OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma House of Representatives has been busy with the bills involving of historic preservation, student mental health and tourism.

Bill Moving Historic Preservation Office to Commerce Passes House

Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee) commented on the passage of a bill on Monday, March 2, that will place the Oklahoma Historic Preservation Office under the state Department of Commerce.

House Bill 1710 removes the State Historic Preservation Office from the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Historical Society and places it under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, effective July 1, 2020. The legislation would require all personnel, records, equipment and funds assigned to the State Historic Preservation Office be transferred to the Department of Commerce.

“This bill should help move forward historical tax credit and other projects throughout the state,” Fetgatter said. “We feel historic preservation is more about economic development and commerce, and therefore it only makes sense for this office to operate under the Department of Commerce.”

Fetgatter said this was a request bill by Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell. He said the two have worked on this issue for more than a year. He said this also could help move forward energy and other projects throughout the state that have been in danger of being held up. He pointed to an $800 million wind turbine project that was recently in danger of being held up because a turbine could be seen from a historic landmark. He said this will benefit economic development projects throughout the state, particularly in rural areas.

The bill passed the House with a vote of 75-16.

HB 1710 is co-authored in the House by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) and Reps. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow), Brian Hill (R-Mustang) and Ross Ford (R-Broken Arrow). The bill now moves to the state Senate where Sen. James Leewright (R-Bristow) is the Senate author.

Bills Capping Traffic Warrants and Speeding Ticket Costs Pass House

Oklahoma motorists would receive some extra grace on traffic warrants and speeding tickets if two bills that passed in the House Monday, March 2, make it through the Senate and are signed into law by the governor.

House Bill 2885 by State Rep. Johnny Tadlock (R-Idabel) provides that a misdemeanor traffic warrant issued on or after November 1, 2020, is to be executed and returned to the district court in which it was issued within seven years after the date of the citation if it has not yet been served. Currently there is not a uniform cap on the expiration of these warrants among the different counties. Exceptions to this are any warrants for alcohol or drug-related traffic offenses, eluding and negligent homicide. After the expiration of such time, the warrant, unless executed, is void and is to be dismissed with prejudice to any further action.

“When folks get out of prison and are ready to go back to work, they often find they have these large fines that prohibit them from getting their drivers’ licenses reinstated,” Tadlock said. “This would help these people be able to return to the work force more quickly and give them a better chance at successfully re-entering society.”

Tadlock said he worked with the District Attorney’s Council on the language of the bill.

House Bill 3284 by State Rep. Zack Taylor would remove the November 1, 2020, expiration of the reduced fine amounts for speeding between 1 and 10 miles per hour over the speed limit.

“Without the passage of this bill, speeding tickets for motorists going less than 10 miles over the speed limit would rise in price to about $277 after the sunset of this statute,” Taylor said. “This legislation would remove the sunset, keeping the price of these speeding tickets capped at $95. We want motorists to obey the law, but we also don’t want to gouge them when they are doing only a few miles over the posted speed limit.”

HB 3284 also includes some statutory clean-up language, Taylor said.

HB 2885 passed the House with a vote of 95-1. The bill is authored in the Senate by Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle).

HB 3284 passed the House with a vote of 95-0. The bill is authored in the Senate by Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville).

Both bills now move to the state Senate.

Bill to Allow Bonds for Aging Flood-Control Dams Passes House

A bill authorizing the issue of bonds to improve and repair some of the state’s high-risk flood-control dams passed the House Monday, March 2, with a vote of 93-1.

House Bill 3298 by state Rep. Carl Newton (R-Cherokee) authorizes the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority (OCIA) to acquire property and invest capital to update dams throughout Oklahoma.

“Many of these dams are more than 50 years old and have reached their life expectancy,” Newton said. “It is important that we protect the homes and cities that are built beneath these structures, many of which supply water to surrounding communities.”

HB 3298 is asking for the ability to bond $17.5 million for property acquisition and would make use of a 65% federal match of $50 million to extend the life of these dams. Debt retirement payments would be made by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The bill passed in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 19-0 in February.

HB 3298 is co-authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher) and House Majority Deputy Floor Leader John Pfeiffer (R-Orlando). The bill now moves to the state Senate where it is authored by Sen. Darcy Jech (R-Kingfisher).

Kiger Passes Bill Protecting State Employees Who Owe Back Taxes

State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) secured the passage of a bill on Tuesday, March 3, that would require garnishment of wages for state employees who failed to file state income taxes instead of termination of employment.

House Bill 3068 passed the House by a vote of 92-0.

Kiger said the bill was a request by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

“The intent of this bill is to provide compliance of any past state income taxes owed to the state by the employee,” Kiger said. “An example would be a state employee that failed to file state income taxes for a quarter before becoming a state employee, or if an employee had a spouse that failed in the past to file state taxes.”

Kiger said under his legislation, the state employee would now be subject to having their wages garnished like all other Oklahomans instead of being subject to a lengthily discipline process that involves written documentation to the employee and requires time from the Oklahoma Tax Commission to the state agency for which the employee works.

“There are many examples of why these changes are needed,” Kiger said. “This also includes, for example, clerical errors in taxes owed or someone prior to state employment not making enough money to file with the state and that later shows up in the employee’s history. This bill will get taxes owed to the state to be paid quicker.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration where the Senate author is Sen. Dewayne Pemberton (R-Muskogee).

House Passes Legislation to Gain Better Understanding of Student Mental Health Needs

The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 3, passed legislation to gather a more complete picture of mental health needs within public schools.

House Bill 2799, authored by Rep. Mark Vancuren (R-Owasso), would expand the use of the Oklahoma Prevention and Needs Assessment (OPNA) Survey to grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 to better understand the mental health needs within public schools.

The OPNA survey is a voluntary survey used by schools to understand student substance use, stress and suicide risks. The survey is administered by schools with parental permission and is anonymous. Currently, less than half of Oklahoma schools administer this survey on a voluntary basis.

“With the expansion of the use of this anonymous student survey to all schools, school administrators and lawmakers will be able to use resources for mental health prevention efforts accordingly,” Vancuren said. “In order to address underlying issues that affect student outcomes, we first need to understand those issues in order to correct them and improve the lives of our students.”

Under House Bill 2799, schools would be required to first administer the survey in the 2021-2022 school year, and biennially after that. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) would maintain the survey and provide assistance to schools when implementing the survey and developing prevention strategies.

Vancuren said Oklahoma is one of 25 states that has a similar survey for students. The bill is carried in the Senate by Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow).

House Bill 2799 passed 86-7 and now proceeds to the Senate for consideration.

McBride Passes Pro-Israel, Anti-BDS Legislation

State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) today won passage of legislation that recognizes Israel as one of Oklahoma’s top trade partners and the nation’s greatest ally in the Middle East.

House Bill 3967 specifies that unless exempted by the secretary of state, the state of Oklahoma will not enter into contracts with companies that advocate boycotts, divestments or sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The state also will not adopt a procurement, investment or other policy that has the effect of inducing or requiring a person to boycott the government of Israel or those doing business in or with Israel or territories under its jurisdiction.

“Israel is Oklahoma’s twelfth largest trading partner and the United States’ No. 1 ally in the Middle East,” McBride said. “And yet we have people here in the state and nationally who would like to see Israel cease to exist as a nation. This is not only anti-business and anti-peace, but it is morally wrong.”

McBride said Oklahoma exported almost $104 million of commodities to Israel in 2019, up from almost $61 million in 2017. He said such trade represents a number of jobs in the state. Contracting with companies that refuse to deal with U.S. trade partners, such as Israel, or that make discriminatory decisions on the basis of national origin is risky and unsound trade practice. He also points out that U.S. policy opposes such boycotts and that Congress has concluded as a matter of national trade policy that cooperation with Israel materially benefits U.S. companies and improves American competitiveness.

McBride said as a Christian, he also personally believes Israel has a unique covenant relationship with God, and the Bible is clear: those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.

HB 3967 is modeled after legislation adopted by 28 other states, including Kansas.

HB 3967 passed the House with a vote of 75-20.

The bill is co-authored in the House by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher), House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City), House Republican Caucus Chair Tammy West (R-Oklahoma City), State Reps. Brad Boles (R-Marlow) , David Hardin (R-Stilwell), Brian Hill (R-Mustang), Robert Manger (R-Oklahoma City), Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow), Garry Mize (R-Guthrie), Sean Roberts (R-Hominy), Randy Randleman (R-Eufaula) Todd Russ (R-Cordell), Chris Sneed (R-Fort Gibson) and Marilyn Stark (R-Bethany).

HB 3967 now moves to the state Senate where the Senate author is Darrell Weaver (R-Moore).

House Approves Oklahoma Tourism Ignition Program

Legislation creating the Oklahoma Tourism Ignition Program through the Oklahoma Tourism Department was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Tuesday, March 3, 85-7.

House Bill 3111 was authored by Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) and would increase tourism in cities across the state that are not directly located along Route 66. Through the Tourism Ignition Program, a qualifying municipality could apply for a grant of up to $5,000 toward the creation of a site or landmark intended to generate a positive economic impact.

Hill, whose hometown of Mustang is only a few miles south of Route 66, said there are not many tourists who venture from the Mother Road into their community.

“Through the Tourism Ignition Program, I hope municipalities will consider developing a new statue, structure or mural to increase tourism draw and revenue,” Hill said. “Oklahoma is home to many wonderful communities, and this program will help encourage the thousands of drivers along our 400 miles of Route 66 to explore more of our great state.”

Hill developed the legislation with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who also serves as Secretary of Tourism and Branding.

“I’m pleased that the House has passed House Bill 3111. I’m thankful to Rep. Hill for thinking outside the box and working to get vital tourist draws into Oklahoma communities,” Pinnell said. “The return on investment that tourism has in Oklahoma is a proven success. If municipalities are willing to invest in local attractions, the State of Oklahoma should partner with them to ensure their success. Tourism is economic development for our communities, and I support efforts like this to bring high quality tourist attractions to our communities.”

The program would sunset two years after implementation unless future legislation is filed to extend the program.

House Bill 3111 is now available to be considered in the Senate, where Sen. Paul Rosino (R-Oklahoma City) is the principal author.

Bill to Protect Elephants and Elephant Handlers Passes House

Save the elephants and their trainers!

That’s the call from Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane), the author of House Bill 2895, which would protect the elephants and the elephant handlers at the Endangered Ark Foundation, a private nonprofit in Hugo, from potential animal cruelty statutory provisions.

“We have a circus in our district that has a very successful education program that utilizes retired elephants and other exotic animals,” Humphrey said. “We have animal activist groups that want to prohibit people from petting elephants or touching them in any way. They would even shut down contact with zoos. We are trying to get ahead of these groups coming to Oklahoma and allow this private group to continue to operate.”

The Endangered Ark Foundation provides a retirement ranch for circus elephants, and educates the public about the endangered species of Asian Elephants.

The organization says on its website, “We respect the intimate understanding of the bond and partnership formed between animals and humans, and the need for action to save endangered animals. We believe education and preservation efforts will ensure that people will able to experience the joy and wonder of the Asian elephant for generations to come.”

The foundation offers public tours and private encounters.

HB 2895 passed the House with a vote of 80-15. The bill was co-authored in the House by State Rep. David Hardin (R-Stilwell). The bill now moves to the state Senate where it is authored by Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant).

House Passes Two Bills Addressing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Two pieces of legislation addressing fetal alcohol syndrome Tuesday, March 3, passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

Exposure of a developing baby to alcohol can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities that may last a lifetime. Nationally, about 40,000 newborns are born with fetal alcohol syndrome every year.

House Bill 3406, by Rep. Randy Randleman (R-Eufala), would add one hour of training on fetal alcohol syndrome for every person undergoing the foster parent certification process.

“Newborns suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome have a unique set of needs, and we want to be sure that, while these babies are in state custody, they’re in homes of foster parents who understand their needs and can probably take care of them,” Randleman said. Randleman is a licensed psychologist.

House Bill 3406 passed the House by a 79-16 vote.

Later on Tuesday, Rep. Cynthia Roe presented House Bill 3560, which deals with the screening of alcohol use disorders in pregnant women.

House Bill 3560 would require any woman who screens positive for alcohol use disorder will be referred to the Oklahoma Dept. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) in an attempt to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome in newborns.

“Physician offices are already screening women for alcohol use during their pregnancies,” Roe, a nurse practitioner, said. “By providing references and resources pregnant women whose children may be at risk for fetal syndrome, I hope that we can reduce the number of children born with this condition.”

House Bill 3560 will also allow hospital personnel to be made aware of alcohol use disorder in pregnant women who did not seek services so staff can render appropriate care to the newborn, such as being made aware of potential for withdrawal. The bill does not involve the Dept. of Human Services or law enforcement.

House Bill 3560 passed 89-8. Both bills are now available to be considered in the Senate.

House Increases Age of Those Qualifying for Delayed Sentencing

A bill that would increase the age of those who can participate in the Delayed Sentencing Program for Young Adults from 21 to 25 passed the House Tuesday, March 3, with a vote of 86-6.

House Bill 3295 by state Rep. Carl Newton (R-Cherokee) would allow non-violent youthful offenders over the age of 18 who are in custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to participate in the program.

“Increasing the age of participants could help these young offenders get the help they need to get clean and live free lives without having to serve a long prison sentence,” Newton said. “This program has proven to be successful in getting offenders out and in helping them to become productive citizens. This program is good for all Oklahoma.”

Newton said the Bill Johnson Correctional Center in Alva is a main source for this program, which places youthful offenders that qualify into a boot-camp like setting for between 180 days to a year. The program offers counseling, psychiatric or medical treatment, drug rehabilitation, education or vocational training, work and other programs that offer the best opportunity for rehabilitation.

Offenders that successfully complete the program can receive a deferred sentence or have their criminal charges suspended or dismissed.

HB 3295 now moves to the state Senate where the Senate author is Sen. Michael Brooks (D-Oklahoma City).