OKLAHOMA CITY – In the midst of a budget crisis across Oklahoma, all eyes were on the Legislature to find a solution to the $1.3 billion shortfall.
Between the stress of state budget cuts and a series of controversial bills, Oklahoma lawmakers were heavily criticized last session.
In fact, their decisions made national headlines.
‘Oklahoma Makes the Poor Poorer‘ was the headline of an editorial in the New York Times in May. It criticized the Oklahoma Legislature for targeting the working poor by cutting the earned income tax credit but keeping hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for oil and gas companies and focusing on social issues, like the transgender bathroom bill.
A Washington Post article pointed out that while many of Oklahoma schools were suffering because of the budget crunch, lawmakers focused on criminalizing abortion and trying to impeach President Obama.
“There’s a pretty big disconnect between a lot of the members of the Legislature and the people on the ground,” Kendra Horn, Executive Director of Sally’s List, told NewsChannel 4 in May.
Even lawmakers criticized the decisions of their colleagues.
“It’s a political distraction. We still don’t have a budget, we have almost a billion and a half shortfall, and instead of working on the budget today, we worked on this issue,”John Sparks, Democratic floor leader, said regarding a resolution that calls for the impeachment of President Obama.
“My point [to the Legislature] is that ‘You’re wasting the people’s time.’ I sit here every session and look at hundreds of bills that do nothing to fix the problems of the state,” Chris Shoaf, an activist for the LGBT community, said.
At the end of the day, lawmakers are responsible for representing the will of their people, but many voters say they aren’t sure exactly how their legislators voted.
NewsChannel 4 spent months pouring over bills and selected 33 to analyze how each lawmaker voted.
SB 1380 modified the requirements for high school graduates, modifying what is considered a laboratory science. It also reduced the number of Arts units needed to graduate.
SB 359 created the Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Program, which allowed law enforcement agencies to use automatic license plate readers to analyze whether a driver had valid insurance before even being pulled over.
HB 2929 would implement fines against employers for violating labor laws, like not properly paying employees. “In addition, the employer will be required to pay all back pay found to be owed to the employee. The Dept. of Labor in turn, may keep and amount equal to 25% of the back pay owed to the employee to be deposited into the Dept. of Labor Revolving Fund.”
SB 424 would allow the sale of beer on the premises of breweries.
SB 1602 modified the requirements for the executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs and the Director of Corrections. It removed language that required work experience and a requirement of a Master’s degree. The bill was written after it was learned that two interim directors were not qualified to hold their positions under the past requirements.
SB 1606 eliminates an income tax deduction that allows Oklahoma taxpayers to deduct state income tax they claim on their federal income tax return from their state return.
SB 1577 capped a tax incentive for at-risk oil and gas leases at $12.5 million. It is expected to save the state more than $100 million.
SB 1605 eliminated the child care tax credit, which allowed child care services to apply for a income tax credit worth 20% of eligible expenses. It is expected to save the state $129,000.
HB 2797 creates the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act, requiring the Oklahoma Department of Health to create certain materials to be given to the Department of Education “for the purpose of achieving an abortion-free society.”
HB 2398 closed a loophole on a law that gained national attention after a judge ruled that because a teenage girl was unconscious when she was sexually assaulted, no laws were broken. The bill changed the meaning of “force” to mean that any force necessary to sexually assault someone without their consent.
HB 3016 required health care providers to give parents a list of benefits and risks associated with vaccines before administering any vaccines to children.
HB 2275 requires that every person over 18 who is arrested for a felony must submit to DNA testing, even before being officially charged or convicted of a crime. The bill states that a person’s DNA will be expunged if they are not charged.
HB 2599 prohibits anyone for flying a drone over a critical infrastructure facility if the drone is less than 400 feet in the air.
HB 2757 provides that court-ordered past-due child support payments will not accrue interest and modifies the factors that go into calculating the income of a parent who owes child support.
HB 2962 requires that insurance companies cover the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children younger than 9-years-old. If the child isn’t diagnosed or doesn’t receive treatment until after they are 3-years-old, they would be eligible for at least six years of benefits as long as their conditions improved.
SB 1308 creates the Zero Emission Tax Credit Transparency Act, which requires facilities to submit a series of reports every 47 days to obtain the tax credit.
SB 1113 allows Oklahomans whose assets have been unjustly seized by law enforcement agencies to recover attorney fees and litigation costs. In the past, lawmakers says some individuals who felt their assets were unjustly seized may not have fought to get them back because they couldn’t afford a lawyer.
SB 58 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act and orders some fees from DUIs go toward the implementation of a statewide impaired driving database.
SB 1264 directs each school district to submit quarterly statements of money that is spent to the State Department of Education, who will then submit those statements to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
HB 2555 provides that a person who has a third or fourth DUI conviction to participate in an assessment and evaluation for treatment.
SB 383 creates the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, which reformed some liquor laws and allowed for package stores to begin selling chilled beer and wine after Oct. 1, 2018.
SB 694 required the Department of Human Services to continue to fund certain programs in the midst of the budget crisis.
SB 1036 allows that certain school district personnel who carry a firearm on campus are exempt from the Open Records Act, meaning that their names may be kept confidential.
SB 1603 limits the time period when contractors can obtain a tax credit for the construction of energy efficient residential properties.
SJR 72 would allow Oklahoma voters to decide whether they want to repeal part of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits public money and property for being used for religious purposes.
HB 2443 extends the time an initial sentence can be modified or reduced.
HB 3128 creates the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit the performance of an abortion due to a diagnosis of Down Syndrome or a genetic abnormality of an unborn child. It also allows for civil action to be brought against the pregnant woman if an abortion is performed.
HB 2665 would eliminate Medicaid eligibility for nonpregnant able-bodied adults under the age of 65. The author of the bill admitted that it would hit single parents the hardest and the federal government would probably not approve the waiver needed to implement the change.
SJR 68 would allow voters to decide whether to allow single strength beer and wine to be sold in places other than liquor stores, like convenience stores.