OKLAHOMA CITY — An environmental and safety “self audit” program for chemical plants, public utilities, agriculture and other regulated industries is on its way to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk after acceptance by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The House also passed a slew of criminal justice reform measures and a hotly contested bill intended to reverse some recent changes in the state’s alcohol laws.
Senate Bill 1003, by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, is touted as an incentive for regulated businesses to monitor themselves and self-report environmental and safety infractions to the state.
The measure allows companies to enter into agreements to conduct their own audits of their regulatory compliance. Those audits would be submitted to state agencies but in most cases would be exempt from open records laws.
“This incentivizes industry to fix its own environmental issues while saving state resources,” said Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, the bill’s House sponsor.
Skeptics are leery. They doubt industry’s ability to effectively police itself and are particularly wary of SB 1003’s confidentiality provisions.
The bill is patterned after a 1995 Texas law and was sought by Secretary of Energy and Environment Ken Wagner, who said it will lead to better compliance and better working relationships between business and regulators.
McBride said participants in the program will be required to report and correct violations, “and if they don’t report, they’ll be in trouble for that. It’s not just a free ride.”
He said the audits will help the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality spot potential problems before they grow more serious.
“Actually, it’s more transparency than what we have now,” McBride said. “You’re going to get these regulated (industries) to report voluntarily, where now we’re getting nothing. ... We don’t have enough manpower to monitor these (industries) like they need to be.”
McBride said that while the audits would be confidential in most circumstances, violations of state or federal regulations would not be.
Some interesting management accompanied the passage of SB 608, by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, a bill that has laid bare some wounds from the recent fights over rewriting Oklahoma’s liquor laws.
Legislators say they’ve been subjected to intense lobbying for and against the bill, which could determine who controls access to the most popular wine and spirits labels.
Tuesday, the bill was brought up for a vote immediately after the noon recess and with many members not yet returned to the floor.
The roll call was held open just long enough to get the 51 votes needed for passage, and declared as soon as the majority was achieved. There was no discussion and no debate and more than 20 members failed to reach their desks before the vote closed.
SB 608 must now go back to the Senate.
Five criminal justice reform measures carried by Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, were adopted by the House late in the day. These included SB 636 (recorded interrogations), SB 712 (suspended driver’s licenses), SB 798 (eyewitness identifications), SB 815 (expungement), and SB 858 (jury trials).
SB 798 and SB 858 go to the governor; the others return to the Senate for consideration of House amendments.