This session started out with nearly 3,000 bills filed. Now, after last week’s deadline for them to pass out of their chamber of origin, less than 1,000 are left. This session has, thus far, had a different vibe than recent past years. There’s more of an air or cordiality and a willingness to work across the aisle.

Another surprise we’ve seen in this year’s legislature is the rapid movement of several bills to the Governor’s desk. Among the most notable are the permitless carry bill which goes into effect Nov 1, 2019, allowing anyone over the age of 21 to open carry without a license, and bills giving the Governor power to hire and fire agency heads of five major agencies; the Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections, the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. These bills went into effect immediately and the Governor has already started making appointments for the board of some of these agencies. The hiring of a head of an agency will still require a confirmation from the Senate.

Senate Pro Tem, Greg Treat, has announced a bipartisan working group which will develop recommendations on how to organize the Senate confirmation process.

Important dates to know:

  • April 25th is the deadline for these bills to be read and passed out of the opposite chamber
  • Friday May 31st is Sine Die, or the last day of session.

Of the 1,000 or so bills still afloat, here are some highlights to watch.

HB 1269, a Bill making State Question 780 retroactive. In 2016 Oklahoma citizens voted to reclassify some felony drug and property crimes as misdemeanors. This bill would allow people convicted of these crimes to petition the court to have their sentences changed.

There are several additional criminal justice reform bills still alive CAIR-OK, in partnership with the ACLU of Oklahoma, is following and supporting. Among these, is SB 252 which allows for certain individuals to be released during pretrial phase for non-violent felonies and misdemeanors. This bill is an important part of criminal justice reform as many Oklahoma families are devastated during this phase, as due to financial hardship, a person may not be able to make bail and will have to sit in jail waiting for trial. This will often result in loss of employment and sometimes children if there is not a strong family support system for the individual in place to take on the burden of child care.

SB 297, allows school districts to provide food at no cost to students who are unable to purchase meals or snacks.

SB 793, this bill has several parts, but the one we are most interested in at CAIR-Ok is it’s adjustment to the definition of “bullying.” Currently in state statute for an incident to be considered “bullying” it must have occurred more than once. This would allow a single incident of harassment to be considered “bullying.” Which would follow suite with the national definition of bullying as well.

HB 1780, this bill will add an additional $1,200 increase to teacher pay at every level on the pay scale.

SB 441, would reduce the number of school districts in the state that currently have a 4 day school week. This bill is weirdly controversial. Back in 2016/2017, when the state budget was wrecked and the Republican lead legislature was pushing for more 4 day school weeks to save costs, this was viewed by many in the education system and child wellbeing sector as a bad step. Bad because it created a heavy burden on working and single-parent families to provide childcare on Fridays and bad because each day a child is out of school they lose momentum. Kind of like taking two steps forward, one step back. However, now that schools in poorer districts have become accustomed to the 4 day school week, they fear they will lose desperately needed teachers, if they are forced to immediately go back to the regular school week. As many rural districts have used the 4 day school week as an incentive to get teachers to move or stay in their areas; as in, “we can’t pay you much, but we can give you more time with your family.”

The moral of the story here is yes, with over two-thirds of bills having died an agonizing death by deadline, many of the crazy and exciting bills have been weeded out, BUT there’s still much to be done this session. We are about to enter the budgetary phase, which is admittedly less riveting to follow, however, much more meaty and important. There’s still opportunities for you to build relationships with your elected officials and make a difference. We will keep you updated on such opportunities this last half of the 2019 legislative session!