Thursday, September 29, 2022

Executive News: Legislature adjourns, to much rejoicing within OBA

Sine die: The two greatest words that anyone involved in state politics can hear.

This Latin phrase is defined as “indefinitely, or without a future date set.” The Second legislative session of the 58th legislature is officially over with that phrase. It was my 22nd state legislative session and every one one

Adrian Beverage, OBA President and CEO

of them is unique in their own special way – and this one certainly didn’t disappoint.
There were many highs and lows, specifically with legislation important to us, and there was a lot of drama in the building that didn’t directly impact us but had major implications at the end of the session.
I’ll spend some time on our issues, then walk you through the final two weeks of session and all the drama that took place.

• • •

The OBA only introduced one bill this session, HB 3541, which was referred to as the “garnishment bill.” Back in 2016, we initially passed a bill that would require attorneys who “shot-gunned” garnishments to every financial institution they could , to attach a $25 check made payable to the institution before it had to respond. This year we ran HB 3541, which would increase that $25 fee to $35. The bill had no opposition and was signed into law by the governor on May 5.

• • •

There were two bills we were opposed to this session, and both bills are being run nationwide in response to actions taken by the federal government. One of the bills we were able to reach a compromise and the other we were able to defeat. HB 2034 would prohibit the state from entering into contracts with entities engaged in a boycott of the oil and gas industry, requiring entities to submit written certification that such boycotts are not being conducted.

We were able to work with the fossil fuel industry to achieve some common-ground language. While we never supported the bill, it was changed enough we were in a “do-not-oppose position.” The bill was signed into law by the governor on May 9.

HB 3144, which we commonly referred to as the “gun bill” was a pain in our side from the first day of session all the way to the last minute. This bill would have prohibited government entities from doing business with companies that discriminate against firearms manufacturers, sellers or associations.
We initially were opposed to this bill as we felt the state shouldn’t get into the business of telling private business with whom they can or can’t do business. If a bank doesn’t want to provide financial services to a industry, it should be the bank’s choice and sure as heck shouldn’t be penalized by the state for doing so. One would think every legislator would be opposed to legislation penalizing private business, but this bill was different. HB 3144 was a priority bill for the National Sports Shooters Association and the NRA.

Going against the NRA in Oklahoma is a tall task any year, but in an election year it’s even more difficult. The NRA is extremely influential in Oklahoma elections, especially in rural districts. If I were to list every detail and hurdle we had to jump over dealing with this bill, this newspaper article might fill the entire paper. I will tell you, however, any time the bill came to the floor of either the House or Senate, it would pass. We knew this would be the case and our only option was to keep it from being heard at all. The bill passed the House twice and the Senate once, but the victory for us came when the Senate wouldn’t hear it for a final time.

There were other things going on in the Senate that didn’t directly concern us, which caused numerous distractions and took the focus off HB 3144. It was a great victory not to have this bill passed – the bad news is it will surely come back again next year and we’ll just have to pick up right where we left off.

• • •

Every February when the legislature convenes, it statutorily only has to do one thing: pass a state budget for the next fiscal year. While it doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s a year-round process by a handful of folks to do all the calculations and do their best to present a balanced budget. The proposed budget for FY2023 was $9,689,883,993 compared to the FY2022 budget that was $8,831,025,743. The FY2023 budget was 9.7% higher than the previous fiscal year.

SB 1040 is the bill that was used for the FY2023 budget. SB 1040 passed the Senate 34-13 on May 18 and was then passed by the House by a vote of 74-19 on May 20. SB 1040 headed to the desk of Governor Stitt and that’s where the fun began. There had been rumors all session long the House and Senate were working on the budget and the governor and his staff hadn’t had much input. The folks who were in charge of the budget weren’t talking, so who knows if it was fact or just another Capitol rumor. But on Thursday, May 26, Stitt held a press conference to announce the budget wasn’t a compromise between the legislature and himself. He then announced he went through the budget and vetoed four of the bills that make up the budget.

Several of the vetoed bills are listed below:
HB 4473 — this bill directs more than $181 million to the Inflation Relief Stimulus Fund.
HB 4474 — this bill specifies the use of funds from the Inflation Relief Stimulus Fund to include one-time direct payments of $75 to Oklahoma taxpayers filing as single and $150 to taxpayers filing as married.
SB 1052 — directs the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to dedicate $4.89 million to the privately operated Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility for a per diem increase. It also directs $2.92 million to the privately operated Davis Correctional Facility for the same purpose as the Lawton facility.
SB 1075 — this bill eliminates a 1.25% excise tax on the purchase of motor vehicles that had been created by the legislature in 2018.

At the same press conference, the governor announced he is calling the legislature back in for a special session starting on June 13. He said he wants to address real relief for Oklahomans, and one issue he addressed specifically was repealing the Oklahoma grocery tax.

• • •

While having one special session is very exciting, why not do two! In the second-to-last week of the regular session, the House and Senate did something I’ve never seen before.

Lets take a step back and I’ll explain how we arrived at this particular special session. As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, the state of Oklahoma was given $1.87 billion. The intent is these funds would be used to benefit the state for years to come, and the application process was open to everyone who was willing to complete the application and submit it to the ARPA committee.

Lawmakers created a Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding and created the process that would receive and evaluate the applications. Once the application window was closed all of the total projects received totaled close to $13 billion. The JCPRF group evaluated every single project and those that were approved would then be sent to the governor. Gov. Stitt would have the final say on what projects would be funded.

On May 18, though, the legislature called for a special session and removed the final decision-making process on ARPA projects from the governor. The new process for final approval will now be similar to the same process a bill must go through in regular session. Each project approved by the JCPRF will be a stand-alone bill, each project must be approved by the House and the Senate and will then go to the governor where he can either approve or reject the proposal.

Should the governor veto a project, the House and Senate will have the ability to do a veto-override, a tool they didn’t previously have in the process. This session will take place sometime this summer and will hopefully be completed before the 2023 legislative session.

• • •

We are just a few weeks away from the much-anticipated June primaries. On June 28, you’ll likely have an opportunity to have your voice heard in the process. Many of the races for the State Senate and State House will be decided in the primaries and not the general elections in November.

Regardless of your political views, I encourage every banker in Oklahoma to get out and vote, and yes, every vote counts regardless of what you think.

Next month, I’ll give you a full breakdown of every race and what we can expect in the August runoffs and the general elections in November.