April 24, 2023
The final committee deadline for this legislative session was last week, Senate bills not heard in the House A&B Committee are now dead. Surviving legislation has until April 27th to be heard on the floor of the opposite chamber of origin.
As Legislature negotiates private school tax credit, tuition cap floated to break stalemate
As Republican leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature negotiate their competing versions of a new refundable tax credit paid to families who send their children to private schools, prominent senators have proposed a $7,500-per-student credit with an eligibility cap of $250,000 in annual household income. The House’s version, however, proposed a $5,000-per-student credit with no income cap for eligibility.
Now, with the rest of the session’s budget negotiations delayed until an education agreement is reached, leaders of the House, Senate and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration have been kicking around alternate parameters for the controversial private school tax credit in an effort to strike a deal.
Among other ideas, negotiations have at least briefly included concepts aimed at prioritizing private school access for lower-income students, phasing in an income eligibility cap, or capping tax credit eligibility based on a school’s tuition cost instead of a family’s income.
“At this point, our perspective is kind of, ‘Pass anything, pass something.’ We need universal school choice, particularly for the kids in the lower economic bracket, and we think that any version of what has been proposed in one of the chambers will help out a great deal,” said Brett Farley, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma. “This is the first time in history where both chambers have proposed something that is really similar, so to miss this opportunity would be an incredible failure on the part of leadership.”
While private schools around the state have similar hopes to Farley’s, there is no organized private school association lobbying at the State Capitol. That has placed Farley in a position to be consulted by Republican leaders of both chambers.
“I’ve had conversations with leadership here and there just to make sure that they understand where we are at, and that’s what we’ve told them: Get something on the books that you are willing to agree on,” Farley said.
If what legislators are willing to agree on is tax credit eligibility based on a private school’s tuition cost, Farley said he would support it.
“We’re not championing it, but if that’s what gets them across the finish line to a compromise, then we’ll take it,” Farley said. “Our goal is to get something passed. We’re open to just about any compromise to get that done because failing with this much progress down the road is unacceptable. So pass anything.”
‘One of the issues that’s always been a problem’
Not everybody in the Legislature is so keen on lawmakers passing “anything” to create the new refundable tax credit for private school enrollment.
Rep. Mark Vancuren (R-Owasso), who serves as vice chairman of the House Common Education Committee, voted against HB 1935 and HB 2775, which proposes the $500 million in new education funding.
A former high school biology teacher and basketball coach, Vancuren said his district broadly opposes creating tax credits to incentivize private school enrollment, and he said it’s unlikely any of the possible parameters being negotiated — such a private school tuition cap or phased-in implementation — would change his mind.
“One of the issues that’s always been a problem: Public schools? We take them all. We take everyone. We educate every kid that wants to come,” Vancuren said. “Private schools? They’re not that way.”
House Common Education Committee member Rep. Ronny Johns (R-Ada) agreed with his officemate, Vancuren.
“I don’t like the tax credits. I just don’t like tax credits going to people sending their kids to private school,” said Johns, who voted against the tax credit bill, HB 1935, on the House floor.
Some lawmakers have argued that Oklahoma Legislature’s tax credit proposals are not any different from a voucher system, wherein state dollars are sent directly to private schools.
“Oklahomans have spoken loudly of their support of public schools. We don’t need vouchers in order to reinvest in public schools that serve all students,” said Sen. Carri Hicks (D-OKC), who sits on the Senate Education Committee. “Regardless of negotiations, regardless of compromises, what we know is that we need more investment into our public schools that serve every student.”
If lawmakers do reach an income cap agreement, Johns said he wants the cap to be as low as possible.
“If it’s going to happen, then I think there ought to be a limit,” Johns said. “I would be for an income limit to sit down there with Oklahoma’s Promise (that provides scholarship for college tuition).”
House Speaker Charles McCall, however, opposes an income cap, arguing that one would disincentivize marriage and not provide a win for “all Oklahomans.”
Asked about alternative parameters floated during negotiations, McCall (R-Atoka) said tying eligibility for the tax credit to private school tuition rates could be a viable alternative.
“If you take the five most expensive private schools — [by] their tuition cost — out of the list of all the other private schools, the cost of a private education is very close to the $5,000 that the House is proposing in their education plan, and so there could be talks about the level of tuition with regard to the tax credit, but we know that the $5,000 tax credit uncapped wold give lots of parents and students many options if they choose to seek a private school route for education,” McCall said.
Farley offered a similar sentiment on the proposal.
“It of course depends where they would put something like that,” Farley said. “I think you’re maybe carving out five schools in the state, and I don’t think that any Catholic schools would be caught up in that. Really, again, it depends on what the cap is.”
Farley also wondered if a tuition cap would actually encourage lower private school costs.
“It would actually have a depressing quality to it in the sense that some schools that would be above that cap could actually lower their prices to make sure that they catch more kids because some revenue is better than none,” Farley said.
McCall: Income cap would be ‘a form of class warfare’
McCall’s original version of HB 1935, which House members have tied to HB 2775‘s proposal of a $500 million increase in public school funding, would create a new $5,000-per-child refundable tax credit for parents who send their kids to private schools. The bill would also create a $2,500-per-child tax credit for families who homeschool their kids. Both tax credits would be refundable, meaning families could receive cash payments from the state beyond their tax liabilities.
After they received the two bills, senators added a number of amendments. Those included increasing the private school tax credit to $7,500-per-child and decreasing the homeschool tax credit to $1,000 per family. Additionally, the Senate added a household income cap of $250,000 for families looking to take advantage of the potential tax credits. In HB 2775, senators made significant changes to how teacher raises and other new public school funding would be handled.
But both bills are back to their original language after the House rejected the Senate amendments Monday, as anticipated. The bills will continue to be negotiated between the chambers, with the Senate’s proposed income cap on tax credit eligibility looming as one of the major points of disagreement.
“The bill would not have passed the Senate without an income cap,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh (R-Edmond). “So that was caucus feedback — the majority of the caucus.”
But McCall has indicated that HB 1935 might not be able to pass his chamber with an income cap.
“The problem with (an income cap) is it’s a form of class warfare,” McCall said April 5. “You can never say that every parent and student in the state of Oklahoma wins with an income cap.”
Without an income eligibility cap, the House version of the new refundable tax credit is estimated to have about a $300 million annual fiscal impact. Senate fiscal staff estimated the Senate version’s impact at about $100 million.
Neither estimate appears to take into account the tax credit costs associated with new students enrolling in private schools.
Legislators frustrated over lack of transparency
As HB 1935 heads to a conference committee to reconcile the differences in House and Senate versions, legislative leaders and the governor’s office have been discussing potential compromises in private meetings.
Regarding the proposed refundable tax credit for private school families, those ideas include an eligibility cap on private school tuition, prioritization of lower-income students during private school enrollment, and a phased-in implementation of the new credit where an income cap would apply for the first few years but would gradually go away.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of ideas floating around,” Pugh said.
The concept behind capping tax credit eligibility based on a private school’s tuition would be intended to keep some schools from simply raising their tuition to absorb the full tax credit, thus preventing access for additional families.
“Any idea that’s trying to serve kids and do this policy in the best way possible — just me personally, I’m open to, but that’s not a conversation that I’ve had with anybody,” Pugh said of capping the eligibility based on private school tuition.
Pugh said he would want to see specific language before determining whether he would support a concept.
Despite Pugh’s position as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, he seems to be in the same boat as many other education-focused legislators largely in the dark on where current negotiations stand between the tax credit bill’s two versions.
“I would say my frustration is the fact that that you’re coming to me and telling me what’s been negotiated, and I haven’t heard anything about it,” said Johns, a former Ada educator who called the idea “interesting.”
House Appropriations and Budget Education Subcommittee Vice Chairman Dick Lowe, who voted for the tax credit bill, agreed. He said that while he is open to new ideas, the only proposals he has heard have come from the “rumor mill.”
Lowe expressed frustration that the holdup in public negotiations on education funding was also delaying budget negotiations in other areas.
“We want this log jam to be gone,” said Lowe (R-Amber). “I feel like we’re holding up everything at the Capitol in a lot of ways because this is such a high percentage of the budget.”
The nuts and bolts of private school tax credit parameters
Asked about negotiations over the proposed tax credit bill, Kate Vesper, the governor’s press secretary, declined to discuss a potential private school tuition cap or any other specific idea being bandied about the building.
“Negotiations regarding education are ongoing, and the governor remains involved in those conversations,” Vesper said. “Gov. Stitt looks forward to getting something across the finish line for Oklahoma parents and students this session.”
While it is not yet clear what a proposed tuition cost cap could be — or if it will be proposed to House and Senate caucuses at all — it could bring the bill in line with Stitt’s stated goal of offering school choice to low-income families in addition to wealthy ones.
The state’s most established private schools have tuition costs well in excess of the proposed $5,000 or $7,500 credits. Casady and Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City cost $24,850 and $23,650, respectively, for grades nine through 12. Bishop McGuinness is cheaper, but it’s still in excess of the proposed state tax credits at $16,245 for non-Catholics and $11,445 for parishioners.
In Tulsa, Holland Hall and Cascia Hall cost $23,400 and $16,800, respectively, for high school.
But many other private schools across the state have tuition costs much closer to the proposed tax credit levels. Bishop Kelley and Metro Christian in Tulsa both charge around $12,700 for high school.
In the Oklahoma City area, schools like Community Christian School and Antioch Christian Academy have tuition levels below the Senate’s proposed $7,500 tax credit. Other schools are even lower, such as Drexel Academy in north Tulsa, where donations and state tax credits leveraged through the Opportunity Scholarship Fund allow the private elementary school to request only small donations or volunteer hours from families.
If Oklahoma’s Republican-dominated Legislature ultimately agrees on a tax credit plan and sends it to Stitt, it would represent a significant expansion of “school choice” in the state. Other states have taken similar steps recently.
Some states who have passed or are in the process of passing school choice legislation have opted to phase in their new laws over time instead of all at once.
In Iowa, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law to create Education Savings Accounts for families in January.
Currently, only the lowest income families and families with kindergarteners are eligible for the ESAs. Next year, higher income families will become eligible. By 2025, every family in Iowa will be eligible.
But some, such as Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, have argued for “comprehensive” and universal school choice as soon as possible.
Asked March 30 about the competing versions of Oklahoma’s tax credit bill, Walters declined to name a preference, but he did say he opposes an income cap and that he would only support school choice legislation that is “comprehensive.”
“I have the utmost confidence in the House and the Senate to come together and get this plan passed, but it has to be for every family,” Walters said. “We can’t carve out families. Every single one of these families deserves school choice — they all should have it this session, and we’re going to keep fighting for that.”
Stitt himself recently said that he is not in favor of capping the tax credits’ eligibility based on family income.
“I prefer no cap because we want to make sure that kids can go wherever they want,” Stitt told The Daily Caller on Monday. “They pay property taxes and we are going to fund the student. We don’t want to penalize them because they have rich or poor parents. What we’ll probably do is just say we’re gonna prioritize under $250,000, what the Senate has, or we’ll prioritize people below some level, and then after that we’ll say everybody can qualify.”
Stitt calls on House, Senate leaders to ‘break the logjam’ on education negotiations
With negotiations at a stalemate between legislative leaders, Gov. Kevin Stitt proposed an $800 million school choice and education funding package on Friday to merge House and Senate priorities.
“I’m just really trying to listen to both sides, bring them together, and I believe I captured that with this document,” Stitt said a news conference on Friday. “So, this is what I’m pushing them to pass and get on my desk.”
Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said Stitt’s plan looks like a “positive step in the right direction for education in Oklahoma,” but the House is still reviewing the proposal.
The leader of the state Senate, Pro Tem Greg Treat, gave a frostier response.
“At first glance, it is undeniably similar to the House plan that the state Senate, as well as other education groups had issues with, which is why we amended the bills in the first place,” Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said in a statement. “We will take the weekend to review the governor’s plan, bring it up in our weekly Monday caucus meeting and respond in due course.”
House and Senate leadership have yet to agree on a compromise for teacher pay raises, school funding increases, and tax credits for private-school and homeschool families.
If passed, the funding package is expected to be the Capitol’s signature piece of legislation this year.
Treat said education negotiations have delayed all other budget talks, as both sides are “still trying to find a path forward there.”
“I was hopeful this week we’d have had more progress than we have had,” Treat said while speaking with reporters on Thursday.
What is in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s education funding proposal?
Stitt suggested Oklahoma offer families a $5,000 refundable tax credit for each child attending a private K-12 school, with gradual increases in future years, and a $1,000 refundable tax credit for each student in home school. The tax credits could be applied to tuition, tutoring and other school-related costs.
Households earning an annual income of $250,000 and below would have the first opportunity to apply, and if any funds are left over in the state’s $200 million budget for the program, families with higher earnings could qualify for a tax credit.
Private-school tax credits would increase to $6,000 in Year Two, though the governor’s plan would keep the program’s budget at $200 million. In year three, private-school families could receive $6,500 per student with no income cap and no budgetary limit from the state.
Even the final tax-credit increase would fall short of the Senate’s preference for $7,500 for every private-school student. It exceeds the House’s request for a $5,000 refundable credit per child.
The refundable tax credits could bring private schooling within reach for more families and lead to more Catholic schools opening in rural areas, said Brett Farley executive director of the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, which represents the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa.
Eight rural Catholic schools have closed in recent years amid pandemic economic constraints, Farley said, but those schools might reopen if the tax-credit plan should pass.
“There are a lot of families out there that would choose to send their children to a private school of some sort if it were economically viable for them,” Farley said after the governor’s news conference.
The governor would distribute an extra $300 million to public schools on a per-student basis for staff raises and classroom needs. Each school district could receive no more than $2 million.
Senate Republicans and Democrats from both chambers criticized the $2 million limit for favoring rural schools with fewer students.
“Under the $2 million cap, children in my district would get about $65 a head, whereas you would see students in other districts getting $745,” said Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “There should be no cap, and we should fund all students equitably.”
Stitt’s plan includes a $300 million teacher pay raise structure that Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, proposed. The state gradually would increase minimum salaries by $2,000 to $5,000 based on a teacher’s years of experience.
The governor called on House and Senate leaders to get his plan “across the finish line and to my desk.”
“I think there’s parts of it that they like, but there’s parts that they don’t like,” Stitt said. “Here’s the deal, I think in good negotiations neither side is going to be 100% happy, and that’s kind of my job now is to say, ‘Guys, let’s break the logjam and let’s get good policy.’”
Teacher pay raise bill shucked, advanced by House A&B Committee
The House Appropriations and Budget Committee approved a bill Wednesday proposing to extend the teacher salary schedule by a decade, a far cry from the teacher pay raise the language originally proposed by the Senate.
As originally drafted, SB0482 proposed increasing minimum teacher pay. However, the committee substitute presented by Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, and adopted by the committee Wednesday now extends the teacher salary schedule by 10 years, effectively replacing, or “shucking,” the previous proposal.
“Originally this bill was a teacher pay raise bill that has been a part of negotiations,” Lowe told members of the committee, noting he and the bill’s House author, Rep. Mark McBride, both support pay raises for educators. “That was part of the education work being done right now on the budget. We decided we wanted to go ahead and send back a bill we had sent over [to the Senate] earlier.”
Lowe said the new language in SB0482 mirrored language from HB2162, a bill that failed to be taken up by the Senate before the deadline for bills to be heard in a committee of the opposite chamber. That language, according to Lowe, “adds a 10-year step raise from year ’26 to year ’35.”
Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, noted the language was not taken up by the Senate originally and asked Lowe why he felt they would this time under a new bill number. Lowe said he believed the House can work out a deal with the Senate in conference.
The committee substitute for SB0482, by Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond and McBride, R-Moore, with title and enacting clause stricken, extends the teacher salary schedule by 10 years. It received a do pass recommendation from the committee Wednesday on a vote of 33-0.
100 days in: AG Gentner Drummond touts fighting government corruption, scandal
In his first months in office, newly elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond has taken aim at what he calls a culture of corruption and scandal in state government.
In a recent interview, Drummond said he hopes the actions he takes in his first term as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor will spur lasting changes in how state government operates.
“There is an aura of accountability and responsibility that state legislators recognize, occasionally executive officers recognize, but I think over the next 195 weeks, that culture will be ingrained in state government for the betterment of all,” Drummond said.
Tuesday marked Drummond’s 100th day in elected office — an early benchmark of his political tenure.
He has taken on several high-profile cases, including leading the prosecution of Epic Charter School’s founders, reviewing criminal charges against a state representative and working with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation as it scrutinizes a possibly fraudulent deal between the state and Swadley’s Bar-B-Q.
Drummond has been critical of his predecessors, and he hasn’t shied away from calling out state elected officials when they’ve overstepped their authority.
He also put the Oklahoma Legislature on notice that he will fully enforce state laws intended to prevent legislators from personally profiting off their state service.
Drummond has criticized previous Attorneys General John O’Connor and Mike Hunter for allowing the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office to pick up prominent public corruption cases instead of taking on the cases themselves.
“If it’s public corruption or scandal at the state level that affects multiple counties, that case belongs in the Attorney General’s Office,” he said. “For reasons that I cannot speculate, the previous two administrations … didn’t prosecute and didn’t investigate, and that’s inappropriate.”
O’Connor, who was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, served at the governor’s beck and call, Drummond said. A wealthy Tulsa businessman and former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Drummond defeated O’Connor in last year’s GOP primary election by vowing to operate independently from the Governor’s Office.
The new attorney general accused Hunter of abusing his power when criminal charges were brought against former Cabinet Secretary David Ostrowe and, in a separate incident, Republican Rep. Terry O’Donnell and his wife.
Although Ostrowe was indicted on an allegation that he bribed a state official, Drummond this year cleared the former Stitt administration official of any wrongdoing and said Hunter should have recused himself from the legal proceedings to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Drummond also dropped the charges against O’Donnell after the lawmaker was alleged to have misused his office to change state law so his wife could take ownership of a tag agency. Drummond said Hunter referred the investigation as a way to seek “political retribution” against O’Donnell, but former Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who oversaw the multicounty grand jury that brought the indictment, said the investigation was free from any outside influence.
“I’m the umpire who calls balls and strikes,” Drummond said. “Sometimes you like the call, and sometimes you don’t, but I’m going to do exactly what I see.”
Drummond said he has a good working relationship with Stitt. But that didn’t stop Drummond from calling out the governor for not following state law when he appointed several members of the Oklahoma Veterans Commission.
The attorney general also recently said the State Board of Education, led by State Superintendent Ryan Walters, overstepped its authority when it passed new rules for the State Department of Education.
“Nothing that I’ve done is directed toward the governor or any other elected official,” he said. “I’m simply applying fact to law.”
Drummond said he is still looking into whether any “state actors” are to blame for misspent pandemic relief funds that were earmarked for education. He dismissed a lawsuit against an out-of-state vendor that Stitt and Walters previously said was to blame for the misuse of federal pandemic aid.
Drummond said the lawsuit against ClassWallet was “purely political cover.”
As for getting answers about a program that federal officials said was mismanaged and allowed public funds to be spent on noneducational expenses, “that is the source of an active investigation in collaboration with the Department of Justice and the FBI to determine what happened and why,” Drummond said.
He said he is taking steps to crack down on illegal marijuana farms by creating an organized crime task force and advocating for greater enforcement of the state’s medical marijuana industry.
The attorney general is also waiting for a state appeals court to respond to his request that death-row inmate Richard Glossip’s murder conviction be vacated. Drummond made the request after asking a former prosecutor to conduct an independent review of Glossip’s case.
Drummond’s first few months in elected office have some political observers speculating about whether he will run for governor in 2026, but Drummond said he’s focused solely on his duties as attorney general.
Oklahoma sports betting bill fails in Senate
The push to legalize sports betting in Oklahoma suffered a loss after state lawmakers punted on the proposal for the second straight year.
House Bill 1027 would have opened the door to online and in-person sports wagering. But the bill missed a deadline to advance in the Senate, meaning all bets are off until at least next year.
Tribal nations have exclusive gaming rights in Oklahoma. In exchange, they pay the state monthly fees, which amounted to $200 million over the last year.
But the current agreement does not cover sports betting. No one could agree on how to add it.
“It became clear during the process that there are too many unresolved issues that ultimately killed it this year,” Sen. Bill Coleman said in a statement. The Ponca City Republican was the proposal’s main backer in the Senate.
Tribes are pursuing mobile gaming:Will that open the door to sports betting in Oklahoma?
Sports betting bill failure blamed on ‘lack of coordination’
Supporters had hoped to catch Oklahoma up to neighboring states that already allow people to use their phones to bet on the outcomes of games. Online wagering is expanding rapidly across the U.S.
Whether or not Oklahoma could legalize sports betting this year was viewed as a key test of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s pledge to work more closely with tribal leaders in his second term. He challenged the existing state-tribal gaming agreement as unfair soon after he first took office. There are signs the rift over gaming still exists.
Coleman said Stitt needs to collaborate with tribal leaders to advance sports betting.
While Stitt has expressed support for sports betting, a spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the governor had met with tribal leaders in recent months to discuss terms that could work for everyone.
Coleman blamed the bill’s failure in part on “the lack of coordination between the executive branch and tribal leadership.”
“When dealing with our tribal partners, compacting, and all the nuances that come with exclusivity and future gaming negotiations, we must get the governor in the same room with tribal leaders to build upon the conversation started this year by the legislature,” Coleman said in his statement.
Matthew Morgan, who chairs the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association, said he had not met with Stitt to discuss sports betting.
Many tribal leaders want to find a way to bring sports betting to the state, he said, but it must make economic sense without endangering the current compact.
The industry group did not take a stance on HB 1027.
Its main supporter in the House, Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, had said in March that the bill was not in its final form. He said he planned to rework the proposal before it went up for a vote in the Senate.
Ultimately, it never made it that far.
“While I’m disappointed we didn’t hit a jackpot this year on sports betting, I look forward to continued open dialogue with our tribal partners and the governor’s office, which I plan to facilitate with Sen. Coleman,” Luttrell said in a statement.
Senate votes to override Stitt’s veto of OHCA funding measure
The Senate voted Wednesday to override Gov. Kevin Stitt’s veto of a bill that appropriates $600 million for fiscal year 2024 of federal Medicaid funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, made the motion that SB1130  become law notwithstanding the governor’s objections. The bill, by Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry, Thompson, Rep. Kevin Wallace, R- Wellston, and Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, appropriates $600.0 million from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority CMIA Programs Disbursing Fund to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. It establishes budgeting and expenditure requirements for the funds.
In his veto message, Stitt called the bill “imprudent” and suggested the appropriations should be delayed at least until 2024 after the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has an opportunity to disenroll more than 300,000 Oklahomans who were added to the state’s Medicaid rolls during the COVID-19 pandemic but no longer qualify.
He also wrote, “Additionally, this bill would punish the Health Care Authority for its fiscal conservatism and wise stewardship of taxpayer dollars. That’s simply wrong.”
Stitt suggested the funds “...should be used to finance strategic health care initiatives and to make investments that will yield better health outcomes for generations of Oklahomans, not to do the ordinary work of the Health Care Authority.”
Thompson addressed Stitt’s veto message point-by-point.
“When I look at the governor’s veto message, he simply said that we would be sweeping $600 million, which is inaccurate,” Thompson said. “He also said that this bill is imprudent, which has a definition of not showing care for consequences of our actions. And certainly, we are looking at the consequences of our actions for the people of Oklahoma.
Regarding Stitt’s argument that the bill would punish the Oklahoma Health Care Authority for being fiscally prudent, Thompson noted a document from the authority showed some $543.0 million in uncommitted funds. He also pointed to a chart Stitt displayed Friday at a press availability that included the number in a list of additional funds available for appropriation this session.
There was no debate against overriding the veto. The motion passed 45-2. The motion required approval by three-fourths, or 36 members of the Senate because the bill has an emergency clause, rather than the usual two-thirds. Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, voted no.
In a statement following the vote, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said, “The Governor’s veto message about the bill was offensively inaccurate. The measure passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate. The list of projects that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority wants to appropriate these monies to is worthy of legislative consideration.”
The House also has to vote to override the veto before the bill can become law. It was not clear Wednesday afternoon if or when the House might take up a motion to override the veto.
Bill allowing cancellation of noncitizen voter registration passes House
The House advanced legislation off the floor Wednesday allowing for the cancellation of a voter’s registration if said voter is dismissed from jury duty for being a noncitizen.
Rep. Carl Newton said SB0377 came at the request of the Oklahoma State Election Board as another measure by which to ensure United States citizens are those exclusively participating in elections.
“I think this is a very rare occurrence,” Newton, R-Woodward, noted.
SB0377, by Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, and Newton, with title stricken, allows a voter registration to be cancelled if the registrant is excused from jury duty for not being a citizen of the United States and directs the court clerk in each county to prepare a list each month of those who were excused from jury duty for not being a citizen of the United States.
Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, asked for clarification if cases were to be reported to the district attorney, which Newton confirmed in his reply.
“The election is to report it to the DA, or the district attorney, and it’s up to them whether that needs to be prosecuted or not,” Newton said.
The bill advanced on a vote of 79-14.
Medical marijuana pre-packaging limits passed by the House
A bill setting requirements and limits for the packaging of medical marijuana products successfully advanced off the House floor Thursday.
Rep. T.J. Marti presented SB0645  to lawmakers, along with an amendment that was adopted by unanimous consent.
SB0645, by Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, and Marti, R-Broken Arrow, as amended, requires any medical marijuana flower, trim, shake, kief, medical marijuana product, or other flower-based product not defined as a concentrate, to be sold by licensed medical marijuana processors and licensed medical marijuana commercial growers to licensed medical marijuana dispensaries only in pre-packaged form in package sizes weighing not less than half of a gram and not more than 3 ounces. It allows for nonopaque materials to be used when packaging medical marijuana flowers and allows the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to promulgate rules relating to the return of defective or hazardous products between licensed entities.
Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, debated against the bill’s passage and argued it was the epitome of a “loose law.”
“Is it helpful?” he asked. “Of course, if you’re in the packaging industry or you’re the owner of a large grow, but for your small Oklahoma farmers and grows here, it’s burdensome.”
Dollens argued SB0645 did solve the problem it was filed to fix, reiterating it only set burdens on smaller medical marijuana businesses.
Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, and Rep. John Echols, R-Oklahoma City, voiced their support for the legislation in debate, having both carried medical marijuana legislation previously.
“We know, if you study this industry, that there’s a lot of black-market stuff going out the backdoor in dispensaries. We typically in this room and across the rotunda, we think about the black-market as being illegal grows or foreign national grows but the reality of it is that a lot of marijuana is being sold out the backdoor of the dispensaries,” Fetgatter said in his debate, conceding he was unsure if pre-packaging would completely curtail the black-market. “There’s a lot of people out there who just won’t obey the law that we enact.”
Pre-packaging, he continued, represented “another tool” the state could put in its belt to help combat the black-market marijuana industry.
“It’s time that we start having the discussion in this building not only about the black-market itself...but what’s happening on Main Street in these dispensaries,” Fetgatter argued.
Echols said pre-packaging was something lawmakers knew was coming since medical marijuana’s legalization in Oklahoma in 2018, arguing it was a reform that’s “time has come.”
“There was nothing surprising about this,” he posited.
Marti said in his debate he felt the bill was not only just about diversion, but also ensuring quality medical marijuana products.
“Every prescription drug comes in an FDA-approved container,” he noted. “They don’t just send it to us in plastic baggies or one-pound baggies. The container has to be approved by the FDA.”
SB0645  advanced on a vote of 73-21. As the bill was amended by the House, it now returns to the Senate for further consideration.
CTE Priority Measures
OkACTE tracks and monitors legislative bills. These bills can vary from CareerTech education policy, common education policy, education funding, teacher pay raise, tax credits, licensing, Ad Valorem, retirement, state employee pay raise, guns, economic development and much more.

Of these bills, we've compiled a listing of CTE Priority Measures linked below.

Visit oklegislature.gov to view entire text of the measures.

April 2023
April 27: House & Senate Third Reading Deadline, Opposite Chamber (Bills & Joint Resolutions) 
May 2023
May 27: Sine Die Adjournment (5:00 p.m.)