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5.26.23 – The Oklahoman

With a $13 billion budget spent and several major priorities passed into law during a contentious and oftentimes frustrating legislative session, Oklahoma lawmakers adjourned Friday as required by state law.

The budget and dozens of other bills that tell agencies how to spend their money now head to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk for his approval or veto. If he vetoes any of those bills, the Senate and House of Representatives can return to the Capitol in June to consider veto overrides.

And while it was the final day, it wasn’t the friendliest.

Tempers flared briefly as conservative lawmakers began questioning a provision in the education budget that requires the Oklahoma State Department of Education get permission from lawmakers before declining federal grants.

State Rep. Mark McBride defended the bill from several of his fellow Republicans, saying he has concerns that state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters isn’t applying for grant funding.

Representatives applaud various House staff members Friday at the close of the 2023 Legislative session at the Capitol.

Claremore state Rep. Mark Lepak said that requiring leaders of the House and Senate to sign off whenever the Education Department rejects grant funding violates the separation of powers.

“You’ve got an executive branch function that two legislative officials are exercising authority over,” said Lepak.

As Lepak continued his line of questioning, McBride interrupted.

More:Budget: Lawmakers go head-to-head with Ryan Walters with new federal grant requirement

“Are your questions because your daughter’s on the State Board of Education?” McBride said, referring to Sarah Lepak, who was appointed to the board in February.

McBride’s comment drew jeers and an immediate rebuke from the presiding officer. Despite the row, Senate Bill 36X passed by a vote of 68-21 and now heads to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Blake Stephens looks up Friday at his hat on top of the pile of bills on Sen. Tom Woods desk at the close of the 2023 Legislative session at the Capitol.

Oklahoma Legislature overrides several of Gov. Stitt’s vetoes

Lawmakers also overrode several of the governor’s vetoes, many of which were in the group of 20 bills Stitt rejected as retribution for not promptly adopting his tax cut and education plans.

Notable bills that were vetoed and not overridden by the Legislature include the reauthorization of oversight boards for psychologists, architects, interior designers and chiropractors. Technically, those boards would have one year before having to shut down operations, so lawmakers could come back next session to ensure they continue.

The Legislature could return in 2024 to override vetoes made this session, as well.

More:Lawmakers override Stitt’s vetoes, including OETA legislation

Budget bills sent to governor

Nearly every budget-related bill introduced in the last week of session was advanced to the governor. Some, however, didn’t advance Friday.

House lawmakers adjourned without hearing three bills from the concurrent special session. The special session was called so that the Legislature could override any budget-related vetoes outside of the regular session, so leadership could call everyone back to the Capitol at any point in June for more floor action.

Those bills that weren’t heard by Friday are:

  • Senate Bill 27X, which earmarks $12.5 million to fund community mental health programs approved by voters seven years ago with State Question 781.
  • Senate Bill 11X, which removes the governor’s authority to appoint the director of the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation.
  • Senate Bill 22X, which creates the Oklahoma Museum of Pop Culture Revolving Fund.

The three bills could be addressed by the House as part of the special budget session if it returns to the Capitol next month.

More:Gov. Stitt says he may call a special legislative session. Here’s why

Speaker of the House Charles McCall acknowledges House staff Friday at the close of the 2023 Legislative session at the Capitol.

Senate lawmakers rejected House Bill 1022X, which would have created the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. The office would be responsible for providing training to the Council of Judicial Complaints,conducting surveys, conducting public education efforts and collecting and reviewing data related to judicial performance.

The evaluations would have explored a judge or justice’s integrity, legal knowledge, communication skills, judicial temperament, administrative performance and services to the legal profession.

Senators also rejected House Bill 1026X. That bill would have tied the salary of the governor and other statewide elected officials with judicial salaries. Currently, judicial officers are paid more than the statewide elected officials, so passing the bill could have led to a pay increase at the conclusion of each officials’ term in office.