Details, details: A member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives admitted recently that he gets a “little punchy” about the middle of the session. It’s easy to understand why. More than 3,000 bills have been filed each session in recent years for sessions that last less than four months.
Put another way, on some days it is not unusual for the House and Senate to churn through more bills than their federal counterparts do in a year.
Two major reasons for this are the Oklahoma Constitution’s single-subject clause, which prevents the sort of log-rolling that seems to be the only way Congress gets anything done, and the Oklahoma Legislature’s tradition of micromanaging every aspect of state government.
Almost everything is subject to legislation. For instance:
The margin for documents produced by county clerks is set by statute at a minimum of 1 inch on the top and a half-inch on the sides.
For years, county clerks have wanted to double that. So every year a bill is introduced for that purpose, and every year it fails to make it through the sausage factory on the fourth floor of the Capitol.
This year’s attempt, SB 57, by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, looks like it has a chance.
State law prohibits fences, utility poles, or other structures in state and county rights-of-way. It does not, however, explicitly provide for the removal of such objects from county rights-of-way. So Sen. Jack Stewart, R-Yukon, a former county commissioner, is running a bill to remedy that.
Most folks put off paying taxes as long as they can, but according to Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, some of his constituents would like to pay their property taxes in advance, in multiple installments.
But state law forbids that, and most county treasurers, truth be told, don’t want to mess with the bookkeeping. Nevertheless, Boatman is offering House Bill 2003, which would allow treasurers to accept advance tax payments. The bill has passed the House but hasn’t been heard in a Senate committee.
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Judicial appointment: Tulsa County District Judge Jim Huber was named to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Huber became a special judge in 2019 and a district judge in 2020. He was chief judge of the Family Court Division at the time of his appointment to the appeals court.
Huber was in private practice for 25 years, specializing in employment and commercial litigation.
He succeeds Judge W. Keith Rapp, who retired.
The Court of Civil Appeals consists for 12 judges divided into four panels of three each, with two panels in Tulsa and two in Oklahoma City. Huber is filling one of the Tulsa slots.
Members of the court are chosen by the governor from three finalists submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Trump factor: Oklahoma’s devotion to former President Donald Trump may be cooling just a bit, polling by Oklahoma City-based Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates suggests.
In a survey taken at the end of March, Trump’s overall favorable rating among all Oklahomans was 54%, compared to 66% just before the 2020 election. Unfavorable went from 32% in 2020 to 40% in 2023, making a net swing of 20 percentage points.
According to the survey, Trump remains highly regarded among Oklahoma Republicans — 70% view him favorably — and a majority say they would probably vote for him if the Oklahoma primary were today, but they also seem ready to move on if he’s perceived to be a drag on the party.
Asked if it is more important to nominate someone who can defeat Joe Biden in the 2024 general election or to keep the Republican Party aligned with Trump, only 25% chose the latter.
Under the dome: The Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus came out against House Bill 1397, by Rep. Mark Lepak, which last week moved within a Senate floor vote of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk.
The bill would require the State Department of Education to develop curriculum for an optional civil rights history course that would focus on the period 1954-1968 and the career of Martin Luther King Jr., and particularly his strategy of nonviolence.
Lepak says the course would provide context for current race relations, but opponents say they see it as an attempt to minimize racism and misinterpret King’s career and legacy.
An initiative by state Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, to create an Oklahoma Civil Rights Trail that would include African American and American Indian sites of significance passed the House Tourism Committee and is only a House floor vote away from the governor’s desk.
SB 1040, by Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher, which would allow for electronic voter registration in connection with driver’s license renewal by U.S. citizens, made it through the House Elections and Ethics Commission and is also only a House floor vote away from the governor.
With Oklahoma’s Legislature and governor determined to pass some sort of taxpayer-supported subsidies for private schools, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy reported that a study of such programs in Arizona, Louisiana and Virginia found that the large majority of benefits went to households with more than $200,000 in annual income, while virtually none went to those earning $50,000 or less.
Suiting up: A second lawsuit has been filed against the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services over the incarceration of people with several mental illness.
The Oklahoma Appleseed Foundation filed suit in Tulsa County District Court last week, alleging violation of the state Open Records Act. That follows a March 1 federal lawsuit petition on behalf of four people held in county jails because the state’s only facility for handling such inmates is full with a long waiting list.
Last week’s suit demands that the Department of Mental Health turn over records related to the treatment of mentally ill county jail inmates and disputes the agency’s claim that all such persons are receiving appropriate care.
Next stop: Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony said “evidence of wrongdoing here is growing” after he got the other two commissioners, Todd Hiett and Kim David, to delay action on $3 billion in fuel costs claimed by the state’s two largest electric utilities during the February 2021 cold snap.
Never known for mincing words, Anthony had accused Hiett and David of trying to “sneak through” acceptance of the claims, which ultimately are to be paid by OG&E and PSO customers through a financing instrument devised by the state.
With the vote scheduled for Tuesday delayed, Anthony continued berating his colleagues, especially Hiett, for not investigating allegations of market manipulation by natural gas traders selling fuel for electric generation to PSO and OG&E before accepting the utilities’ expenses as “fair, just, reasonable and prudently incurred.”
“Commissioner Hiett even said he intends to bring these orders forward for approval again soon,” Anthony said in a written statement. “In fact, he answered one of my questions from yesterday: “Is Commissioner Hiett really proposing that this Commission declare some $3 billion of ONG and PSO’s 2021 fuel costs to be ‘prudent’ before his own consultant’s new ‘review’ of those costs has even begun?” Yes, that is exactly what he is proposing. It’s official: We’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”
SNAP decision: Oklahoma will be one of five states to pilot mobile contactless Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program transactions, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced.
Still widely known as food stamps even though the program transitioned from paper coupons to electronic benefits transfer cards 20 years ago, SNAP now wants to make the next technological step. The USDA and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services say accessing accounts through mobile devices will be more secure, a particular issue of late in light of revelations that more than $730,000 in benefits have been stolen from Oklahoma recipients’ accounts recently.
Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Missouri are the other states chosen to test the mobile technology, which is expected to take at least a year to implement fully.
Labor market: Oklahoma non-farm payrolls grew by almost 11,000 workers from January to February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Metro Tulsa employment grew by about 1,500, while Oklahoma City’s soared by 8,000. For the previous 12 months, Oklahoma City and Tulsa accounted for 33,900 of the 43,000 jobs added statewide.
Meetings and events: The Legislative Black Caucus’ annual A.C. Hamlin Dinner will be April 18 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Tamya Cox-Toure, executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, and Sarah Adams-Cornell, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Matriarch and vice president of the Sovereign Community School Board, will be honored as this year’s Oklahoma Democratic Party’s Leading Ladies during an 11:30 a.m. luncheon at the Capitol View Event Center, 5201 N. Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.
The city of Tulsa’s Flood Preparedness Expo will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 2 in the Central Center at Veterans Park, 1028 E. Sixth St.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana will be the keynote speaker for the Oklahoma Republican Party Convention on May 5 at the Renaissance Hotel, 6808 S. 107th East Avenue.
See okgop.com for ticket details.
Bottom lines: Those who think the Oklahoma Legislature operates without rhyme or reason were proved half wrong last week when state Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, read poetry on the House floor in observance of National Poetry Month. … Gov. Kevin Stitt will be Oral Roberts University’s commencement speaker on May 6. … The former Kate Barnard Correctional Facility for women in Oklahoma City, which closed in 2021, has reopened as the Department of Corrections’ training academy. … The Oklahoma Department of Human Services launched a new child care locator at childcarefind.okdhs.org/.
— Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World