budget vote (copy)

The Oklahoma House of Representatives is pictured during a special session in November. JESSIE WARDARSKI/Tulsa World file

Sunscreen in schools, chemical castration and eliminating a ban on lawmakers owning tag agencies are among subjects addressed by bills and resolutions filed to date for the legislative session that begins Feb. 5.

Far greater volumes of proposed legislation, though, deal with more basic elements of state government — education, criminal justice reform and revenue and taxation.

Lawmakers have until Thursday to file bills and most resolutions for the 2018 regular session. Some 2,769 bills and resolutions have been requested, although not all of those will be filed. The 2,769 is about 350 more than were requested prior to the 2016 session, according to the tracking service e-Capitol, and in addition to almost 2,000 bills and resolutions carried forward from the 2017 session.

Among the more potentially controversial bills filed to date is Senate Bill 920, by Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City. It would require the administrative functions of school districts of less than 200 average daily attendance be combined with neighboring districts.

Lawmakers have tried several times to put through similar legislation only to be stymied by school patrons opposed to any loss of autonomy.

Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, is seeking changes that would allow districts to use building funds for operations, and Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, wants to bar the state board of education from establishing charter schools that local districts do not want.

Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, gave voice to the frustrations of many legislators when he filed House Joint Resolution 1032, which would ask voters to amend the state constitution to lower from 75 percent to 60 percent the legislative supermajojrity required to pass revenue bills.

The issue has split both parties, particularly Republicans, who were largely responsible for the 75 percent requirement being added to the state constitution in the early 1990s. Many conservative Republicans believe the supermajority is doing just what they want it to do — prevent the Legislature from agreeing on a tax hike of any substance.

Democrats, meanwhile, would lose much of the little leverage they have in the Legislature, particularly in the House, if it became easier for the Republican majority to pass tax bills without minority support.

Brecheen has filed three constitutional amendments, including one that would require “line item” appropriations to each higher education institution. The constitution now requires the Legislature to appropriate a single lump sum to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, which then allocates the money based on enrollment and the types of academic programs offered.

The current method was implemented to prevent lawmakers from favoring or punishing individual schools, and to take into account that the cost of maintaining, for instance, an engineering program at the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University is greater than a liberal arts department at a two-year college.

Brecheen also wants voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing Medicaid to tap into the Tobacco Settlement Education Trust, a $1 billion endowment built through annual payments to the state from tobacco companies as part of a settlement agreement stemming from a 1996 lawsuit.

Lawmakers and conservative groups seeking to avoid tax hikes have targeted TSET as a potential revenue source while questioning its spending priorities. TSET earnings, about $40 million a year, are dedicated to programs intended to prevent cancer, heart disease and strokes. Best-known are its smoking prevention and cessation campaigns.

Concerns about state revenue and spending oversight figure into a large share of filed legislation. Particularly targeted for higher taxes — mostly through reduced tax incentives — are the wind industry and oil and gas production.

A long-standing coal credit is also on the chopping block, as is the transferability of some legacy tax credit programs. Transferability means the credit can be traded or sold to a third party by the business that earned it.

One tax incentive some legislators are trying to bring back is the lower excise tax on the sale of large trucks. The lower rate was eliminated last year when state sales tax was applied to motor vehicle sales, but lawmakers said it was never the intention to include heavy trucks.

The lower rate incentivized fleet sales to large national companies such as Walmart, according to those trying to roll back the tax.

Among the more obscure measures in the list is SB 976, by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, which removes a prohibition on legislators owning tag agencies. The current law is an artifact of a 1980s political scandal that resulted in convictions and guilty pleas by Tulsa state Sen. Finis Smith and members of his family on mail fraud, tax fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy charges in connection with four tag agencies they controlled.

Thompson’s bill also prohibits Oklahoma Tax Commission members or employees from owning buildings in which tag agencies are located.

SB 950, by Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, would allow students to possess and “self-apply” sunscreen. It may surprise many Oklahomans that students cannot already do this, or that it is much of an issue, but apparently it is enough of one to be taken up by the Council of State Governments.

According to that organization, some schools have banned sunscreen unless prescribed by a doctor.

Included in the stack of criminal justice reform measures is Republican Rep. Rick West’s HB 2453, authorizing medroxyprogesterone acetate treatments, better known as chemical castration, for sex offenders. A similar bill was killed in a Senate committee three years ago.

Several states, including California and Florida, allow chemical castration, which involves injecting men with drugs normally used as a female contraceptive. The procedure has shown to lower sex drive in some men, but critics say it is unreliable.

Randy Krehbiel



Twitter: @rkrehbiel