Feb. 28 was the first major deadline since the the 2019 Oklahoma legislative session convened. In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss bills gaining traction at the state capitol, as well as one piece of legislation that has already been signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with the eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley, who is finally getting to take a bit of a break after tracking a blizzard of bills up for votes over the past few days. Let's go through some key bills that have advanced, starting with government accountability.
Shawn Ashley: Now, this is one area where there's a lot of legislation that's moving, in particular related to the hiring and firing of state agency heads. The Senate has its plan, which would eliminate the boards or commissions of five agencies and allow the governor to hire or fire those agency heads. The House has a different plan, and it retains those boards and commissions and gives the legislature impeachment authority over those agency heads if they do something lawmakers feel is wrong.
Both House Majority Leader Jon Echols and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said on Thursday they're negotiating over these differences and they're happy about the fact that they both have sort of the same central plan in mind-- the idea that agency heads could be hired and fired, something Governor Kevin Stitt has asked for.
Pryor: Legislators are moving ahead with an anti-abortion trigger bill. How would that work?
Ashley: This is an interesting piece of legislation because it would not take effect until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade or passed a constitutional amendment allowing states to prohibit abortion. What it does is to eliminate all of the regulations on abortion in Oklahoma if either of those events takes place. That's the trigger.
What that would do is solve a contradiction in law that would then exist. Currently there is a crime for performing an abortion, and an individual can be sentenced to two to five years for doing that. But that is unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. If those are overturned then you have contradictory laws: the criminal act and the regulations on that act. So this bill, if triggered, would eliminate the regulations.
Pryor: The permitless carry bill passed both houses and was signed into law by Governor Stitt, the first bill he signed.
Ashley: That's correct, and it was something he had talked about on the campaign trail, the idea of limiting of eliminating the requirement that individuals first obtain a permit before exercising their Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms. Now, at the same time however, there is follow up legislation that's coming through the process related to some of the public spaces, the public parks and the zoos. This was a concern raised by Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and what it would allow is only concealed carry in those parks and zoos that are operated by public trust or nonprofits, places such as The Gathering Place in Tulsa, the new Scissor Tail Park that will be opening in Oklahoma City later this fall, as well as the zoos in both communities.
Pryor: And the bill takes effect Nov. 1.
Ashley: The bill takes effect Nov. 1.
Pryor: A couple of education bills are moving forward. A bill that would raise teacher pay has already passed the House. What happens next?
Ashley: Let's remember a year ago there was a lot of haggling taking place over a teacher pay raise, and now, in less than the first month of the legislative session, it's already been through the House Appropriations Committee, it's passed the House floor and is awaiting Senate consideration. The issue that may slow the bill down is whether or not lawmakers are going to focus on a teacher pay raise, which Gov. Kevin Stitt has called for, or look at directing some of that money to the classroom, which a lot of the education groups are saying needs to be the focus this year.
Pryor: Another education bill requiring five day school weeks is also moving forward.
Ashley: This is a concern that was raised by the Senate Republican caucus when they announced their agenda earlier this year. They say that the four day school week that many school districts are using looks bad to businesses that are interested in coming to the state. What this bill would do would raise the minimum number of hours that students are required to be in the classroom, as well as the minimum number of days. Now, again, if school districts could fit that education time within a four day week they could retain the four day week, but it's really designed to make them move toward the five day school week.
Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider, if you have questions e-mail us firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.