After a month of work, state lawmakers have passed the 2021 session’s first major legislative deadline. 

Thursday was the deadline for bills to pass out of committee in their originating chamber. Of the record-setting more than 3,000 pieces of legislation filed at the start of the year, hundreds remain alive. 

Legislative leaders have various tools to revive once-thought-dead legislation or introduce new measures after this and other deadlines. But for most rank-and-file members, if their bill didn’t pass a committee vote by now, it will have to wait until next year or never at all. 

Here’s a look at some of the most high-profile or controversial bills that remain: 

Phasing Out the Corporate Tax

House Bill 2083

Author: Speaker Charles McCall, Atoka

House Speaker Charles McCall

What it Proposes: It would eliminate the state’s corporate income tax over a five-year period, including a 20% reduction in the next fiscal year. This would result in a $64 million loss in revenue during the first year and almost $325 million annually when fully phased in

Why it Matters: Proposals to revamp Oklahoma’s tax policies frequently are met with controversy in the Legislature. Although conservatives want to minimize the burden on taxpayers, Democrats are warning that this could leave the state more vulnerable during budget shortfalls.

Status: Passed 7-2 out of the House Rules Committee. It’s now eligible for a House floor vote.  

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Challenging Federal Laws

House Bill 1236

Author: Speaker Charles McCall, Atoka

What it Proposes: It would allow the Legislature to review any federal executive order or law to determine whether it is constitutional. It also lets the Legislature recommend that the state attorney general review any federal action. 

Why it Matters: After four years with a Republican holding the presidency, lawmakers are looking to position themselves to challenge federal actions now that Joe Biden has taken office and Democrats hold majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. Democrats, who opposed the bill on a party-line vote, argue this will lead to Oklahoma initiating costly lawsuits that are unlikely to prevail. 

Status: Passed 79-18 on the House Floor. It’s now eligible to be heard in a Senate committee.  

School Open Transfer Changes

House Bill 2074 

Author: Speaker Charles McCall, Atoka

What it Proposes: It would make it easier for families to transfer students to a different school district. Among the specific changes, districts no longer would be able to reject requests to move if a student hasn’t transferred more than twice in a year. 

Why it Matters: Gov. Kevin Stitt highlighted the proposal during his State of the State address when he talked about students wanting to transfer so they could continue in-person learning. Although supporters say it gives families more choices, most House Democrats opposed saying it could drive students away from poor-performing districts and, in turn, exacerbate their funding problems. 

Status: Passed 77-22 on the House Floor. It’s now eligible to be heard in a Senate committee.  

‘Ghost Students’ and School Funding

House Bill 2078

Author: Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow

State Rep. Kyle Hilbert

What it Proposes: It requires a district to use its weighted average daily membership from the preceding school year to calculate its initial state aid allocation. Currently, a district can use the higher daily membership of the preceding two school years.

Why it Matters: School funding also has frequently been a challenging and controversial subject in the Legislature. Bill supporters, including the governor, say the current model allows for what Stitt called “ghost students” in his State of the State speech. But others have pointed out that the current model helps districts avoid abruptly laying off staff when enrollment dips unexpectedly like it did in most school districts this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Status: Passed 68-30 on the House Floor. It’s now eligible to be heard in a Senate committee.  

Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, asks a question during a meeting of the Public Safety Committee on Feb. 22, 2021. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

Sentencing Reform Sees Another Chance

Senate Bill 704 

Sponsor: Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa 

State Sen. Dave Rader

What it Proposed: This bill would prohibit courts from imposing sentence enhancements on certain offenders who have never been convicted of a violent felony. 

Why it Matters: The proposal is similar to State Question 805, which voters rejected last fall. But the legislation would remove what some saw as one of the key sticking points of the state question: It would not amend the state constitution and would ensure several crimes, including domestic violence offenses, remain eligible for sentence enhancement.

Status: Passed 7-4 in the Senate Committee on Public Safety. It now is eligible for a Senate floor vote. 

Lawmakers Look to Restrict Abortions

Senate Bill 612

Sponsor: Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow 

Sen. Nathan Dahm

What it Proposed: It would criminalize any abortion performed in the state except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.

Why it Matters: On a bipartisan vote, lawmakers rejected a more far-reaching bill that would criminalized abortions under any circumstance. But this is one of at least four bills still alive that would further restrict abortions in the state. Similar to almost every other year when these type of bill come up, Democrats say the GOP-led efforts to criminalize abortion will be found unconstitutional. 

Status: Passed 7-3 in the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. It now is eligible for a Senate floor vote. 

Efforts Seek to Tighten Protest-related Penalties

Senate Bill 806

Sponsor: Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore

State Sen. Darrell Weaver

What it Proposed: It would increase penalties for protestors who remain present after lawfully being told to disperse. It also increases penalties for assaulting law enforcement officers and purposely blocking traffic. A legislative fiscal note says it could result in an increase in the state’s prison population, but it doesn’t predict how much. 

Why it Matters: Lawmakers in several GOP-led states, including Oklahoma, are looking to create harsher penalties in wake of the nationwide civil right protests that followed after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, a black man, last year. 

Status: Passed 16-4 in the Senate Appropriations. It now is eligible for a Senate floor vote. 

Bill Would Increase Tax on Vaping

House Bill 2876

Sponsor: Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston

State Rep. Kevin Wallace

What it Proposed: It would create a tax of $0.10 per milliliter on all e-liquid imported or manufactured, for sale, use or distribution, or used or possessed in Oklahoma.

Why it Matters: The state predicts that this will bring in over $700,000 for the upcoming fiscal year and $1.7 million in the next year. As one of the only revenue-raising proposals that has advanced, it would require a three-fourths majority to be passed in both chambers. 

Status: Passed 16-12 in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. It is now eligible for a House floor vote. 

Giving More State Control Over Health Boards

House Bill 2504

Sponsor: Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City

State Rep. Chris Kannady

What it Proposed: It would give the state more control over Tulsa and Oklahoma City’s county health departments. This includes giving the state health commissioner authority to appoint a member to each of the boards of the two county health departments. 

Why it Matters: Supporters say there wasn’t enough coordination in the COVID-19 response between the state and local health departments. But Oklahoma and Tulsa health officials say this move would strip them of their autonomy. 

Status: Passed 16-12 in the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. It is now eligible for a House floor vote. 

Blocking Courts From Stopping Evictions

House Bill 1564

Sponsor: Rep. Tom Gann, R-Inola

State Rep. Tom Gann

What it Proposed: It would prohibit courts from blocking evictions or extending a lease, even during a pandemic or other health emergency. 

Why it Matters: Evictions for certain people who qualify under a Centers for Disease Control’s eviction mortarium were put on hold last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters of the bill say this will help protect landlords from tenants who don’t pay their rent, but opponents say it will endanger people when they are the most vulnerable.  

Status: Passed 8-3 in the House Business and Commerce Committee. It is now eligible for a House floor vote.  

Correction: This article originally misstated how many votes are needed to pass a revenue-raising measure. It requires a three-fourths majority in both chambers.

Trevor Brown has been an Oklahoma Watch reporter since 2016. He covers politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at tbrown@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc

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