The extreme winter weather has put the legislative schedule behind. We were already racing the clock, but now we’re going to have to work even faster to meet the Feb. 25 deadline to get Senate bills passed out of our committees.
Despite the delays, nearly 275 bills have made it through committee, and nearly 40 have been sent to the House for further work.
I’m pleased that my SB 320 addressing our overcrowded prison system has made it past its first committee and is awaiting consideration in Appropriations. This provides for “medically frail” and “medically vulnerable” inmates to receive consideration in medical or compassionate parole proceedings. These are individuals who can’t physically take care of themselves or even do basic daily tasks on their own. They are no longer a threat to society and should be allowed to return to their families. This would improve their quality of life by having individual care from family at home or going into a nursing home. It’ll also allow our understaffed prisons to focus on more dangerous inmates and the overall safety of our prisons, while also providing significant cost-savings to the state.
The legislature fast tracked legislation to extend virtual meetings of public bodies. The exemption to the Open Meeting Act expired in November. With the continuing pandemic, it’s vital that public bodies be able to continue holding virtual meetings to protect members while allowing public participation and transparency. This bill extends the exemption through Feb. 15, 2022, or until 30 days after Gov. Stitt’s emergency declaration is cancelled or expires, whichever happens first.
Among the bills that have been approved by the full Senate is a measure codifying the authority of communities to adopt ordinances to honor law enforcement if they want. Cities and towns can paint blue lines and post signage showing their support of these brave men and women. This bill simply clarifies that this type of support is allowed and appropriate. We all have friends or family members who have come under attack in the last year through no fault of their own, but simply because they wear a badge. This is a way municipalities can show they back the blue.
The full Senate will also soon be considering an important measure for our disabled veterans. Fully disabled veterans are provided a sales tax exemption in Oklahoma. There are only around 16,000 people who qualify for this benefit, yet sadly the Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) has around 32,000 military tax-exempt certificates on record. SB 415 will stop the fraudulent use of this benefit by authorizing the OTC to disclose taxpayer information to the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) relating to 100% service-disabled veterans who qualify for the sales tax exemption. Veterans are required to register with the Oklahoma Veterans Registry to remain qualified for the exemption. The ODVA will then be required to verify eligibility for the exemption upon the OTC’s request. Those who illegally claim this exemption dishonor these veterans who have given so much for our country. It also takes much-needed revenue away from our local communities and schools.
Outside of legislative news, we’ve had some other exciting developments at the Capitol. Gov. Stitt has signed three executive orders to address critical needs in our state. The first one addresses the federal overreach of the Biden Administration in attacking the oil and gas industry, Oklahoma’s largest industry. Oklahoma is a global leader in energy production, and we must protect the hundreds of thousands of energy jobs and our constitutional right to decide how to develop our own natural resources.
The second executive order will expedite the driver’s license renewal and replacement process, which has been a problem as the pandemic has caused major backlogs at tag agencies.
The last order suspends certain regulations for truck drivers transporting propane over the next 30 days to ensure Oklahomans can get their propane quickly. This will be crucial to protect Oklahomans as our state is impacted by the record cold weather.
If you have any questions or concerns on legislative matters, please contact me at the Capitol. Please write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at Jessica.Garvin@oksenate.gov or call (405) 521-5522.