Breaking Down the Impact of the 2018 Legislative Session

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Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

Members of the House of Representatives meet on the last day of the 2018 session.

The curtain fell Thursday night on the 2018 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, leaving indelible memories of chanting crowds and heated rhetoric.

This spring’s session – as well as the concurrent special session that carried over from last year – was dominated by the teacher walkout and the intense debate over tax increases to pay for teacher raises and to boost public education funding.

But lawmakers’ actions went well beyond those critical issues.

The Legislature, which adjourned more than three weeks before deadline, passed more than 180 bills that will have significant effects on various groups, ranging from children to state retirees. For bills that passed in the final five days of session, Fallin has up to 15 days after adjournment to sign or veto them.

Here’s a look at how different groups will feel the impact of what the Legislature did, and didn’t do.

Taxpayers

The Big Impact: Taxpayers will be paying more for cigarettes and motor fuel thanks to a $420 million revenue-raising bill that passed during the special session. Motor fuel will cost $.03 more per gallon while cigarettes will go up $1 per pack. That bill, which largely pays for teacher, support staff and state employee raises, also raises the gross production tax on oil and gas wells from 2 to 5 percent. That will cost the industry about $170 million a year.

Beyond the Headlines: Lawmakers also passed a bill that prohibits taxpayers from claiming more than $17,000 in itemized deductions on their income taxes. That is expected to raise about $94 million a year. Consumers who make purchases online will also see higher costs. The state expects to receive $20 million a year by requiring larger Internet sellers, such as Amazon, to collect and remit sales taxes from third-party vendors.

Left Behind: House Democrats made repeated attempts to force a vote on a bill that would end the state’s capital gains deduction. The tax break largely benefits high earners and eliminating it could have raised more than $100 million a year. The Legislature also didn’t touch income tax rates despite proposals from both sides of the aisle to add tax brackets. House Republicans blocked a Democrat-led proposal that would have created two new tax brackets for those who make $150,000 a year or more. And a proposal included in the Step Up Oklahoma plan, and endorsed by Fallin, that would have added two new intermediate rates failed to get much traction at the beginning of the session.

The wind industry additionally came out of the session largely unscathed. Proposals that would have created a new gross production tax on wind energy and stopped paying out refunds on tax credits both stalled in the Legislature.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, speaks on the Senate floor on the final day of the 2018 session.

Teachers and Students

The Big Impact: After years of failed attempts to give teachers more money they will receive an across-the-board boost after a tax-increasing revenue package was approved by three-fourths of lawmakers for the first time since 1990. Teachers will see an average increase of $6,000 a year starting in the fall, plus schools will share $52 million for support staff raises, $33 million for textbooks and an additional $17 million for general school funding – bringing the Department of Education’s total budget to $2.4 billion.

Beyond the Headlines: A bill to allow districts to use building funds for teacher pay and operational expenses was approved, and now heads to voters in November as a state question. The change could exacerbate inequities or pressure districts into letting building needs slide in order to fund salaries, and was called “bad fiscal practice” by the OK Policy Institute. But supporters say it increases school districts’ spending flexibility.

Left Behind: Teachers are relieved that a last-minute “union busting” amendment to a bill was scuttled; so was an expansion to the state’s voucher program for special education students, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program. Bills to mandate smaller class sizes and prevent lunch shaming failed to gain traction.

State Employees

The Big Impact: State employees will be getting their first raise in years thanks to a $63.7 million bill passed by the Legislature. The salary bump will increase pay from $700 to $2,000, depending on current salary.

Beyond the Headlines: The Legislature also gave state pensioners a modest boost by approving a bill that will give them a one-time stipend of 2 percent of their annual retirement benefit – or at least $350.

Left Behind: State workers argued the pay increase didn’t go far enough and fell well short of the $7,500 across-the-board increase, spread out over three years, that the Oklahoma Public Employees Association was seeking.

House Democrats also pushed a larger boost for state retirees. They repeatedly tried to force a vote on a bill that would give pensioners in all state plans a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment. But GOP leaders refused to hear the proposal.

The Sick and the Needy

The Big Impact: Because the Legislature added $110 million to the state’s medical schools, fewer patients will lose access to doctors. The federal government in April again denied the state’s attempt to use Medicaid funds for physician training at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University health sciences centers, blowing a hole in the state budget.

Needy Oklahomans who rely on Medicaid will be required to have jobs unless they fall under a list of exemptions. The Legislature sent Fallin a bill to require this, but Fallin began the process herself when she ordered the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to prepare for the requirement.

Beyond the Headlines: More doctors may be inclined to accept Medicaid patients, potentially decreasing wait times and increasing availability because of increases in the fiscal year 2019 budget intended to roll back Oklahoma Health Care Authority provider-rate cuts over the last few years. The near-shutdown of the state Health Department last year led to $2 million for performance audits of the department and other large state agencies.

Left Behind: Oklahomans who support medical marijuana will get the opportunity to vote on it June 26, but lawmakers failed to set up a regulatory framework should the measure pass. Lawmakers considered, but failed to approve, bills to restrict medical marijuana to specific conditions after facing criticism that they were attempting to change a ballot measure before voters even had a chance to approve it. With the federal government’s rejection of the state’s reinsurance waiver request under the Affordable Care Act in September, the Legislature didn’t address the rapidly rising costs of plans on the health insurance exchange.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

A child is seen playing at a lawmaker’s desk on the House floor during the session’s last day, which had the familiar mix of ceremonial tributes to honorees and guests and serious public-policy discussions.

Children

The Big Impact: One of the more contentious bills during the final days of this year’s session was a bill to allow child-adoption services to turn away would-be parents when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.

Supporters said this would ensure many adoption groups will stay in the state with the new assurance they would not face lawsuits for their policies. Others argued that this could hurt adoption placements since it would restrict the number of potential adoptive parents and discriminate against same-sex couples.

Beyond the Headlines: Lawmakers also focused on children in the foster-care system, by more fully funding services required in the Pinnacle Plan. The Legislature also approved a measure that defines a number of rights, including rights to privacy and safety, for children in custody of the Department of Human Services.

Left Behind: A proposed new law would have extended foster care services by allowing teenagers who exited the foster care system when they were 18 to re-enter the system as long as they are under 21 and meet certain criteria.

Offenders and Mentally Ill

The Big Impact:  Fewer Oklahomans will go to prison under a package of criminal justice reform bills that Fallin has signed. The bills will slow, but not eliminate, the growth in the prison population and the need for a new medium-security prison.

The measures impact  a variety of areas, such as reducing sentences for habitual offenders, allowing greater leniency for technical probation violations, and establishing a streamlined parole process for nonviolent offenders.

The number of Oklahomans killed by opioid overdoses could decline because the Legislature passed a number of bills related to opioids (some of which Fallin has signed and some of which await her signature). Doctors now must use electronic prescribing for schedule drugs, potentially reducing diverted prescriptions, and trafficking fentanyl now is a felony. Initial prescriptions for opioids can’t be for longer than seven days. The opioid legislation was the result of recommendations from last year’s Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse.

Beyond the Headlines:   Ex-convicts who were convicted of nonviolent offenses and are trying turn their lives around have direct means of moving beyond their pasts. The Legislature put in place a process to get nonviolent offenses expunged after staying out of trouble for seven years.

The Legislature approved bonds worth $116.5 million for repairs and upgrades of existing prisons.

The Legislature voted to increase reimbursement rates for therapists and other providers who contract with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services by 3 percent, potentially increasing access to drug and alcohol counselors.

Left Behind:  Criminal justice advocates have stressed that the reforms needed are far from finished. A Fallin-appointed task force had recommended more sweeping reforms that would have brought the state’s prison population down to 26,531 in 2025. As of April 30, the state has 27,093 inmates in prison, with another 1,162 in county jails awaiting transfer to prison.

Voters 

The Big Impact: Lawmakers passed a bill that requires a general election for every school district and technology center school district to be conducted on the first Tuesday of April each year. Supporters say this will cut down on voter fatigue and reduce the number of times voters need to go to the polls.

Beyond the Headlines: The Legislature approved a joint resolution to create a state question to allow voters to decide if they want to elect the lieutenant governor and governor on a single ticket.

Left Behind: As in past years, lawmakers declined to hear bills that would automatically register residents to vote instead of requiring prospective voters to do so on their own. Lawmakers also didn’t take up bills to allow online voting or to increase the window when residents can vote early.

Lawmakers did pass legislation making it clear that taking a photo and sharing one’s ballot on social media is not a crime. Fallin, however, vetoed that bill.