Amid Clouds of Bills, the Prevailing Topics for Legislative Session

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State lawmakers will have their hands full dealing with bills to change the state’s education system when Oklahoma’s legislative session begins two weeks from Monday.

More than 10 percent of the 2,171 Senate and House Bills filed before Thursday’s introduction deadline involve school or teacher matters, according to a review of the ballot titles of new filings.

This follows a multi-year trend of education topics consuming a good portion of legislators’ attention during the five-month session; school issues were the top subject of bills filed in 2016 and 2015, an analysis shows.

This year Gov. Mary Fallin has vowed to make teacher pay and broader school reforms a priority.

More than two dozen bills would hike teacher salaries – an issue that gained urgency after the failure of State Question 779 in November, which proposed to increase annual teacher pay by $5,000. Other filings deal with virtual charter schools, school choice and ways to cut costs or consolidate administrative functions.

The 2,171 total bills that made the introduction cutoff this year exceeded the total for 2015, the most recent opening session for a new two-year Legislature, by 138. (Many bills introduced in the first session of a new Legislature are held over to the second year, so comparing odd-numbered years is considered more valid.) More prevalent topics this year are schools and teachers (10 more), crime and punishment (33 more) and income tax (12 more).

Lawmakers filed 36 income tax bills, plus an additional 90 revenue and taxation measures, this year. The state is facing a nearly $900 million budget shortfall and will be looking at a broad range of proposals to fill the gap, including broadening the sales tax base and examining incentives and tax credits.

The rise in criminal justice issues could also signal that lawmakers are not done with sentencing changes following the passage of a pair of state questions that reclassified several drug and property crimes. Fallin has said she will unveil the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force’s recommendations before the session begins.