31, 2023, and before Jan 1, 2025, 80 percent for the taxable year beginning on or after Jan 1, 2026 and 100 percent for any year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2026.
The bills were double assigned, first to the Senate Finance Committee and then to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They were not heard in either committee.
"We're living in a time that's uncertain financially, having come through COVID," Treat said. "We're sitting very nicely financially as a state, but I need to remind you that we cut the (state) budget by $1.3 billion last year."
That cut, Treat noted, was deeper than it needed to be, resulting in a projected surplus going into fiscal year 2022, the next fiscal year. But much of that surplus, he said, was the result of federal money, such as additional unemployment benefits, direct stimulus payments to individuals and other money that flowed through state agencies.
McCall's plan, Treat said, would cut $642 million in taxes over the next five years, including some money that is taken off-the-top and apportioned to programs like the Teachers' Retirement System.
"The corporate tax cut is not part of negotiations that the Senate will be a part of," Treat said.
Treat said, "There is still ongoing discussion about the personal income tax."
In a statement, McCall said, "The House is committed to tax relief for all Oklahomans. The Senate's narrow car tax measure won't stimulate the economy or help all Oklahomans like the House tax relief plan does. With President Biden pushing to raise federal taxes, taxpaying Oklahomans and businesses will be very disappointed if the Republican state Senate does nothing to offset the upcoming Democrat federal tax hikes."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David's proposal to reinstate the sales tax exemption for motor vehicles, SB 593, has yet to receive a hearing in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The deadline for Senate bills to be heard in that committee is April 16.

Merrick wins Senate District 22 special election
Jake Merrick has won the special election in Oklahoma State Senate District 22, securing the district for Republicans with 65.5 percent of 11,330 total votes cast. He defeated Democrat Molly Ooten. Merrick’s election returns the Republican advantage over Democrats in the Senate to 39:9.
The seat, which was vacated when U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) was elected to Congress in November, has been firmly in Republican hands for decades, and registered Republicans in the district outnumber Democrats by more than a 2–1 margin. Merrick will serve the remainder of Bice’s term, which ends in 2022.
Merrick, a minister and former bodybuilder and personal trainer who lives in Yukon and co-owns a construction business, told the Yukon Progress that he was running for office because he believes “fundamental rights are being threatened” and he doesn’t want his children to live in a “socialistic Oklahoma.”
Merrick has campaigned as an uncompromising Donald Trump conservative, expressing support for the former president, writing that the coronavirus was created “in a lab” as part of a plan to undermine Trump’s presidency, and refusing to talk to most media outlets.
According to his campaign website, as a legislator Merrick wants to “End abortion in Oklahoma,” “Ensure businesses can stay open” and “Ensure bodily autonomy” for people who don’t want to get vaccinations. He also mentions wanting to incentivize small businesses and protect them from government regulation. He expresses support for school choice and says he wants to increase education funding “via privately funded scholarships and provide tax incentives to private donors.”
Merrick will be sworn into the State Senate in the coming days to become the 39th member of the Senate Republican Caucus. He will join freshman Sen. Warren Hamilton (R-McCurtain) as so-called “abortion abolitionists” in the Senate.
Merrick was backed in the race by the Senate Majority Fund, a PAC affiliated with Republican legislative leadership. His campaign Facebook page also touts endorsements from Bice and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt.
The Senate Majority Fund formerly supported Merrick’s opponent in the Republican primary, Keri Shipley, who captured only 41.6 percent of the vote, despite also having higher fundraising numbers than Merrick.
Merrick’s opponent in the general election was Democrat Molly Ooten, a speech pathologist with Oklahoma County SoonerStart. Ooten recently told The Oklahoman that she believed a Democrat could win the overwhelmingly Republican district by focusing on relevant local issues and pushing hard for Democratic voter registration and turnout. And though Ooten had raised $16,000 more than Merrick according to the most recent campaign filings, it was not enough to overcome the strong Republican bent of the district. Ooten finished with only 34.6 percent of the vote.
Senate District 22 lies in eastern Canadian County and northern Oklahoma County, and covers parts of Yukon, Piedmont, Edmond, and Deer Creek.

2021 Legislative Deadlines

April 2021
April 16: Deadline for Senate measures out of full A&B House Committee
April 22: Deadline for third reading of House and Senate bills in the Opposite Chamber

May 2021
May 28: Sine Die Adjournment – no later than 5 p.m.