301.519.9237 exdirector@nesaus.org

1.17.21 – The Lawton Constitution – Oklahoma City

State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has filed legislation to give Oklahomans civil recourse when social media platforms unfairly target posts or accounts for their political or religious speech. Standridge, in a press release, said Senate Bill 383 is aimed at ensuring such speech is treated fairly.

Under SB 383, the owner or operator of a social media website that contracts with users in the state could be sued if the social media website purposely deletes or censors a social media website user’s political or religious speech, or uses an algorithm to suppress such speech. Users would be able to seek damages of a minimum of $75,000 per intentional deletion or censoring of that user’s speech, along with actual damages and punitive damages if aggravating factors are present. The prevailing party may also be awarded costs and reasonable attorney fees.

The bill would not apply to calls for immediate acts of violence or posts that entice criminal conduct or were the result of an operational error. It would also exempt posts that came from an inauthentic source or involved false impersonation or involved minors bullying minors. The website would not be liable under the bill for an individual user’s censoring of the speech of another user.

Resolution targets equitable funding of public schools

OKLAHOMA CITY — Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, has filed legislation to allow Oklahoma voters to raise the standard for public school funding in the state constitution.

Senate Joint Resolution 9 would create a state question to require the legislature to “make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient and equitable system of free public schools”. This would replace current constitutional language mandating the legislature to “establish and maintain a system of free public schools.”

“I’ve filed SJR 9 to solidify in our constitution the highest standard of public schools for our families and future Oklahomans. By adding the words ‘efficient and equitable’ to the constitution, the standards are elevated to ensure equitable state funding of all schools in every zip code,” Boren said. “For too long, the legislature has ignored the financial needs of our state’s public schools to the detriment of Oklahoma’s students, especially those living in areas with lower property values. Since 1990 when the historic education reforms and funding increases in HB 1017 were enacted, special interests have succeeded in shifting the state burden to local taxpayers, which has defunded public schools in many communities, and eroded the equity in our schools.”

Bill would exempt military retirement from income taxes

OKLAHOMA CITY — While Oklahoma has one of the highest active and retired military populations in the nation, it has been ranked as one of the least tax-friendly states for military retirees.

Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, believes one way to help make Oklahoma more attractive to military veterans is to eliminate the income tax on their retirement. With Senate Bill 401, Oklahoma would join 30 other states in exempting military retirement from state income tax.

“A majority of states already exempt military retirement from state income, and if Oklahoma wants to truly be a pro-veteran and military-friendly state, we need to stop taxing the pensions of these brave men and women,” Pugh said in a press release.

Currently, retired service members in Oklahoma may deduct the greater of $10,000 or 75% of their retirement income from state income tax.

While nine states have no income tax including Texas, 21 others have exempted military retirement pay from state income taxes–among those are bordering states Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri. The only other states in the region to tax military pensions are New Mexico and Colorado.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA), Oklahoma is home to more than 36,000 retired veterans.

Pugh, a strong advocate for workforce development and licensing reform, said this would be a great opportunity to bring in more highly qualified professionals in critical, much-needed industries.

In November, Kiplinger ranked Oklahoma as being the eighth worst tax-friendly state for military retirees in the nation behind California, Vermont, Washington, D.C., Arizona, Montana and New Mexico.

Trio of voter registration, participation bills filed

OKLAHOMA CITY — On the heels of record voter turnout nationally for the 2020 election, Oklahoma ranked last in the country in voter turnout rate. To combat this statistic, Sen. Julia Kirt filed a trio of election bills to boost voter registration and participation in the state.

“While our 2020 election turnout was higher than four years ago, only 55 percent of Oklahoma’s 2.85 million voting-eligible citizens cast a ballot last year, far below the national average of 66.4 percent,” said Kirt, D-Oklahoma City. “Unfortunately, last year is typical as our state’s voter registration and participation has been far below the national average for more than 30 years.”

Senate Bill 103 would allow absentee voters who are unable to vote in person because of a physical incapacity, or their designee, to hand-deliver their sealed ballot to their county election board. Currently, absentee ballots for these groups can only be accepted via mail. Under the measure, hand-delivered ballots would still be due by the end of business hours the day before Election Day.

SB 205 would implement a process for automatic voter registration when an eligible voter gets a state driver’s license or ID, building on the partnership of the State Election Board and the Department of Public Safety (DPS) for verifying individuals. The measure would direct DPS to provide electronic records of each person who is a qualified voter, or who will be a qualified voter within the next two years. The records would be forwarded to the applicable county election board in which the person may be registered or pre-registered to vote. Citizens could opt out if they did not want to register.

The final bill, SB 77, would require the State Election Board to establish a website to allow Oklahomans to register to vote online by Dec. 31, 2021. Kirt ran the measure during the 2020 legislative session, but it was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortened legislative session.

“Upgrades to Department of Public Safety systems has given the state access to real-time data to verify voter identity. This should give us the confidence to implement online registrations as soon as possible.”

Legislation would require online access to legal, government meeting notices

OKLAHOMA CITY — Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, has filed legislation to improve transparency and access to legal and government meeting notices. Senate Bill 254 would require legal notices and meeting notices of government proceedings to be published online.

Bullard said the 2020 Oklahoma Supreme Court case, Purcell v. Parker, which established the need for additional notification besides in a printed newspaper to suffice as proper public notice, was just one example of why the new law is needed.

“This state Supreme Court case and situations at various levels of government have made it apparent that online notification is necessary to properly inform citizens of public meetings and legal notices,” Bullard said. “We live in a digital age where very few people subscribe to print newspapers, instead getting their information off the internet. This change will allow more citizens to stay up to date and involved with their local governments and other legal matters.”

The bill may be considered once the legislative session begins in February.

— Compiled from Oklahoma Senate press releases