With the State of the State completed, many legislators went straight to committee hearings. The first week of session saw several of our tracked bills get their first hearing to make it out of committee of origin to be voted on their respective sides floor.
The Senate Education committee saw some positive movements with the advancement of SB 11, which seeks to provide tuition grants for incarcerated persons. Furthermore, SB 429 moved on which allows students to wear tribal regalia at school and at certain school functions. We are supportive of measures that protect students’ rights to wear culturally or religiously important clothing in public schools, and our Native American community should be celebrated, not limited, in how they honor their students’ achievements. However, SB 364, which puts limits on maternity leave for school employees, was not heard.
The Senate Judiciary committee heard two bills of interest for CAIR Oklahoma, that both unfortunately passed with 0 opposition. First, SB 77 allows for a district attorney to file a motion to charge juvenile offenders as adults in cases. It would also permit courts to use their own discretion when imposing fines to certify studies to move juvenile offenders to adult charges. We already know that young people who find themselves involved with the criminal legal system will struggle into adulthood, so we oppose measures that would impose harsher penalties and try young people as adults. SB 136 (also oppose) seeks to increase sheriff’s fees for serving writs, warrants, orders, processes and commands from $50 to $150. While these increases seem small, they add additional burdens for many defendants which keeps them locked into cycles of poverty.
The Rules committee in both houses of the legislature sees a wide variety of bills. One key one that advanced this week was SB 613 which prohibits gender affirming care for persons under 18. The legislature believes “it is best to allow [people] to mature until they can make medical decisions for themselves.” This bill and others that target gender affirming care for minors have been the target of strong opposition from many parents who say that decisions about a minor’s gender should remain solely between the minor, their parents, and medical providers. In addition, opponents of these bills cite to medical organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Medical Association, which all oppose legislative restrictions on the practice of medicine. While we understand that questions of gender identity are complicated, we nonetheless believe that medical practice is best left up to patients, their parents, and their doctors, not done by legislators.
Senate Health and Human Services
A busy first day in this committee, they are charged with hearing many of the bills seeking to limit medical access. The meeting started early on with a hefty debate on SB 834 authored by Sen. Daniels, seeking to clarify definitions of abortion. Sen. Hicks came prepared with several questions on the requirement for reporting to law enforcement, citing facts of rape being the most underreported crime, in addition to the high rate of sexual assault in our state (#9 nationwide). Sen. Daniels was unaware of many of these grim facts and had little response to the criminalization of survivors and focused more on “getting abortionists out of our state”. Unfortunately, the bill still advanced, with only Nays from Sen. Hicks and Sen. Young.
However, there were successes with SB 147 on diabetes medication in school, SB 368 on access to preventative birth-control, and SB 931 on increased ability for pharmacist screenings all moving on to a Senate vote.The final two bills on our radar that moved on unopposed were SB 292 that adds additional syphilis testing for pregnant women and SB 561 that focuses on drug screening and substance abuse counseling for TANF recipients.
A bill we have added to our track since watching the committee is SB 458 ,which seeks to increase nurse ability for prescribing authority. While the title was struck to give further time for development, the bill aims to aid rural hospitals in expanding care. There was much discussion between Sen. Stanley (author), Sen. Pugh and Sen. Hicks on the topic.
House Criminal Justice and Corrections
The presentation of HB 1893 launched quickly with questions. The bill seeks to include assault of a county official under misdemeanor charges for assault, with increased jail time for those sentenced to this particular crime. It was questioned whether there was an increase in assaults to merit new law. According to Rep. Cantrell (author) there have been assaults against local officials. He also answered a question from Rep. West on why we need the change, stating that an assault on a county official had occurred and the only punishment for the offender was $500 fine and a night in jail. A “decrease in civility” has led to a need for further protection for local officials. According to Rep. Cantrell, this change would make a secondary offense a felony, with no mandatory jail time on the first offense. Rep. Turner also followed with questions on whether there has been an increase in people willing to pay the fee, and why conversations have grown more contentious. Neither were answered with any factual evidence of an increase or any examination of conversations. HB 1893 advanced with a vote of 5-1.
House Veteran & Military Affairs
The House Veteran and Military Affairs Committee only heard two bills, one of which we are tracking. It was mentioned there are likely no further meetings due to limited bill topics. A veteran was brought to bring an emotional appeal on the dire need for the passing of HB 1036, which seeks to create a Veteran Suicide Task Force. This is an initiative we support, as mental health, and other supports are crucial for those who have served in the military.
House Public Safety
This committee heard two bills of importance for us, both focused on firearm regulations. The first, HB 1380, seeks to clean up language and clarify training requirements for handgun licensure. Rep. Goodwin asked multiple questions regarding language changes, a significant one focused on removing specific gun classes to “handgun” which is not specific. The rebuttal from Rep. Gann (author) clarified that it would not require separate attempts at licensure for a revolver and semi-automatic. Rep. Goodwin followed up with a question on why it seemed that qualifications were lessening, to which Rep. Gann said it made them more in line with the constitution.
The second, HB 1404, makes it legal to carry and discharge a firearm from a boat in self-defense. Rep. Goodwin also inquired why self-defense was added as it is an amendment to a previous statute. Rep. Culver (author) clarified it is a second amendment right to carry and people should be able to defend themselves from altercations which included mention of “drunks”. Firearms, and the right to carry and use them in various situations, are always a contentious topic at the legislature, with some legislators hoping to limit access to dangerous weapons while others feel that expanding the right to own a gun keeps communities safer.