OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Senate has been busy this week with several bills ranging from seatbelt to gun rights for medical marijuana users to incentives for those raising honey bees.

Senate passes legislation requiring children to wear seat belts

The full Senate prioritized child safety on Monday, February 24, with the passage of Senate Bill 1303.

Authored by Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Burlington, the measure would require any child under the age of 17 to wear a seat belt while riding in the back seat of a vehicle. Current Oklahoma law only requires children under the age of eight and passengers in the front seat to buckle up.

“Oklahoma is the only state in the entire country that doesn’t require seat belts for kids over the age of eight, and it’s no coincidence that vehicle fatalities are the number one cause of death for children eight and older here in Oklahoma,” Pederson said. “The bottom line is, children are being hurt and dying simply because we don’t require them to wear a seat belt.”

AAA reports Oklahoma ranks 50th in the nation in protecting children in car crashes.

Pederson said he decided to run the measure after speaking with Drummond Family, Career and Community Leaders of America members Danica Jordan and Destiny Hudson. Both girls lobbied for stricter seat belt requirements after experiencing firsthand the lifesaving difference a seat belt can make.

“I’m glad Danica and Destiny brought these troubling statistics to my attention,” Pederson said. “We know seat belts save lives, and it’s past time for our children to buckle up. If we want to be a Top 10 state, we need to take action to protect the safety of our children.”

The measure now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, is the House author for the bill.

Senate Education Committee approves emergency teaching certification extensions

The Senate Education Committee approved legislation Tuesday, February 25, to help fill the large number of teaching vacancies in the state. Retired teacher Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said his Senate Bill 1115 is desperately needed to help decrease classroom sizes by extending emergency teaching certificates.

“We currently have hundreds of teaching vacancies that districts are desperate to fill. But between fewer people getting teaching degrees and teachers retiring or resigning to pursue careers in other fields, the only option most schools have is to hire emergency certified teachers,” Sharp said. “These are individuals who are passionate about helping our students but we’re running into another problem because they only have two years before they have to get fully certified. Many don’t want to do that because it’s too expensive and time-consuming, so they quit. This bill will allow them to continue getting emergency certified indefinitely if they want and are approved by the State Board of Education.”

Currently, emergency teaching certificates are only valid for up to two years. SB 1115 would allow local school districts to annually request that the State Board of Education renew emergency or provisional teaching certificates for those who have been employed by their district for at least two years. Applicants must have been emergency certified for two years but not successfully completed the competency exams. They must also submit a work portfolio to the State Board. The local school district superintendent must submit to the State Board why the certificate should be renewed, and the local school board must agree to renew the individual’s contract for the upcoming fiscal year.

The State Board of Education has approved 3,199 emergency certified teachers this fiscal year. According to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, Oklahoma needs an additional 4,000 to 5,000 more teachers to meet the regional average of student-to-teacher ratio.

SB 1115 now goes before the full Senate.

Senate committee passes a honey of a bill

The Senate Finance Committee has passed Senate Bill 1388 on Tuesday, February 25, which would incentivize urban gardeners across the state to raise honeybees by giving tax exempt status to any bee product sold. The measure is authored by Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa.

Ikley-Freeman said a food desert in her district forced her to look at alternative ways for constituents to access fresh produce. This examination led her to a pollinating force: honeybees.

“Since much of Senate District 37 is in a food desert, many of my constituents have solved this issue by becoming urban gardeners,” Ikley-Freeman said. “There are several great extension programs available that provide folks with seeds to plant their own gardens, but we are unfortunately missing a key factor for successful gardening, which is pollination.”

Ikley-Freeman said that while many people are attempting to grow their own produce, a lack of pollination can make it a fruitless pursuit. For example, it could lead to zucchini plants that never grow a zucchini, she said.

“Not only will raising bees increase the success of local gardens, but it will also give Oklahomans an opportunity to make their own honey, candy, soaps and lotions, and then sell those products tax free at their local farmers market,” Ikley-Freeman said.

A producer that sells agricultural products directly from their farm, orchard, garden or dairy is already exempt from sales tax. SB 1388 simply adds bee products to the tax-exempt list.

“I’m hopeful this legislation will encourage people across the state to look into beekeeping,” Ikley-Freeman said. “Something as simple as a honeybee could give many Oklahomans a second stream of income.”

The measure now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a vote.

Senate passes measure protecting gun rights for medical marijuana cardholders

The full Senate voted unanimously Wednesday, February 26, to protect the Second Amendment rights of medical marijuana cardholders.

Senate Bill 959, authored by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, clarifies that anyone authorized to use medical marijuana would also be allowed to have a concealed carry permit. Even though Oklahoma is a constitutional carry state, some citizens may want a permit if they travel to other states that require them and offer reciprocity.

Current Oklahoma law precludes citizens from being eligible for a handgun license if they have any violation relating to illegal drug use or possession. SB 959 would clarify that this prohibition does not apply for applicants or licensees in possession of a medical marijuana card. The measure would make it illegal for a person to carry or use a gun while under the influence of medical marijuana.

“Our Second Amendment rights outlined in the United States Constitution are very clear – the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,” Dahm said. “We cannot discriminate against medical marijuana cardholders because of their personal medicinal decisions. All Oklahomans should have their Second Amendment rights protected, and I’m glad my colleagues agree that we must uphold the Constitution.”

The measure now heads to the House of Representatives for a vote. Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, is the House author for the bill.

Parolee accountability measure passes out of Senate committee

An important criminal justice reform measure made it out of committee late Wednesday, February 26, and will next be considered by the full Senate. Sen. Adam Pugh is the author of Senate Bill 1456, which directs the Department of Corrections (DOC) to annually review its inmate rehabilitation case plans with all parole-eligible inmates.

“Currently, offenders can get early release for good behavior, but behavior alone won’t guarantee their successful reintegration into society or prevent re-entry into the corrections system. We must ensure that while incarcerated they are getting the counseling, education, life skills training and other tools they need to change their lives and become law-abiding, self-sufficient citizens,” Pugh said. “This bill will ensure DOC is holding offenders accountable to make sure they can stand on their own two feet once released. While serving out their sentences, we want to make sure they are being prepared for a successful future.”

Any inmates found not in compliance with their case plan would not be able to use their earned credits towards early release – a step Pugh says is necessary to hold offenders accountable and ensure proper rehabilitation before release.

“We don’t want to just be warehousing offenders in our prison system. We want to give them all the tools they need so they’ll never come back,” Pugh said.

SB 1456, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, now goes before the full Senate.

Universal Occupational Licensing Act moves to Senate Floor

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Universal Occupational Licensing Recognition Act Wednesday, February 26. Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, authored the bill to help attract more professionals to move and work in Oklahoma.

“Last year, I authored legislation to provide reciprocal licensing for military personnel and their spouses, which has been tremendously helpful for them, and we want to extend that opportunity to all licensed and certified professionals who want to live in Oklahoma,” Pugh said. “Currently, there are too many hoops for these individuals to jump through when they move to our state. Recognizing their occupational licenses and certificates will make our state more attractive and help grow our economy.”

SB 1891 directs occupational boards and commissions to issue an occupational license in the relevant profession to anyone who takes up residency in Oklahoma and holds an occupational license or certificate that has been in good standing in another state for at least one year.

“Having to get re-certified or re-licensed is an inconvenience to professionals who relocate to our state,” Pugh said. “We need to make sure that these professionals know that Oklahoma is open for business and ready to welcome them.”

Pugh has been a champion for occupational licensing reform in Oklahoma having authored SB 670 last year to provide reciprocal licensing for military families. This year, he has also authored SB 1125 directing the State Board of Education to issue teaching certificates to those who hold valid out-of-state teaching certificates, with no other requirements except a criminal history record check. He had to file SB 1125 because teacher certification falls under its own title of law.

With a vote of 14-4, SB 1891 now goes before the full Senate.