Seven weeks down and nine more to go. We wrapped up our work on our chamber’s bills and will now turn our attention to the more than 400 House bills that were sent over. For the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing these measures in committee and then debating those that receive committee approval on the Senate floor. The deadline to report House measures out of committee is Thursday, April 8.
It’s interesting to see all the issues that come through the legislature. This session, we’ve tackled too many to mention, but I want to touch on a few that might be of interest to you.
As you know, the first bill signed into law this year extended the authorization under the state of emergency for public bodies to meet virtually through Feb. 15, 2022 or until 30 days after the governor cancels the emergency declaration.
The pandemic has helped government find new ways of conducting business. It’s one of the good things that have come from this difficult time. We approved another bill that will further modernize Oklahoma’s Open Meeting Law. It requires all public meetings to be livestreamed so citizens can view them virtually. It’ll also automatically allow for totally virtual public meetings in the named counties immediately upon a governor-declared state of emergency. This will help government at all levels be more transparent and accountable to Oklahomans.
We also unanimously approved a bill to stop surprise medical billing. This is a huge problem in our state that forces many into bankruptcy and ruins people’s credit. It will prohibit a healthcare provider from reporting a healthcare debt to a credit bureau or pursue collection activities unless a good faith estimate of the procedure’s cost or care was presented prior to the service being provided. Medical treatment should be no different than other services—people deserve to know the price upfront so they can decide whether to move forward or not.
An issue that I know many, if not all, in our district will be excited about is the reinstatement of the sales tax exemption on motor vehicles and trailers. We did this back in 2017 to help citizens during the economic downturn, and thanks to strong state revenues, we’re anxious to get it reinstated.
Several veterans’ bills are getting closer to the governor’s desk. One I’m particularly happy with will protect the sales tax exemption for our 100% disabled veterans. It seems around 16,000 people are fraudulently claiming this benefit meant for our brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. This will allow the Tax Commission and the Department of Veterans Affairs to coordinate to know who exactly qualifies for this benefit. Once it’s signed into law, veterans will need to sign up on the Oklahoma Veterans Registry at https://registry.odva.ok.gov/registration to continue getting the exemption. We need to protect this benefit and reward our state’s true heroes.
While it’s sad we have to deal with these types of issues, we also approved legislation to protect Oklahoma’s youth from having their identities stolen. Unbelievably, this is a billion-dollar industry that impacts over one million children in our country each year. In 2017, victims and their families lost nearly $3 billion and suffered $540 million in out-of-pocket expenses. This will strengthen penalties against these predators making child identity theft or fraud a felony punishable by either 2-10 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, or both. This is an all-too-common crime in our country. It’s difficult for adults to recover, but a majority of these victims are under the age of seven, so the fraud isn’t discovered until they reach adulthood making recovery even harder. Often, the perpetrators are immediate family members, which makes it even worse. We need to stop these predators and protect Oklahoma’s youth.
This week, I was so happy to get to participate in the Oklahoma Youth Expo Legislative Showmanship Competition. This brings legislators and FFA and 4-H students from around the state together to celebrate our state’s agriculture industry. I had the pleasure of working with Chattanooga FFA member Nicole Bartholomew to show her heifer, Gena. This young lady is dedicated, hardworking and has a bright future ahead of her.
Thank you again for the privilege of serving our district and the State of Oklahoma in the Senate. If I can be of any assistance, you can reach me at (405) 521-5563 or Chris.Kidd@oksenate.gov.