With only a few days left for bills to be heard, the past week saw several bills and actions occur in both chambers. One such measure that can (and did) occur is for a bill to be sent directly to a floor vote (even if it did not meet a deadline. A motion called “direct to calendar,” this action is typically reserved for emergency measures, but it seems to be used more often and pushes us farther away from transparency and democracy.
On the House floor:
One bill that has unfortunately made it all the way through to the Governor’s desk and signed into law passed from the House floor last week. Senate Bill (SB) 978, endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and authored by Sen. Grant Green and Representative Kevin Wallace, will permit people to carry firearms (of any kind) on boats and will broaden the legal reasons for using one on a maritime vessel. With questions from Rep. Goodwin and Rep. Fugate on liability and the inclusion of alcohol on boats as well, this bill does not help protect or better the lives of any Oklahomans.
There were many good bills filed this session that did not even get a committee hearing, let alone receive the Governor’s signature. Some dormant but not forgotten examples:
- HB 1988– by Rep. Dollens; would require landlords provide AC on rental properties. Never got heard in a committee.
- HB 2343– by Rep. Turner; aimed to repeal provisions placing criminal penalties on spread of HIV, AIDS and other infectious diseases. Failed in committee, it did not receive a second to receive a vote in the House Criminal Justice and Corrections. This does not kill the bill, but it does mean it will not move forward this session.
- HB 1629- by Rep. Goodwin; a clarification on voting status for previously incarcerated. It was voted from the House (82 to 10) and then failed to get heard in committee on the Senate side.
To see so many gun focused bills prioritized while writing this after a shooting at our own Rose State College is beyond baffling.
A bill that failed on the House floor last week, SB 722, would have criminalized first responders sharing scene-specific photos and information without authorization from investigating authorities. Some arguments highlighted the fact that criminalizing first responders does not protect victims, particularly when the bill did not address the public or press acting the same. While there needs to be further measures to protect victims’ families, the bill lacked the substance to address many of the concerns raised.
SB 376, a bill focused on easing absentee voting provisions, passed unanimously. It clarifies the signature on affidavits for absentee ballots. With voting access and transparency decreasing, this is a welcome measure to ease the voting process.
On the Senate Side:
On a party line vote, House Bill (HB) 1144 has also been signed by the governor as well, with an earliest effective date of 04/19/2023. This permits the Department of Public Safety to commission a security officer for the House and Senate. This individual would be liable to either chamber and have the right to arrest, carry a gun, and search and seizure on State Capitol grounds.
The Capitol is already managed by State Troopers who carry firearms and can arrest people. This new security peace officer would reportedly “supplement” their role.
In a time of shrinking governmental transparency, further militarizing the People’s House and making it feel less open to Oklahoma residents is not the answer.
HB 1634 also passed, but with some no votes from both parties. A request bill out of Skiatook from Rep. Clay Staires, the bill would permit school personnel to search students’ hats, gloves and hand coverings. With an exception for religious head coverings, the bill still leaves much to interpretation as there is no protections for removal by force for searching, and no language to protect students who do not want to be touched or have a disability making them sensitive to such a situation.
A positive bill that passed unanimously from the Senate, HB 2378 aims to establish rights for persons with limited English proficiency to have access to interpreters during civil procedures. In a state with numerous ethnicities represented and a high number of people with limited English proficiency, this is a welcome effort from the legislature.
Another good one in the vein of mental health, HB 1036 passed unanimously as well. The measure seeks to create a Veteran Suicide Prevention Task Force to reduce veteran suicide rates in the state.
With a rush to get bills scheduled, there will be a flurry of activity in both chambers until the conclusion of session in May!