February 26, 2021
Last week was shortened owing to the weather, but this week was lengthened due to Thursday's deadline for bills and resolutions to be heard by a committee in the chamber of their origin (the Senate extended their deadline to next Wednesday, March 3, for the Senate A&B committee to hear bills that were double assigned). Any bill not heard in a committee of their chamber of origin following Thursday’s deadline is now dormant for this legislative session.

Because of yesterday’s deadline, this week’s bill report is delayed as the tracking system works to update the current status of all bills. The bills being tracked for CTE will be sent in a separate email as soon as the updates are completed. 

Measures that received committee approval will begin working for position on the floor calendar in the coming weeks. The deadline for House and Senate members to act on the bills on their respective floors is March 11. Those failing to get a hearing on the respective floor by then also are considered dormant, but their language could be incorporated into other measures. Certain rules apply, though, such as making sure they deal with the same subject.

The current COVID-19 protocols will remain in place at the State Capitol for the month of March. This includes a ban on outside groups using meeting rooms and the Capitol rotundas. The protocols will be reevaluated on a month-by-month basis. Click here to view the details of the House and Senate COVID-19 protocols.
Governor Stitt Finalizes Cabinet Modernization
Gov. Stitt this week finalized a modernization of his Cabinet by naming OMES Executive Director Steven Harpe as deputy secretary of digital transformation and administration.
 
Because the Governor is statutorily limited to 15 cabinet secretaries, the Governor and State Chief Operating Officer John Budd worked to reassign agencies previously reporting directly to Budd as secretary of agency accountability in order to dissolve that cabinet area and create new cabinet roles. Budd will remain a direct report to Gov. Stitt as COO and continue his integral role overseeing cabinet secretaries and state agencies.
 
“With the new cabinet structure and team members, we’ve improved our alignment of like agencies together in the same cabinet areas so they can share best practices and find ways to serve Oklahomans more effectively,” said Budd. “I am extremely proud of the team we’ve built, and I look forward to continuing my role in managing the cabinet for the Governor as his Chief Operating Officer.”
 
Gov. Stitt says the addition of Harpe as deputy secretary of digital transformation and administration, along with this week’s nominations of Winchester, Grigsby and Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development Scott Mueller position the state well for continued success.
 
“I continue to be amazed by the caliber of Oklahomans who are interested in serving our state,” said Gov. Stitt. “Oklahomans hired me to bring a fresh set of eyes to state government and these new additions to my Cabinet will play key roles in helping us to continue make Oklahoma a Top Ten state.”
 
Senate encourages breed associations, cattle exhibitors to return to 2022 Cattlemen’s Congress show
The Senate unanimously adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution 4 on Thursday to encourage and invite exhibitors, breed associations and partners to return to Oklahoma in 2022 and again participate in the second annual Cattlemen’s Congress show. The resolution was authored by Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt.  
 
Oklahoma City played host to the inaugural Cattlemen’s Congress cattle show in January, bringing more than 2,500 exhibitors from 41 states and three Canadian provinces to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds to showcase their cattle. The exhibition was developed after the National Western Stock Show, held each January since 1906 in Denver, was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns.
 
“Oklahoma City was the perfect venue to start the Cattlemen’s Congress show, replacing the National Western in a year where cattlemen and women across North America needed some normalcy and stability,” Murdock said. “The show was a great economic boom for Oklahoma, bringing in $40 million and showcasing our state’s robust agriculture industry. Oklahoma City is the perfect place for the Cattlemen’s Congress, and I want to invite breed associations and cattle exhibitors from across North America to make this show their ‘home’ every January.”
 
During the two-week long show, nearly 10,000 head of cattle were exhibited, breaking records for the number of head shown, making the Cattlemen’s Congress one of the largest cattle shows in all of North America. Twenty-three cattle sales were also held during the event, grossing more than $10 million in total sales and averaging $7,254 per lot. 
 
The resolution now heads to the House of Representatives where Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, is the House principal author.
 
“The cancellation of the National Western Stock Show in Denver this year gave Oklahoma a chance to showcase its rich history of animal husbandry and ranching, and it’s diverse and deep knowledge of agriculture,” Pfeiffer said. “This show draws thousands of exhibitors and large numbers of buyers who spend millions of dollars each year, and we would love to see Oklahoma become its home.”

The Cattlemen's Congress is slated to return to Oklahoma City in January 2022.

Gov. Stitt Announces Scott Mueller to Join Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development
Gov. Stitt has nominated Scott Mueller to join his cabinet as the Secretary of Commerce and Workforce Development. Pending Senate confirmation, Mueller will oversee 30 agencies, including the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Council for Workforce and Economic Development. Mueller replaces outgoing Secretary Kouplen, who created COVID relief programs for businesses.
 
Mueller replaces outgoing Secretary Sean Kouplen, who is stepping aside after completing a two-year commitment to the Stitt Administration to focus on his role as Chairman and CEO of Regent Bank. Kouplen helped add over 120 new and expanding companies to Oklahoma, created and implemented multiple COVID business relief programs including the model $143 million Oklahoma Business Relief Program, took significant strides in workforce development and launched the minority business, tribal and nonprofit leadership councils to give these groups a greater voice in state government.
Gov. Stitt creates licensing, regulation secretariat, names Winchester to post
Gov. Kevin Stitt has named Susan Winchester as first cabinet secretary of licensing and regulation. The secretary of licensing and regulation was one of two new cabinet position created by an executive order filed Monday by Stitt. The second, secretary of economic administration, has not yet been filled.

Winchester, a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma’s first female Speaker Pro-Tempore, will oversee more than 80 state agencies as secretary of licensing and regulation, ranging from the Alarm, Locksmith and Fire Sprinkler Industry Committee to the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision and the State Board of Osteopathic Examiners.

Winchester was a member of the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2008. From 2017-2019, she served as chief of staff for then Lt. Governor Todd Lamb. Prior to joining Lamb’s office, she served eight years as president for the Research Institute for Economic Development, a non-profit organization that evaluates Oklahoma legislators on their support of business interests in the Legislature. Winchester currently is serving her third term as president of the Regents of the Regional Universities System of Oklahoma.

The secretary of economic administration will be responsible for more than 20 state agencies, boards and commissions, including the State Treasurer’s Office, the State Auditor and Inspectors Office, and the Oklahoma Tax Commission, as well as the state’s pension systems.
Gov. Stitt names Grigsby first secretary of economic administration 
Gov. Stitt announced Wednesday he is nominating Jennifer Grigsby to be the state's first secretary of economic administration. Grigsby will oversee more than 20 state agencies including the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the Office of the State Treasurer, the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the State Auditor and Inspector, as well as the state's pension system.
 
Grigsby serves on the board of directors of CrossFirst Bankshares (NASDAQ: CFB), a bank holding company headquartered in Leawood, Kansas. Grigsby has served as chair of both the Board of Trustees of the Oklahoma State University Foundation, where she remains an honorary lifetime trustee, and the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma State University Alumni Association. She also serves as chair of the board of directors of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City and serves on the boards of directors of the United Way of Central Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. 
 
Grigsby served as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Ascent Resources, LLC from 2015 until her retirement in 2020. Prior to her role at Ascent Resources, Grigsby spent almost 19 years with Chesapeake Energy Corporation (NYSE: CHK) and served in various executive roles including senior vice president, treasurer and corporate secretary and senior vice president - corporate and strategic planning.
Rep. Martinez Legislation Would Grant Education Refunds to Parents
State Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, on Wednesday won committee passage in the House Appropriations & Budget Committee of a bill that would grant $1,000 refunds to any parent or guardian of a child enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade at any Oklahoma public school.
 
House Bill 1927 would allow the payments from the state’s General Revenue Fund upon the bill’s effective date, Nov. 1, 2021.
 
“Many of our public schools were closed to in-person learning for much of last spring, and some have not yet re-opened this school year,” Martinez said. “This left parents scrambling for other options such as paid childcare or forced them to either quit their jobs or alter their work schedules, all at a loss of personal income. These people pay tax dollars to fund public education, but when such education is not available, they should be recompensed.”
 
Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, is the Senate author of the bill and the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
 
“This minimal refund is an attempt to help parents and guardians who experienced unexpected education and childcare expenses over the past year due to the shutdown of COVID-19,” Pugh said. “Parents and families have navigated challenging economic uncertainty, with many losing their jobs or having reduced hours and pay. At the same time, they have been asked to juggle these stresses with the additional responsibility of having their school-age children at home or making arrangements for childcare that comes with more costs. This refund is warranted.”
 
The bill passed out of committee with a vote of 29-1. It is now eligible to be considered by the entire House.
Oklahoma House lawmakers vote to keep ‘ghost students’ at bay, expand school transfers
House lawmakers voted to expand transfers between public schools and to limit the “ghost students” that could appear as a result.
 
House Bill 2074 and 2078, written as complimentary bills, passed votes on the House Floor on Wednesday. Both bills now move on to the state Senate.
 
Republicans hailed the legislation as education reform that empowers parents and cleans up financial inefficiency. Democrats, school leaders and education advocacy groups said they fear the proposed changes to school funding could deeply affect urban and rural districts and leave underserved families behind.
 
HB 2074, called the Education Open Transfer Act, passed with a 77-22 vote. It would extend the open transfer window year-round, limit a school district’s ability to deny transfer students and eliminate emergency transfers, which require specific criteria to complete.
 
Districts that receive more incoming transfer requests than their capacity allows would have to use a lottery system to decide which transfer students are accepted.
 
Rep. Brad Boles, who co-wrote the bill with House Speaker Charles McCall, said the COVID-19 pandemic brought school transfers to the forefront. He said some families preferred in-person education and wished to move their children to districts offering it.
 
Democrats said expanded transfers are not a solution for impoverished families who lack transportation. The Minority Caucus mostly opposed both bills, arguing they failed to add more funding to education or to address core issues that cause low-income schools to struggle.
 
Some rural Republicans voted in agreement with the Democratic minority, with six opposing the open transfer bill and 13 voting against changes to school funding.
 
HB 2078, which passed 68-30, would make it less likely for more than one district to receive funds for the same student. Critics say it would destabilize school funding and make districts more vulnerable to sudden layoffs and program cuts.
 
The bill also drew opposition from the Oklahoma City teachers union, OKC-American Federation of Teachers, and from statewide organizations representing Oklahoma school boards, school administrators, rural schools and suburban schools.
 
Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Depew, said he wrote the bill to function “hand in hand” with the expansion of open transfers.
 
“Open transfer, for that to be successful we also have to make sure the money is following students,” Hilbert said.
 
He said he became interested in changing funding rules when he saw scores of families leaving traditional districts for virtual charter schools last year.
 
The amount of money a district receives from the state at the start of the school year is based on its highest enrollment count from the two preceding years, with the current school year enrollment factored in by January.
 
When students change schools, it creates the possibility that their current and former districts both receive funds for the same child.
 
HB 2078 would have school funds be based on the enrollment count only from the prior school year, not two years ago. It also would allow districts to carry over more money from year to year in their general fund.
 
If the bill is signed into law, districts that decline in enrollment would see their funding drop more immediately. Large urban districts, like Oklahoma City, and rural schools that chronically lose students would feel the brunt of the effect, especially if more families use open transfers to leave.
 
The ability to use enrollment counts from up to two years ago caused the state to pay for 55,475 more students than who attended Oklahoma public schools this year, costing at least an extra $187.5 million.
 
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Republican lawmakers use the phrase “ghost students” to describe this overlap.
 
The number of these “ghost students” more than tripled this year with more families transferring schools or delaying their children’s entry into pre-K and kindergarten, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
nondoc.com: With an eye on Texas, Oklahoma Speaker Charles McCall touts tax cut plans
House Speaker Charles McCall may have voted for the largest tax increase in state history three years ago, but with state revenues looking promising he believes the 2021 legislative session could be the right “opportunity” to mold Oklahoma’s tax policies to be more like those in Texas in an effort to compete for business relocations on a national level.

In separate interviews with NonDoc and other media this week, McCall (R-Atoka) answered questions about his new bill to eliminate the state’s corporate income tax over five years and a still-developing proposal to reduce Oklahomans’ income tax burdens by potentially .25 percent.

“I think there’s an opportunity this session to at least start a dialogue,” McCall said.

That dialogue began on Thursday with the House Rules Committee advancing McCall’s HB 2083 7-2 on a party-line vote. The bill would phase out the state’s corporate income tax rate over a five-year period by granting tax credits, an intentional mechanism aimed at avoiding a three-fourths majority vote in the future if the policy needs to be reversed in worse economic times.

“I think by eliminating it, over time it actually gives us the opportunity to replace it fairly quickly with new investments in the state of Oklahoma,” McCall said.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) voted against HB 2083 in committee. “I’ve been here before. I’ve heard this story before, and I am disappointed that they’re trying it again,” Virgin said. “We know that we’re not in a place yet where we need to be cutting taxes for corporations.”

Corporate income taxes, however, play a relatively modest and “very volatile” role in funding Oklahoma state government, ranging from less than $100 million in some years to about $500 million after banner economic years. McCall estimated that his five-year phase out proposal would drop state collections by about $64 million per annum.

The idea has been pitched before, memorably by Gov. Mary Fallin in her 2017 State of the State address that contained various proposals to reform the state tax code. That effort never left the launch pad, and two special sessions later a McCall-led House of Representatives made history by patching together more than 76 votes for a package of revenue raising measures that pumped about $450 million in new revenue into the state’s blistered and bandaged budget.

Virgin finds the idea of eliminating about $300 million in corporate income taxes “disappointing” only three sessions later. “I’m very concerned about the $64 million fiscal impact this bill would have,” she said. “We’re essentially saying we don’t need this money to go to core services, that it’s going back to corporations instead of going to make core services whole again.”

Individual income tax reduction ‘more challenging’
McCall’s second tax cut concept may sound even more familiar to state policy wonks: lowering the individual income tax in an effort to let Oklahomans retain more of their earnings and perhaps compete a little more effectively with Texas, which has zero personal income tax (but significantly higher property taxes).

But how McCall’s HB 2041 — still a shell bill for now — would actually trim individual income tax burdens remains to be seen. All the third-term speaker could say today is that HB 2041 would likely implement tax credits as well in an effort to avoid directly cutting the income tax rate, which would be nearly impossible to restore when state finances take their inevitable dip downward on the revenue rollercoaster.
Bill establishing new process to fill U.S. Senate vacancy passes House 
Legislation outlining an updated process by which to fill potential vacancies in the US Senate passed the House floor Tuesday morning after considerable discussion and debate. The bill, HB 2173, would allow the governor to fill a vacancy in the Senate with a temporary appointment until an election can occur. It was authored and presented by Rep. Kyle Hilbert. 
 
"If a vacancy occurs in either of our state's seats, not only does our state lose representation, but it also has broad national implications," Hilbert, R-Depew, said. "Oklahomans deserve to have full representation in D.C., and we must make provisions now in the event that this process is necessary."
 
HB 2173, by Hilbert, and Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, establishes a new procedure for special elections for U.S. Senate elections for Oklahoma. It requires that if the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year and is not scheduled to be filled in the coming election, the special election will occur concurrently with regularly scheduled statewide elections. The bill requires that if the vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year during an election in which the seat will not be regularly filled, the special election will occur during the next statewide election in an even numbered year. It requires that if the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered or even numbered year in which the seat is scheduled to be filled at a regularly occurring election the next year, no special election will take place. It that when a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate for the state of Oklahoma, the governor must have 30 days to appoint someone from a list of eligible nominees provided by the Speakers of the Oklahoma House of Representatives to hold the office until election and call a special election, if necessary.
 
During discussion, Hilbert noted 45 states currently allow their governor to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy via temporary appointment and Oklahoma lacks any procedure to fill a vacancy, so a seat would sit empty until a special election or the next general election can occur. He estimated a special election under current law would take at least eight months to finish and cost taxpayers approximately $1.2 million.
 
Numerous concerns about the bill were raised during discussion and well into debate from both House Democrats and House Republicans, some of whom argued the bill represented a "political power grab" and others took issue with the perceived lack of input from the House. 
 
Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola, argued in his debate against the bill that lawmakers were giving away the representation their constituents elected them for "like lambs to the slaughter." "If the Senate gets full consent, we ought to be able to vote on that. It's just that simple," Gann posited. "This is about power. This is about retaining power in Washington D.C. with a group of people on both sides of the aisle that don't represent anybody here but themselves. I'm not willing to give them an inch [or] any more power than they deserve." 
 
Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, referred to the bill as nothing but "voter suppression" in his debate, only serving to cancel a fundamental power of the people of Oklahoma. "What this bill is, is a return to the politics of the last century when decisions were made in smoke-filled rooms behind the closed doors of the swamp," he said. "Folks, we aren't draining the swamp with this bill. We're adding more water and claiming more land." 
 
The bill passed on a vote of 54 to 42 while its emergency clause failed on a vote of 62 to 34. Hilbert served notice for reconsideration on the vote for the emergency clause. 
House debates, passes bill allowing Oklahoma to challenge presidential, federal orders 
A bill purported to "champion" states' right received support from lawmakers Thursday, successfully passing off the House floor after considerable resistance from House Democrats. Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, presented HB 1236 on behalf of Speaker Charles McCall on the floor. The overall purpose of the bill, McBride said, was to strengthen Oklahoma's sovereignty through an assertion of rights as outlined in the Tenth Amendment. 
 
HB 1236, by Rep. Charles McCall, R-Atoka, creates a new law stating that the Oklahoma Legislature may review any federal executive order, federal agency rule or federal legislative action to determine constitutionality. Upon recommendation from the legislature, the Attorney General will review the action to determine constitutionality. Additionally, a publicly funded organization shall not implement any action that restricts a person’s rights or is deemed unconstitutional.
 
McBride admitted the bill stemmed from President Joe Biden issuing several executive orders during his first few weeks in office, which he said stands at 34 in total. "It is becoming increasingly clear that the line between states' rights and federal powers is not being respected," McBride argued on the floor. "Rather than work through the legislative process involving the duly elected members of Congress, the administration has repeatedly used the executive order process to create laws and regulations that will adversely effect the citizens of our state." Due to this perceived disregard to state sovereignty, he continued, Oklahoma must protect itself from "overreaching federal government encroachments." 

Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, noted former President Donald Trump filed 220 executive orders in his four years in office and his predecessor, Barack Obama, issued 276. "It seems to me that the precedence was set by the former president," Bennett posited.

McBride countered Trump signed 12 executive orders in his first 100 days in office, arguing he did not believe the former president set a precedent.

"Can you admit that the difference is that we're going through a global pandemic right now that has reeked financial and health havoc across the country and maybe there was a need (for Biden's executive orders)?" Bennett asked. 

McBride said he did not believe reentering the Paris Climate Agreement, as Biden did via executive order, pertained to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He then argued most of Biden's orders were simply overturning the Trump administration's actions. 

Opponents of the bill noted the apparent irony of defending constitutionality while simultaneously advancing a bill could itself be argued as unconstitutional. 

"It's our right as our state to challenge these things if we feel they are unconstitutional," McBride reiterated. "It's not saying that they are, but it's our right to challenge them." 

Questions eventually turned to debate, which was rather lengthy with both proponents and opponents standing to present. 

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, said the bill served as a prime example of how the Legislature has, yet again, failed the citizens of Oklahoma. "I think there is a certain callousness and disregard for humanity and the Constitution because we are taking time again to talk about things we really aught not to be taking up," she argued, noting that the issue of states' rights were not brought up by the Legislature during the previous four years under a Republican president. 

In her debate, Rep. Emily Virgin referred to the bill as "incredibly dangerous" in how broad its language was - allowing for the ability to challenge not just executive actions but also federal rules and Congressional actions - and the mechanism by which states can challenge potentially unconstitutional federal orders was already in place via the courts and Attorney General. 

"We have the power to challenge if we feel another branch of government has overreached," she said. "We have the power already to challenge federal actions through our Attorney General. That's nothing new. We have done that several times in this building since I've been here."

She summarized, "We are saying (with this bill) we have the power in this building to declare what Congress did unconstitutional. Folks, that's not how it works." 

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, conversely argued in favor of the bill and posited it was "long overdue," saying it feel to the Legislature to make laws as opposed to one person issuing an executive order. "This bill simply gives the state of Oklahoma a vehicle by which they can oppose any of these executive orders," West said. 

The bill and its emergency clause passed on a vote of 79-18. 

The House also advanced an accompanying resolution without debate or discussion, which echoed the arguments behind HB 1236.
 
HR 1005, by Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon, proclaims Oklahoma's sovereignty and right to all powers not delegated by the United States Constitution to the federal government, or prohibited by it to the states, belong to states. It states that the scope of federal power is limited and that many federal mandates are in direct violation of the 10th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It serves as a notice to the federal government of the Oklahoma House of Representative's intent to maintain the balance of powers and to ensure all federal government agencies and their agents and employees operating within the geographic boundaries of Oklahoma, or whose actions have an effect on the inhabitants, lands or waters of Oklahoma must operate within the confines of the original intent of the Constitution of the United States. It requires copies of the resolution be distributed to the President of the United States, the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and each member of the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation. It passed on a vote of 80 to 14.
Bill authorizing social media users to sue for censorship of political/religious speech approved in committee
A measure allowing social media users to sue for damages against any social media website that censors a user’s political or religious speech was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday. State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, authored Senate Bill 383 to eliminate selective censorship of opinion on social media and to ensure free speech is treated fairly.
 
“There have been cases where social media posts discriminate against conservative views and social media platforms censor or delete posts supporting those views,” Standridge said. “Nonviolent political posts are being censored just for having a differing opinion and citizens should be able to have a chance at civil recourse.”
 
Under SB 383, users in the state could sue any owner or operator of a social media website that purposely censors a user’s political or religious speech. The measure applies to deleted posts or the use of algorithms to suppress such speech. The websites would be immune from liability if any censored posts called for immediate acts of violence or enticed criminal conduct. It would also exempt posts involved in bullying minors, false impersonation or those from an inauthentic source. The measure does not apply to individual users who censor the speech of other users.
 
Users above the age 18 could seek damages of a minimum of $75,000 per intentional deletion or censoring of that user’s speech, along with actual damages and punitive damages if aggravating factors are present. The prevailing party may also be awarded costs and reasonable attorney fees.
 
“Selective censoring of opinion on social media should not be prevalent in a country where freedom of speech is a fundamental right,” Standridge said. “While it is important to keep the internet safe by censoring violent or other criminal content, censoring posts solely for a differing political opinion is wrong. This measure will protect free speech.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.
2021 Legislative Deadlines
February 2021
Feb. 25: Deadline for House & Senate Measures to be reported from Committees in house of origin

March 2021
March 11: Deadline for third reading of House and Senate bills in house of origin
March 29: Deadline for SBs/SJRs out of a House subcommittee

April 2021
April 8: Deadline for House & Senate Measures to be reported from Committees in opposite house
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.