58th Legislature adjourns, Oklahoma Republicans tout tax cuts in Fiscal Year ’22 budget, education investment, abortion restriction

Oklahoma Politics
Oklahoma Senate

The Oklahoma State Senate, pictured on March 28, 2018. (KFOR/Bill Miston)

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma’s first regular session of the 58th Legislature adjourned on Thursday and Republican lawmakers are trumpeting the passage of pro-life legislation, tax cuts in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and education measures.

“What a difference a year makes! We prioritized and invested in public education, we delivered tax relief for families and businesses, made significant investments in economic diversification efforts, and managed to put more than $800 million toward the state’s savings. Additionally, we passed pro-life measures to protect life at all stages, increased access to quality health care for Oklahomans, and found ways to modernize government in different areas. It has been a tremendous session and positions Oklahoma for continued growth and success as we emerge from the global pandemic,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law multiple bills to restrict choice and abortion access in Oklahoma.

  • House Bill 2441 bans abortions if an unborn fetus has a detectable heartbeat. If a doctor performs an abortion after a heartbeat is detected, then that doctor could be charged with murder.
  • House Bill 1102 classifies abortion as “unprofessional conduct” by a doctor under Oklahoma statutes and revokes the medical license of doctors who perform abortions deemed not medically necessary to preserve life or prevent irreversible impairment of a patient’s major bodily function.
  • House Bill 1904 mandates that only board-certified obstetricians and gynecologists can perform abortions.
  • Senate Bill 918 restores Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned.
  • Senate Bill 778 and Senate Bill 779 provide safeguards surrounding the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay, who wrote HB 1904, said last month that she hopes the legislation will lower the abortion rate in Oklahoma.

However, Gloria Pedro, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes Regional Manager of Public Policy and Organizing for Arkansas and Oklahoma, said last month that the legislation blocks women from a legal right.

“The legislation that passed today is designed to punish abortion providers, shame women and block access to safe, legal abortion. Politicians should not insert themselves into a person’s private medical decisions about pregnancy or between doctors and their patients,” Pedro said.

Oklahoma Capitol
Oklahoma Capitol

Senate Republicans said with the conservative shift in the U.S. Supreme Court, some of these bills are meant to challenge national abortion laws.

“It’s not just Oklahoma fighting for the lives of the unborn, there are plenty of other states introducing similar legislation, but ultimately we see some of these bill before the Supreme Court, I believe,” said Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow.

But Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, said “Oklahomans can be pro-life without violating the privacy, dignity and moral agency of women, but all the bills we’ve seen today violate the privacy, dignity and moral agency of women.”

Stitt signed the Fiscal Year 2022 budget earlier this week on May 24.

House Bill 2900 authorizes $9.06 billion in spending for Fiscal Year 2022, which begins July 1, 2021.

The new budget does the following:

  • Increases common education funding by $171.6 million, or 6%, to a record high of nearly $3.2 billion.
  • Replenishes state savings account by more than $800 million to a total of $1.3 billion – a record among of savings for Oklahoma.
  • Funds expanded Medicaid for low-income Oklahomans.

“That tax relief needs to happen this year. When people and businesses have more in their pockets, they spend it; they invest, they hire more people,” said Rep. Charles McCall, Speaker of the House, R-District 22, said last week.

But Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said there’s no evidence lowering corporate taxes brings or retains business in Oklahoma.

Kirt said the tax cuts will amount to $280 million less in this years budget. She referenced the teacher walkout and the need for more state funds.

Image of Kevin Stitt
Gov. Kevin Stitt signs education reform bills.

Stitt also signed education bills into law in late March that would change the state’s funding formula and expand the time students can transfer districts, while allowing districts to deny a transfer.

House Bill 2078, according to the bill’s summary, is a school funding bill relating to state aid. Senate Bill 783 relates to the Education Open Transfer Act. HB 2078 does the following:

  • Modifies how initial allocation of state aid is calculated;
  • Adjusts years of data to be used in calculating average daily membership;
  • Modifies the July calculation of per pupil revenue;
  • Revises calculation for Foundation Aid;
  • Alters calculation for Salary Incentive Aid;
  • Increases percentages of allowable general fund carryover;
  • Prohibits assessment of carryover penalty in certain fiscal years;
  • Adjusts weighted calculations for weighted average daily membership;
  • Revises July and December calculations for projected per pupil revenue;
  • Provides an effective date;
  • Provides for conditional effect.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister praised SB 783 but blasted HB 2078 in the following statement:

“Today marks one step forward and two steps back for public education. While Senate Bill 783 holds real promise for many families and students, House Bill 2078 unfortunately compromises any gains that would come with open transfers.

Children in rural Oklahoma deserve to have a high quality education and HB 2078 potentially jeopardizes that. This bill removes financial safeguards meant to protect all students from the impact of abrupt changes in the local economy. Kids will lose when schools are forced to make sudden cuts in essential services and opportunities which provide access to a well-rounded education.”

JOY HOFMEISTER, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION

Treat issued a news release listing the following as highlights of the 58th Legislature:

  • Fiscal Year 2022 state budget, which cut taxes, saved $800 million, and included $210 million in additional funding for public education.
    • Reducing the personal income tax rate to 4.75 percent from 5 percent
    • Reducing the corporate income tax rate to 4 percent from 6 percent
    • Increasing the Equal Opportunity Scholarship program caps to $50 million ($25 million for public schools/$25 million for private schools) (SB 1080, Treat)
    • More than $15.5 million for rural infrastructure projects
    • $9.9 million for the creation of a children’s mental health unit at OU Health.
    • $10 million in funding for the Attorney General’s Office to fight federal overreach (HB 1236, Treat), represent the state in legal issues related to McGirt, and investigate and monitor land purchases in Oklahoma by foreign nationals.
    • $30 million for a film tax incentive to spur more projects and investment.
    • $42 million in incentives for the expansion of broadband service in underserved and unserved areas statewide.
    • $35 million in economic development funding to recruit new jobs.
    • Restoration of the Earned Income Tax Credit refundability, which provides tax relief to low- and moderate-income working families.
  • Renewal of the Open Meeting Act pandemic exemptions (SB 1031, Treat)
  • Gave parents the ability to seek the right educational opportunity for their student by updating the Education Open Transfer Act (SB 783, Pugh)
  • Ensured education dollars follow the student and gave schools more flexibility in using carryover funding (HB 2078, Taylor).
  • Modernized and reformed the state’s civil service system (HB 1146, Treat)
  • Protected the sanctity of life through pro-life reforms
    • Restoring Oklahoma’s prohibition on abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned (SB 918, Treat)
    • Adding performance of an abortion under state statutes for “unprofessional conduct,” with exceptions for the life or significant physical impairment of the mother. (HB 1102, Daniels)
    • Requiring abortionists to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology (HB 1904, Garvin)
    • Prohibiting an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, (HB 2441, Daniels)
    • Providing safeguards surrounding the use of abortion-inducing drugs, (SB 778 and SB 779, Daniels).
  • Made Oklahoma a Second Amendment Sanctuary State (SB 631, Hamilton)
  • Updated the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act to ensure religious institutions cannot be deemed “non-essential.” (SB 368/HB 2648 Bullard)
  • Prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in Oklahoma schools (HB 1775, Bullard)
  • Protected Oklahoma ratepayers by securitizing $4.5 billion in unexpected utility bills after the February winter storm. (SB 1049, SB 1050, Thompson)
  • Provided a long-term funding solution for provider rates by incrementally increasing the Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP)
  • Passed a Senate redistricting plan with strong bipartisan support that incorporated input solicited from the public during an open and transparent redistricting process.
  • Stabilized increasing Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funds to protect providers during future potential decreases in federal assistance.

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