Tying up loose ends by Sen. Bill Coleman

Mike Seals - May 13, 2021 11:34 am

 

The end of session is approaching quickly, and work is ongoing as we try to tie up the last of the legislative loose ends. The House and Senate each approved the other chamber’s redistricting bill this week and those will next be considered by the governor. Budget negotiations are progressing. The governor’s nearly 175 executive nominations are quickly working their way through Senate committees and before the full body. Conference committees are working on final language on bills passed in different versions by the two chambers, while they also continue to consider amendments from the other body. While the halls may be much quieter than in weeks’ past, rest assured there is still a lot of work taking place.

Governor Stitt has now signed more than 475 bills into law, and a major civil service reform was among them. HB 1146 will allow state agencies better flexibility in hiring, advancing, promoting, rewarding, paying and firing their employees. Oklahoma’s human resource system hasn’t been changed in decades tying the hands of agency directors. This welcomed reform will help state agencies recruit and retain top talent. Employee turnover within state agencies is extremely high and comes at a great expense to taxpayers. These changes will help our state agencies be more efficient, reduce turnover and save taxpayer dollars.

Another important bill that has been signed will help address the statewide teacher shortage. SB 267 removes the salary restrictions on retired teachers who return to the classroom as long as they’ve been receiving retirement benefits and haven’t been employed by a school district for at least a year. Currently, returning teachers can only make $15,000 annually, and this bill will leave salary decisions up to local boards. By removing this restriction, retired teachers may feel less hesitancy towards returning to teaching.

Many other important bills are still working their way through the process. Many are finding themselves in conference committee where compromise language can be worked out. HB 2272 is an effort to address the growing problem with foreign investors purchasing land and buildings in Oklahoma in order to get into the state’s booming medical marijuana business. In its current form, the bill would require current medical marijuana business licensees and applicants seeking licensure to submit an attestation confirming or denying whether their business has any foreign financial interests and to disclose such ownership within 60 days to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control or the Medical Marijuana Authority. Those who don’t comply, would have their license revoked. If signed into law, it will slow down the growth of the marijuana black market in our state.

Two other major bills moving through are House Bills 1124 and 2040. Both would help expand broadband access across Oklahoma, which is badly needed in many parts, especially rural Oklahoma. Our state ranks 47th nationally for rural access to broadband; and a 2017 Oklahoma State University Extension Office report found approximately 30% of Oklahoma households had no internet connection.

House Bill 1124 would direct the Department of Commerce, along with the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, to establish the State Broadband Deployment Grant Program to award funding to applicants seeking to expand access to broadband internet service. HB 2040 would create a sales and use tax rebate for new broadband equipment used to deliver service in unserved or underserved areas. A maximum of $20 million would be rebated for projects in 2022, with $15 million allocated for rural areas and $5 million for urban areas. Final details on these two measures are still being worked out.

We’re all anxiously awaiting to see what transpires in the next week. I’ll keep you posted.

If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll continue to update you on what’s happening as we move through these final weeks. You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing [email protected]

 

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