BY JOE DORMAN
GRADY COUNTY —
The pace in the Oklahoma Legislature is frantic as members realize that their bills must be brought up for consideration this week, or they will linger for a year before they can be heard. At the end of the day on Monday, there were over 150 bills which could potentially be heard and there will certainly be others added to this schedule. This list does include HB 2228, the bill I filed to allow schools the ability to do comprehensive background checks for volunteers using the OSBI network.
I doubt each bill will be brought to the floor, so House members will add the unheard bills in 2013 to the additional list they will file for consideration in 2014. I will file another eight bills next session, the allowed maximum for House members, and will try to get my three unheard bills in committee from this year discussed next year. One of my bills, HB 2230, the legislation to fund Positive Tomorrows under a state grant program, did pass committee, but has yet to be scheduled for a floor hearing by the House Calendar Committee so it looks like it will be carried over.
There are two bills which were filed in the House to discuss a reduction on income tax collections, and while they have not been discussed yet, I am certain at least one will be heard due to the desire of the Governor to lower the rate by at least a quarter percent. Currently, Oklahoma has an income tax rate at 5.25% and there is a desire to reduce this to either 5%, which is the intent of House Bill 2032 by Speaker TW Shannon, R-Lawton, or 4.99%, as is the action of House Bill 1598 by Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman. These bills will reduce revenue to the state by about $120 million each year, so to balance the budget, there will need to be cuts made on expenditures. Senate proposals encourage the elimination of certain tax credits to regain that revenue, but the House measures simply reduce the amount the state will have to spend on services.
I attached amendments to both of these bills to include a “claw-back” provision in case of declared disasters affecting our state. I have added four different percentage levels which would reinstate part of the existing tax through a formula that would help pay for either the match required of the state to pay for rebuilding and repairing the damages or the ability to assist with an additional allocation. If the legislature and governor truly feel we can operate within the means of the proposed cut, then I would like to have the ability to fund unexpected events which affect Oklahomans due to a disaster. As an example, several years ago, the legislature ran legislation in the final month to help the citizens in Moore recover from the tornado which devastated their area. I will keep you posted on the outcome of my amendments and the proposals as a whole.
Another bill would allow school personnel to have the ability to carry firearms in their schools if authorized by local school boards. House Bill 1062, by Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, would establish a voluntary program for those employed by secondary schools to go through a minimum of 120 hours of training offered through the Council of Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) and an annual minimum of 8 hours to maintain certification. Costs associated with training must be paid for by local school districts and Special Reserve School Resource Officers status would authorize their ability to act in that capacity in any school in Oklahoma, while waiving legal liability in certain instances. I have serious concerns about this legislation and how helpful it will be, so I hope that we have a healthy discussion about what will go into this program. I would prefer to give schools the ability to hire more School Resource Officers, the trained law enforcement officers with knowledge on how to handle a variety of situations in secondary schools, but that is yet to be considered.