Saturday, 29 February 2020 00:02

Capitol Comments by Senator Mark Allen Featured

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The first major deadline of the 2020 legislative session has come to a close. All Senate bills must have been heard in committee by February 27th in order to be considered this year. I had seven bills pass through committee that now move to the full Senate for a vote.

Senate Bill 1210 would modify the school attendance law to allow students that are absent from school but completing assigned instructional activities or engaging in online curriculum or programs to be counted as present. Education is continually changing, and student engagement can no longer be defined as sitting in a seat. Based on current attendance policies from the State Department of Education, a student could be considered “chronically absent” by the state, but still meet local policies to receive class credit. This results in schools being unfairly penalized on their A-F report card with low marks for absenteeism, which reduces the overall school grade. This measure would allow students completing their class work outside of school to be counted as “in attendance,” lessening the chronic absenteeism burden for our school districts.

Senate Bill 1225 would bring Oklahoma law in line with current “Call Okie 811” practices by limiting locate tickets to a maximum linear distance of 500 feet per ticket in incorporated areas and one mile in unincorporated areas. Defining the ticket scope limit would reduce risk for our facilities and decrease gas operator costs, providing savings to rate payers. 

The Senate Energy Committee passed Senate Bill 1226, which would modify the term “pollution prevention” to include any practice that eliminates a hazard at the source, as well as modify production processes, promote the use of nontoxic or less toxic substances, implement conservation techniques and reusing materials. This measure is a request from Waste Management, and it would also allow for certain information to be provided to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, including information created by the Oklahoma Environmental, Health and Safety Audit Act. It would also update the definition of pollution prevention, promote the use of less toxic or non-toxic substances, and would specify that certain advisory councils are involved in pollution prevention programs.

Senate Bill 1369 removes the eight-mile limit imposed on bids for road construction projects. Current law only allows bids to be placed in eight-mile increments for road projects greater than 8 miles. Removing this regulation would streamline bid projects and create efficiencies for this process.

Senate Bill 1163 sets a 30-day time limit from notification for the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey to relocate artifacts found on private property after a flood. This would reduce timeline uncertainty for property owners when an artifact is found.

Finally, Senate Bill 1888 would allow the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to modernize the way they communicate with their contractors by allowing electronic signatures. Technology has evolved and our processes should too, so we are up to date with the times.

Additionally, I am the co-author for a measure that would modify the calculation of the sales tax applied to vehicles. Senate Bill 1619 states if the purchase of a vehicle includes a trade-in, the applicable tax should only be calculated from the difference between the value of the trade and the actual purchase price of the vehicle being purchased. This legislation would put money back into consumer pockets when buying a vehicle.

All seven of these bills now head to the Senate floor for consideration. If passed by the Senate, the bills must be approved by the House in order to make it to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

I also filed two pieces of legislation that did not receive a committee hearing, meaning they are not moving forward this year. I do want to share these bills with you, though, because they would further regulate the poultry industry, which you all know is a hot topic in District 4.

Senate Bill 1775 creates the Oklahoma Industrial Poultry Operations Act, which would have directed industrial poultry operations to utilize closed ventilation systems and limit these facilities to one per 20 acres. It also would have established that a facility may not be located within one and a half miles of any public school. Senate Bill 1776 would have required all animal feeding operations to comply with the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Although these bills cannot move forward this year, I will continue to advocate for meaningful legislation that will further regulate the poultry industry. 

The Board of Equalization recently certified the final figures for the fiscal year 2021 budget. We have approximately $8.2 billion to appropriate to the more than 60 state agencies that rely on state funds to operate. This is $85.5 million less than we had to appropriate last year, or a decrease of one percent. Low natural gas prices are the key driver in this lower budget figure.

The Senate has heard all agency requests, which always exceed the revenue available to spend. Oklahoma is a balanced budget state, meaning we constitutionally cannot spend more money than what is available. We are working to develop a list of priorities for the 2021 budget and will continue to look for efficiencies within our agencies to help make your taxpayer dollars go further. Due to the fiscal responsibility displayed by the legislature last year, we have $1 billion in our savings accounts, which has put our state budget on firmer footing this time around.

Health care continues to be a major topic of discussion at the Capitol this year. The Senate is working with the House and the governor to expand health care access to roughly 200,000 low-income Oklahomans. It’s very important to maintain maximum flexibility so the legislature can make adjustments to the Medicaid program moving forward. I am hopeful Governor Stitt’s Soonercare 2.0 plan will expand access to health care while taking a more conservative approach. His plan could be implemented as early as July 1, 2020. I will keep you updated as more details emerge.

Thank you for allowing me to be your voice at the State Capitol. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns as we work our way through the legislative process. You can reach me or my executive assistant, Sarah Sands, at 405-521-5576. Come see us in room 234 if you are visiting the Capitol.

 

MAKE IT COUNT OKLAHOMA! Census Day is April 1 and Oklahoma needs a full count. An undercount in the census of just 2 percent can cost the state $1.8 billion in lost federal money over the next 10 years. Fill out your census form, Oklahoma. Learn more at: www.2020census.gov.

 

David Deaton

Digital Editor at Oklahoma Welcome

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