June 8, 2016
Inside this issue
  2016 Session Adjourns  
 

After the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the state budget in the closing hours of session, the 2016 Legislative Session adjourned sine die just before 5 p.m. on Friday, May 27. With a historically challenging $1.3 billion budget shortfall facing the State of Oklahoma, 2016 was a difficult year at the State Capitol with significant cuts expected to a number of key programs supported by the Chamber, including transportation, education, and economic development incentives.

However, in the end, the chamber achieved almost all of its legislative priorities. This included, in the final weeks of session, organizing and leading a broad coalition of diverse organizations to successfully stop two pieces of dangerous gun legislation as well as leading an effort to ensure Oklahoma did not follow the economically perilous path of North Carolina in enacting discriminatory transgender bathroom legislation.

Following is a summary of the 2016 session's highlights:

 

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  Chamber Protects All Six Critical Economic Development Programs  
 

As an economic development organization, the Chamber's primary mission is to recruit companies to Oklahoma and help existing companies grow. The Chamber relies on several of the state's economic development incentive programs to attract businesses that will bring economic growth to Oklahoma. Prior to the 2016 session, we identified six state economic development incentive programs critical to our economic and community development efforts:

  • Quality Jobs Act
  • Aerospace Engineering Tax Credit
  • Historical Building Rehabilitation Tax Credit
  • Five-year ad valorem abatement and sales tax exemption on manufacturing facilities
  • Freeport (Inventory) Exemption
  • Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit

Despite the pressure placed on scaling-back or repealing individual economic development programs as legislators looked for savings to address the budget shortfall, all six of these key programs were successfully preserved. The Investment/New Jobs Tax Credit was capped at $25 million annually, but earned credits may be carried forward and claimed in subsequent years.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Governor Signs Pro-Business Gun Legislation to Protect Events  
 

One of the top priorities for the Chamber this session was to pass gun legislation to allow event hosts to prevent guns from being allowed into high-economic impact events. This effort was critically important to address the possibility that Gov. Fallin's 2015 veto of SB 41-legislation that would have allowed guns to be brought into most all events - would be overridden during the 2016 session. The Chamber worked closely with the NRA and OK2A to introduce replacement gun legislation this year­­­­-SB 1057 by Sen. Jack Fry (R-Midwest City) and Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Oklahoma City). SB 1057 received strong majorities in the House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Fallin in April. Under this legislation guns cannot be brought into:

  • Horse shows and the State Fair
  • Big XII and NCAA Sporting Events, including the Women's College World Series
  • Concerts (Chesapeake Energy Arena; Zoo; OKC Fest)
  • State High School Basketball & Wrestling Tournaments at the Fairgrounds
  • U.S. Olympic qualifying and many other events.

We would like to thank the following groups for their help in passing SB 1057: Oklahoma State Fairgrounds, Oklahoma City All Sports Association, Oklahoma City Thunder and many others.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Chamber Works to Defeat Two Pieces of Harmful Gun Legislation  
 

The Chamber organized and led a broad coalition of businesses, law enforcement agencies and universities to defeat anti-business gun legislation that, if passed, would have undermined SB 1057.

HJR 1009, by Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Yukon), would have provided for a vote of the people for a constitutional amendment to expand "a citizens' right to bear arms". HJR 1009 threatened to make SB 1057 irrelevant by having Oklahoma courts decide whether the business owners' rights provisions of SB 1057 met the "strict scrutiny" test, the most stringent form of Judicial Review - under which many state statutes have been held unconstitutional. This legislation posed a direct threat to nullify the right of a business or event host to preclude weapons. This threat was stopped when the CCR to HJR 1009 failed to receive enough signatures to advance from the House Conference Committee on Rules.

HB 3098, by Rep. Jeff Coody (R-Grandfield), would have allowed Oklahoma residents 21 years or older and not a convicted felon to carry an open or concealed handgun without a license. The Chamber's primary concern with this legislation was that unlicensed gun owners represent an insurance risk and cost to all businesses that would have led insurance companies to either withdraw from the market or increase rates for liability and workers' compensation coverage (the same was true of HJR 1009). The CCR to HB 3098 did not advance after failing to receive enough signatures in Senate Rules Conference Committee.

The Chamber would like to express our appreciation to the following groups for partnering with us and working diligently to defeat these measures: Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma Bankers Association, Oklahoma State Troopers Association, The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, The State Chamber, Tulsa Regional Chamber and many others. 

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Key Criminal Justice Reform Measures Enacted  
 

The Chamber's strong support of key criminal justice measures passed by the Legislature this session was directly connected with the important work that is being undertaken by our Criminal Justice Reform Taskforce. This taskforce, composed of prominent leaders from the Oklahoma City criminal justice, law enforcement and business communities, was created out of a desire to address ongoing issues with the Oklahoma County jail.

Gov. Fallin also formed a taskforce which recommended several pieces of criminal justice reform legislation that were introduced and successfully moved through the legislative process this session. All four of these bills, supported by the Chamber, were signed into law. Following is a description of each of these measures: 

  • HB 2472: Gives DA's discretion in filing misdemeanor charges for some non-violent crimes
  • HB 2479: Removes mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug possession crimes
  • HB 2751: Re-classifies several property crimes as misdemeanors
  • HB 2753: Allows judges to sentence certain offenders to community service or drug court instead of prison

We would like to thank Gov. Fallin and legislators for their leadership in advancing critical Criminal Justice Reforms this session.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Chamber Prevents Economic Hit by Defeating Transgender Bathroom Measure  
 

During the last week of session, the Chamber organized and led an effort to defeat transgender bathroom discrimination legislation that, if passed, would have been devastating to economic development in terms of lost federal funds, business investment, and convention events. The Chamber shared information with legislators about the negative economic fallout North Carolina experienced after passing a law in March that discriminated against transgendered individuals. North Carolina, according to a study by the UCLA School of Law, will incur $5 billion in lost annual economic activity due to its discriminatory law.

Oklahoma's measure, SB 1619, would have allowed a student with a religious objection to request the use of separate bathroom, shower, or athletic changing facility while denying this right to a transgendered individual. The Chamber immediately engaged to educate legislators on the economic impact of this measure, which passed the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriation and Budget by a vote of 20-15. However, the measure was killed when it failed on a 10-10 vote in the House Joint Committee on Appropriation and Budget. 

The Chamber would like to thank those legislators who opposed this tough issue in committee.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  Legislation Improving the Municipal Board of Adjustment Process Signed Into Law  
 

The Chamber was asked this session to take the lead on introducing legislation, SB 1341 by Sen. Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), to make key improvements to the municipal Board of Adjustment Appeals process that has been abused in the past. Under the existing BOA process, a disgruntled person without a property interest in an area under development has the right to file an appeal in state district court that would automatically stay a municipal BOA decision and indefinitely halt development on a project. The subsequent delay resulted in substantial lost economic investment and jobs.

SB 1341, which was unanimously passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Fallin, will stop frivolous appeals of BOA decisions to state district court by:

  • Requiring those filing an appeal to have some property interest in the outcome.
  • Requiring those filing appeals to post bond to cover the cost of delay if appeal is unsuccessful.

We would like to extend our thanks to Gov. Fallin and the legislature for passing SB 1341.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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  ODOT's Eight Year Plan Protected in Tough Budget Environment  
 

The budget shortfall placed tremendous pressure on protecting funding for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's (ODOT) Eight-Year Construction Plan, which includes a historic number of key OKC-area projects. In recent years, great strides have been made to address the state's critical infrastructure needs, evidenced by ODOT recently letting a state record of $81 million to reconstruct the I-235/I-44 Interchange. The Chamber strongly supports providing adequate funding for the eight-year plan so this, and other key projects critical to economic development, can continue to move forward and be completed without delay.

Several bills were introduced early in the session that would have reduced funding to the eight-year plan's primary revenue source, the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver's Safety (ROADS). For example, one bill, if enacted, would have caused a $900 million reduction in the plan. This loss of funding would have caused the removal and delay of critical projects. The Chamber was called upon to engage in the successful effort to ensure this legislation did not move forward in the process. This effort helped shift the focus of the Legislature from reducing funding to supporting ODOT's proposal to sell bonds to protect transportation funding.

The FY2017 budget agreement passed by the Legislature provides $200 million in bonds to protect funding for ODOT. With this bond funding, all projects in the current eight-year plan are protected and can move forward as Oklahoma continues on the path of fixing the state's infrastructure.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

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  New Oklahoma Education Standards Adopted  
 

The business community and the Chamber supported the creation and passage of new Oklahoma education standards. The State Department of Education led an 18-month process, which included extensive public and professional input, to develop the new standards. The goal was to create high-quality standards to ensure high school graduates are college- and career-ready. The Chamber encouraged the Legislature to avoid making changes to the new Oklahoma standards developed by the State Department of Education.

The new K-12 education state standards were adopted when the House and Senate passed separate resolutions recommending changes to the standards. Since the resolutions were different, the standards became law. Since both the House and Senate want to see additional adjustments and improvements to the standards, we anticipate additional changes in 2017.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

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  New Student Testing System and Graduation Requirements Enacted  
 

The Chamber has been a strong advocate for high level graduation standards to make sure all high school graduates are prepared to enter college or the workforce. The Chamber supported eliminating the Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) end-of-instruction tests only if they were replaced with other rigorous standard assessments such as the ACT, SAT or another widely recognized test.

Unfortunately, we were not able to avoid elimination of the current end-of-instruction exams and immediately replace them with a new system. The Legislature did pass a new law that will eliminate the EOI's and set up a framework and a time table to create a streamlined testing to allow the state to utilize a nationally-recognized set of tests such as the ACT or SAT.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

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  School and Campus Safety Protected  
 

In addition to efforts to defeat unnecessary gun legislation, the Chamber also helped prevent passage of legislation that would permit the carrying of guns at Oklahoma colleges and universities. The Chamber also opposed efforts to permit the carrying of weapons at early childhood, pre-K through 12th grade and career tech facilities.

For more information, please contact Drew Dugan.

 

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  Plan to Rebalance State Medicaid Population and Restore Provider Rates Fails  
 

The Chamber was supportive this session of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's (OHCA) plan to rebalance the state's Medicaid program by shifting 350,000 Oklahomans from Medicaid onto the private health insurance market. The OHCA proposed this plan to prevent a catastrophic provider rate reduction of up to 25 percent on July 1. This cut would have threatened numerous hospitals (and nursing homes) with closure and impacted Oklahomans access to quality health care.

The "Medicaid Rebalancing" plan envisioned providing $100 million annually in state funds to receive a federal match of $900 million - representing a favorable 9:1 return on state investment. To pay for the state's portion, the Chamber supported any funding mechanism available for the state to achieve that level of investment. The proposed funding source ultimately was a $1.50 tax on cigarettes that was expected to raise $180 million annually.

The plan ultimately did not advance after experiencing vocal opposition from advocacy groups against accepting federal health care funding and a prevailing belief among legislators that they could prevent provider rate cuts through appropriations without having to pass a cigarette tax increase. Ultimately, the cigarette tax legislation fell considerably short of passing in the House.

However, in the end, the FY2017 state budget provided enough funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to result in 1-2 percent in Provider Rate cuts rather than the devastating 25 percent cuts that were feared.

For more information, please contact Derek Sparks.

 

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  Greater OKC Chamber PAC Preparing for 2016 Elections  
 

The Greater OKC Chamber PAC, created in 2010 to help elect pro-economic development candidates, raised a record $62,000 in 2015. We are just short of achieving our goal of $50,000 in 2016. With a historic number of seats up for election in the House and Senate and many critical policy issues facing the business community, it is critically important we send the right elected officials to the State Capitol. The PAC also supports pro-business candidates to city, county and school board offices.

For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.

 

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