In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the final week of the 2019 legislative session. After approving a budget, lawmakers passed several criminal justice reforms, but they left one on the table: bail reform.
Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the legislative session is likely over. The House and Senate adjourned a week ahead of the legal deadline, but they did not adjourn sine die.
Ashley: That's correct. The legislature left themselves a little room if they needed to come back in and do something. If they do not reconvene before 5:00 p.m. on Friday May 31, the legislature will automatically adjourn sine die.
Pryor: The budget bill had already passed, and usually the very end of the session is rather unremarkable, but there was some drama on the last day.
Ashley: Indeed there was, and this took place in the Senate. They took up House Bill 1269. This is the bill that makes State Question 780 retroactive. State question 780, of course, reduced some felonies to misdemeanors-- certain drug crimes and certain minor property crimes. That bill was approved 34 to 11 with no discussion, no debate. All eleven votes came from members of the Senate Republican Caucus.
Pryor: Criminal justice reform was a big issue this year, and again the legislature took a slow incremental approach to adopting changes.
Ashley: This is a process that has been going on slowly and incrementally now for a number of years. Former Gov. Mary Fallin put in place the first task force back in 2015. Recommendations of that task force and others have been considered by the legislature, some implemented some not. We saw House Bill 1269. We also saw a move in changes on professional licensing related to those who have been convicted of crimes, where they are no longer barred from obtaining a professional license if the crime was not related to that particular area. On the other hand, an effort at bail reform failed in the House of Representatives. So they took a couple of steps forward but not as many as some had hoped.
Pryor: There was a change also in the way district attorneys are funded.
Ashley: This was an idea put forth by Gov. Kevin Stitt even before the start of the legislative session... To move district attorneys funding away from fines and fees related to criminal cases to state appropriations from the general revenue fund. Gov. Stitt argues that this may reduce the perverse incentive where district attorneys would feel like they could generate additional revenue for their offices by filing additional charges against criminals.
Pryor: At the end of the session we often talk about winners and losers in the budget. This year, with additional money available for appropriation. most agencies received an increase in funding, even as the legislature was setting aside two hundred million dollars in savings.
Ashley: We saw additional funding for common education, including an additional teacher pay raise. Most state agencies will see additional funding as they provide a pay raise for state employees. And we also saw a number of other programs funded in various state agencies.
Pryor: The budget provides 25 percent more funding for the state Senate, 60 percent more for the House, and a 121 percent increase in appropriation for the governor's office. Now, for years the House and Senate have kept the percentage increases in their own budgets small, but this year they went big. Why now and why so much?
Ashley: They made a number of arguments for these increases. One is that their staff salaries are below the market rate. Another is a need for technology. In the case of the governor's office what we see is an effort, as he says, towards more transparency. A number of people related to the governor's administration have been paid by different agencies over the last several years. Cabinet secretaries, for example, would be paid by the agency rather than the governor's office. What we see are those secretaries salaries being pulled into the governor's office.
Pryor: Overall, by most accounts, this session was less acrimonious than the last several years, and, actually, legislators and the governor accomplished a lot.
Ashley: The legislative session began with more than 2800 pieces of legislation filed. Already the governor has acted on more than 450 of those bills. More than 80 sit there now. That's significantly more than former Gov. Mary Fallin ever had to deal with during her time in office.
Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org o@kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net, on Apple podcasts and Spotify. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.