(This week’s update was written by Policy & Advocacy Intern Hayden Vasquez !)

Oklahoma has experienced another week of substantial activity within the legislature. As we approach the sine die adjournment of both the Oklahoma House and Senate, both chambers have continued to meet regarding legislation that has the potential to affect some aspect of the everyday lives of Oklahomans. Furthermore, Governor Stitt made his decisions regarding highly contested HB 4156 as well as other notable pieces of legislation over the past week.

Senate Side 

The Senate has assigned SB 1328 by Sen. Todd Gollihare (R), to a conference committee as it continues to move forward within the chamber. In an attempt to counteract the increasingly problematic education cost problem the nation has collectively been experiencing, this bill allows eligible Oklahoma students the ability to apply for grants intended to cover tuition expenses, so long as they meet a set of requirements outlined within the bill. Eligibility decisions are facilitated through the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, intending for eligibility standards to be kept updated and relevant to students educated in either conventional or nonconventional methods. Opening up tuition funding opportunities to Oklahoma students who have demonstrated a willingness to engage with their education is a significant step in the right direction towards nurturing a nationally competitive and robust local job market for all Oklahomans to benefit from.

Further, the Senate rejected the modifications suggested by the House regarding SB 1339 by Sen. Ally Seifried (R). This bill intends to provide financial assistance to students with intellectual disabilities. This would open funding opportunities to those students who would not be able to meet all the eligibility parameters of other state education assistance programs, such as Oklahoma’s Promise. It is essential for all individuals to have equitable access to opportunities provided by the state regarding education. Despite the disagreement over certain verbiage found within the bill, there is still time for both chambers to come to a consensus before adjournment at the end of the month.

House Side

HB 3089 by Rep. Mark Tedford (R), or the “Strengthen Oklahoma Homes’ Act”, is scheduled for this week’s House Floor Agenda. It intends to facilitate the creation of a federal grant-distributing program through the state’s Department of Insurance. The goal of the bill is to provide Oklahoma residents with the ability to obtain funding for structural improvements to their homes, with funded structural additions intended to assist in improving residential resistance to damages from tornadoes and heavy wind activity that are common within many regions of the state.

Despite calls to veto, along with his own hesitancy regarding the bill, Governor Stitt signed the controversial HB 4156 by Rep. Charles McCall (R), which prohibits undocumented residency within the state while giving policing agencies the authority to bring criminal charges of occupation against undocumented migrants. This has raised concerns among many Oklahomans, including the Latino Caucus and the mayor of Tulsa, due to potential implications for public safety. Further, the governor recognized the potential economic effect of the bill in his plan to implement the Oklahoma State Work Permits and Visas (OSWPV) Task Force, which attempts to facilitate something similar to federal visa applications for undocumented workers in the state. Despite this effort, insufficient guidelines for police conduct open the door to legislatively sanctioned racial profiling, which makes HB 4156 something that could potentially have extremely negative effects on many different communities of Oklahomans.

Governor Stitt also signed HB 3157 by Rep. Eric Roberts (R), which further increased fines related to prostitution, along with upgrading certain misdemeanor crimes to felonies. While public safety remains an emphasized framework from which Oklahoma legislators attempt to work, legislative bans and fines on prostitution have been shown to come with detrimental implications. With no legal protections or mechanisms for recourse, sex workers are more vulnerable to violence, coercion, and exploitation. They are less likely to report abuse or seek help due to fear of legal repercussions, further perpetuating cycles of harm.

With adjournment for both chambers coming at the end of this month, it is important for all Oklahomans to make sure that their voices are heard by all of the individuals who represent them. Contact your local representative today and let them know what you think about any potential legislation that they put forward.