With nine weeks to go until the sine die adjournment of the legislative session, the clock is ticking for Oklahoma lawmakers to advance bills to the governor’s desk and craft a state budget proposal. 

Thursday, March 23 was the cut-off date for bills to pass off the floor in their chamber of origin. Aware of the deadline looming, lawmakers spent most of the week on the House and Senate floors whittling down hundreds of proposals. 

That isn’t always an efficient process. Last Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers sparred over Senate Bill 669 from Sen. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, for about 90 minutes. The bill would allow undocumented workers who pay state taxes to obtain an Oklahoma driver’s license. After some Republican lawmakers raised concerns that non-U.S. citizens could use the license to register to vote, Brooks agreed to defer the vote and tweak some of the bill’s language. 

In another notable event from the deadline week, a revised version of a bill seeking to bar corporal punishment of students with disabilities reemerged on the House floor after narrowly failing a week earlier. This time backed by House Speaker Charles McCall, House Bill 1028 from Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, advanced by an 84-8 vote. 

Lawmakers will return to committee hearings this week to consider bills from the opposing chamber. Friday, April 7 is the deadline for non-appropriation bills to advance from committee in the opposite chamber. 

Focus in the second half of the session will also shift to the Legislature’s state budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2024. Recent estimates from the state Board of Equalization show the state will have nearly $2 billion more to spend next year, with tax cuts and teacher pay raises among the most discussed uses for the funds. 

Despite calls for greater transparency from some public policy groups and lawmakers, Oklahoma appropriations leaders have established a habit of waiting until the last minute to release their budget proposal to the public. We’ll be watching closely in May to see how the budget process plays out.  

What kind of coverage would you like to see from Oklahoma Watch in the second half of the 

legislative session? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. 

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What I’m Reading This Week

  • A Good Attorney Can Be Hard to Find for Parents in the Child Welfare System. A New Program Could Help: The success of the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma’s Parent Representation Defense Program has caught the attention of lawmakers, who are considering funding a similar system statewide. [The Frontier]
  • Oklahoma Supreme Court Finds ‘Limited Right’ to Abortion in State Constitution: The court struck down one law passed by the Legislature to criminalize abortions but left another in place and took no position on the broader question of whether there is a right to elective abortions, effectively upholding strict antiabortion measures in place since last year. [The Oklahoman]
  • Lawmaker says concerns about Oklahoma health information exchange ‘unfounded’: Mental health professionals have expressed concerns that they will have to upload the names of their patients and their diagnoses to a new statewide health information exchange. State Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, said last week the state will not have access to such personal information. [Tulsa World]

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