Oklahoma lawmakers closed this year’s legislative session this week after spending four months debating and voting on bills that will have lasting impacts.

Here’s a look at how different segments of Oklahoma’s population will feel the impact of some bills that the Legislature passed, or didn’t pass.

Taxpayers

The Big Impact: All Oklahomans will see their personal state income taxes go down slightly due to House Bill 2962. The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2022, cuts individual income tax rates by 0.25%, by lowering the top rate from 5% to 4.75%.

It also restores the refundability of the earned income tax credit. The credit, which had resulted in an average refund of $121 per household for the 200,000 Oklahomans with low-to-moderate income, was a casualty of the Legislature’s 2016 cost-cutting moves.

The state estimates these two moves will cost the state $83 million this fiscal year and about $236 million each full year after that.

Also in the Headlines: Corporations and other business entities will also see their state taxes drop starting in 2022. House Bill 2960 will reduce the state’s corporate income tax from 6% to 4%, resulting in a loss of about $48.5 million in revenue this fiscal year and $110 million each full year after that.

Left Behind: Oklahoma Democrats hoped Republicans would also agree to eliminate the state’s tax on groceries, something that costs Oklahomans $257 million a year. But the GOP-led Legislature refused to hear those bills.

Teachers, Students and Parents

Fernando Rojas, a senior at Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City, paints at his desk on May 11, 2021. The school returned to in-person learning in April after the Coronavirus pandemic caused the school to go virtual. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The Big Impact: The budget increases common education funding by 6%, or $171.8 million. The money, according to lawmakers, will be used to reduce class size for kindergarten and first grade.

Senate Bill 1080, meanwhile, raises the amount of tax credits available for the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships program to $50 million, with $25 million for public schools and $25 million for private schools

Also in the Headlines: There was also movement in how the state funds its common education system.

House Bill 2078 will base state aid funding on the current year or previous year’s student count, eliminating a provision allowing districts to use two years prior. It also temporarily eliminates the cap on funds districts can carry over from year to year.

The new law represents another victory for those who subscribe to the philosophy that education funding should “follow the student.” But many school leaders, including State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, opposed it on concerns it will leave school districts more vulnerable to sudden changes in the local economy.

Left Behind: Although K-12 common education will see a funding boost, it wasn’t enough for many Democratic lawmakers.

The Democratic House Caucus, for example, put out their own budget plan that would’ve increased the State Department of Education’s budget by nearly $500 million. This would have included a $200 million addition to the state aid formula, pay raises for support staff and extra money for bonuses, internships and employment incentives.

Doctors, Patients and the Uninsured

Janene Stewart, director of operations at Norman Regional Hospital, administers a COVID-19 vaccine in Norman on the day teachers and adults with comorbidities became eligible to receive the vaccines. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The Big Impact: Last year, voters approved State Question 802, which created a constitutional amendment requiring the state to expand health coverage to an estimated 200,000 Oklahomans.

Unlike in neighboring Missouri, where a similarly approved state question is being held up by that state’s GOP governor and Legislature, Oklahoma lawmakers found the money to launch the expansion.

Lawmakers said they will pay the state’s $164-million-a-year portion (the federal government picks up 90% of the costs) by utilizing enhanced Medicaid rates that were triggered by the pandemic, a recently passed extra cash incentive for states to accept the expansion and a provider fee from hospitals.

Also in the Headlines: There’s good news for patients who prefer — or can only — see their physicians through virtual visits.  

Senate Bill 674, which won bipartisan approval this year, creates parity between virtual and in-person health care. This means patients and providers will have equal access to and funding for telehealth visits compared to in-person visits.

According to the Oklahoma Hospital Association, which also backed the bill, Oklahoma is now one of only 10 states with this type of law.

Left Behind: Efforts among some lawmakers to stop Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to privatize the state’s Medicaid program through a managed-care model ultimately came up short.

Although lawmakers failed to pass a bill to stop the governor from outsourcing management of the state’s Medicaid system to for-profit private companies, they did pass a measure to add restrictions on what he can do.

Voters

Poll worker Joyce Mayo shows voter Akeia Harrison, 20, that her ballot was counted at the Church of the Redeemer in Oklahoma City, which hosted voters from one of the bluest precincts in the state on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The Big Impact: Oklahoma was one of the few Republican states to expand, rather than restrict, voting this year.

House Bill 2663 adds an extra day of early voting for presidential elections. The move will cost the state $40,000 per election and county election boards will see higher costs as well.

Also in the Headlines: While it may be easier to vote, there are a couple new challenges for citizens trying to get a state question on the ballot.

House Bill 2564 would trigger automatic recounts when the results are within 0.5% of total votes cast for a statutory state question and when the results are within 1% for state questions that would amend Oklahoma’s constitution.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 947, would require citizen-initiatives to disclose if the proposal includes a cost and, if so, indicate how it would be funded.

Left Behind: Similar to past years, most proposals to expand or make voting easier failed after failing to make committee deadlines.

This includes bills that would’ve ended straight-ticket voting, required the state to speed up a project to allow Oklahomans to register to vote electronics and set up an automatic voter registration system.   

Police, Protestors and Inmates

Oklahoma City Latino residents show support during a Black Lives Matter protest on May 31, 2020. (Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch)

The Big Impact: It’s not clear how big of an impact it will actually have, but Oklahoma’s new law that protects motorists who hurt or kill rioters drew national headlines as was panned by Democrats and other groups.  

Also in the Headlines: Senate Bill 456 would increase the number of state inmates eligible for early release under the Department of Corrections GPS monitoring program. It would also make many nonviolent offenders, regardless of their initial security classification or sentence, eligible for GPS monitoring if they have three years or less remaining on their sentence

Left Behind: As protests over George Floyd’s murder in police custody spread last spring, state legislative leaders told Oklahoma Watch that the Legislature had not adequately considered racial injustice issues and would be open to discussions about police reform.

Nearly a year later, very few bills that would address racial issues or hold police more accountable were considered and almost none passed.

This includes bills that would have banned law enforcement use of chokeholds and created a statewide database of police officers who were fired or resigned before facing disciplinary action.


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