OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers effectively gaveled out the 2019 legislative session a week early on Thursday but left open the possibility of returning before the constitutional deadline of 5 p.m. May 31, should the need arise.
It was a short day on both sides of the Capitol, with the House finishing shortly after noon and the Senate at 12:40 p.m.
Senators, in fact, would have cleaned off their desks even earlier had Gov. Kevin Stitt not intervened.
Stitt insisted that the Senate vote on House Bill 1269, the so-called “retroactivity bill” that will allow those serving time for crimes that no longer require prison sentences to seek relief through the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
It also provides for a simplified expungement process.
HB 1269 passed the House last week, but the Senate did not plan to bring it to a vote until prodded by Stitt. After a Republican caucus meeting behind closed doors, the measure passed 34-11 without debate or questions.
The bill now goes to Stitt for his signature.
HB 1269 applies the provisions of State Question 780 retroactively. Passed by voters in November 2016, SQ 780 downgraded several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reduced the associated sentences.
Stitt, serving his first term as governor, appeared in the House gallery moments before adjournment. He shook hands with the assembled staff and afterward told reporters it had been “a great session.”
With additional available revenue this year, lawmakers passed an $8.1 billion budget that included raises for teachers, state employees and correctional officers. It also included additional funding for classrooms and put $200 million in savings.
Stitt is expected to sign the budget bill.
The governor came away with some wins, including bills giving him the power to hire and fire the heads of five of the largest state agencies.
He also lobbied for the $1,200 teacher pay raise and $200 million in savings.
He also got $19 million for a Quick Action Closing Fund designed to increase economic development.
Senate Republicans secured approval for a bill making it more difficult for school districts to be in session only four days a week.
The session was less acrimonious than prior years, with fewer late nights and last-minute shenanigans.
Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said the governor, Senate and House were aligned on a lot of the same issues.
He said it was an “A-plus” session.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said her caucus was a little disappointed that health care had not been addressed.
“We are still hopeful that Medicaid expansion will be a topic of discussion,” Floyd said. “We believe that is in the best interest of the state.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said that is a priority for him, too.
“I will be forming a work group to look at health care,” he said. “It will be a bipartisan work group. It will be similar to the (medical marijuana) work group. I’ve asked the Senate to join the House. The governor has indicated a personal interest in being involved in it.
“The goal this summer is finding a solution for health care for Oklahoma,” McCall said.
Except for health care, the Republican majority achieved most of its leading priorities for the session. Some criminal justice reforms fell short, though, including a bail reform measure that failed on the House floor Wednesday.
McCall said he expects that to be addressed next session.
“I’ve had multiple members who voted ‘no’ say to me they know we have to do something and they want to be part of the solution,” McCall said.
Last year’s elections, he said, were a strong signal to lawmakers that the public wants continued investment in education, and he said he was pleased with the progress made during the session.
He was also pleased with the session’s quieter tone. In his remarks to the body prior to the final gavel, McCall thanked the Democratic minority as well as his fellow Republicans for what he said he was a very productive session.
Still, the House being the House, it could not adjourn without a certain amount of wrangling over two relatively minor measures — a pharmacy board rule governing the pharmacist-to-assistant ratio and the number of forms parents have to sign to OK vaccination of their children at school.