Week 14 Recap
The final weeks of the legislative session bring a slew of new budget-related bills as other business comes to a close.
A number of criminal justice-related measures have been signed into law. Some have positive effects: HB 3053 allows for deferred sentences for defendants who complete drug court, HB 4369 makes parole more accessible for incarcerated individuals, and SB 1691 removes barriers to occupational licensing for some people with certain criminal records. Victims of human trafficking may see some relief in HB 4219, which creates a Human Trafficking Response Unit under the Attorney General to collect and maintain data about the scope of the human trafficking issue in Oklahoma.
HB 4082, which would have established certain responsibilities for transporting people in need of mental health treatment between law enforcement, receiving facilities, and ODMHSAS, was vetoed by the Governor, who said in his remarks that “Law enforcement’s job is to protect the public and we should be looking at real reforms to address how we help and treat those in mental health crisis.” It remains to be seen exactly what Governor Stitt intends in the manner of “real reforms.”
A couple of measures that increase penalties for stalking and harassment, HB 3286 and HB 3171, were also signed into law. While additional penalties on these types of interpersonal crimes seem to be a good solution, they often do not serve as sufficient deterrent. Instead, they simply expose more individuals to a harshly abusive carceral system that does not address the underlying causes of interpersonal and domestic violence. We remain cautious about the overall effects of these measures.
HB 1711, requiring that election ballots be delivered by email for blind or visually impaired persons, was finalized and will take effect in July 2023. However, for all other voters, a number of limitations on absentee ballots and maintaining the voter rolls passed: HB 3321, addressing absentee ballot requests and voting machines, HB 3364, barriers to obtaining absentee ballots, and HB 3365, which will require new voter IDs to be sent out and then presented at the polls.
Oklahoma made national news when HB 4327, one of the nation’s most severe abortion restrictions, was signed into law. This bill, following a path set by Texas lawmakers, allows for civil rights of action against those who perform or assist in abortions, with fines of more than $10,000. This means that any person suspected of helping an abortion – a driver who takes a patient to an appointment, a person who provides housing for someone recovering, an organization that produces information on reproductive rights – could be sued and held liable for massive fines. While legal action against these restrictions continues across the country, Oklahoma stays in the national spotlight for its continued attacks on medical privacy and reproductive freedom.
A slew of budgetary measures was proposed in Week 14; while we cannot track every appropriations or budget-related bill, we have identified some of the most contentious or most important for vital state services. A full summary is available here: https://content.govdelivery.com/attachments/OKHOUSE/2022/05/16/file_attachments/2160173/FY%2723%20GA%20Bill%20Summary.pdf
- HB 4456, creating a Progressing Rural Economic Prosperity Fund – signed.
- HB 4465, the Department of Education budget: signed. The education budget is the largest area of the state budget at $4.2 billion; however, public education advocates say that funding levels are still woefully short of the resources needed to provide the high-quality schooling that Oklahoma children deserve.
- HB 4466, the Department of Human Services: signed. Nearly $900 million, with provisions to address the Development Disabilities Services Division waiting lists.
- HB 4470, the Department of Public Safety: signed. Highway Patrol and OSBI will enjoy significant pay raises, and the budget also increases funding for training, fighting crimes against children, and officer mental health support.
- HB 4473, an appropriation of about $181 million to the Inflation Relief Stimulus Fund: VETOED; the Governor says “Rather than spending $180MIL on one-time payments that would further spur inflation…we should give Oklahoma taxpayers permanent relief.” The nature of this permanent relief is unclear.
- SB 1040: General Appropriations for FY23: Unsigned. By state law, however, the governor has 5 days from the time a bill is sent to him to sign or line-item veto. Without either of these actions, the law goes into effect as-is.
- SB 1043, the Department of Health: signed. Total appropriation of $2 billion, which includes increased funding for salary adjustments, the “Choosing Childbirth Act,” and public health services for the medically underserved.
- SB 1048, the Department of Mental Health: signed; appropriation of $340 million.
- SB 1495, appropriation of $930 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA): unsigned by Governor. This will likely be a point of contention as the Governor’s lack of signature shows his disapproval of the legislature’s intent to appropriate these funds.
In the next week, the Governor may sign, veto, or line-item veto these bills and signal approval or disapproval of how the legislature has created the budget. This final stage of the legislative session will have important consequences for the future of our state.