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Capitol Insider: All Bills Considered

Governor Kevin Stitt (R) Oklahoma
Governor Kevin Stitt speaks to Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies at the Capitol on March 26, 2019. Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

In this week's Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley review the close of the 2021 legislative session as Governor Kevin Stitt completed action on the final bills sent to his desk.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, Governor Stitt has completed work on all bills and joint resolutions sent to him for approval or veto. What do the final numbers look like?

Shawn Ashley: When we began talking back in January lawmakers had filed more than three-thousand forty bills for the 2021 regular session. That was a record. And they added to that with budget bills and a few others filed by the Speaker and the Pro Tem during the session. In the end, they sent five-hundred ninety-nine of those measures to Governor Stitt for consideration. That appears to be a modern-day record. And he signed five-hundred and eighty-three of those. Two others became law during the session when he failed to sign or veto them. And then at the end of the time period, two bills were pocket vetoed.

Dick Pryor: Indeed, the governor closed out the signing period by pocket vetoing two bills, and that's the first time he's done that. And one of the bills he allowed to die was authored by Norman lawmakers Jacob Rosecrantz and Rob Standridge. It would have provided a tax exemption to the nonprofit Operation School Bell, which provides clothing to needy students in Norman and Little Axe public schools. What was Governor Stitt’s rationale for vetoing that bill?

Shawn Ashley: We really don't know. And that is the beauty or the ugliness of a pocket veto, if you will. When a bill is pocket vetoed the governor simply takes no action during that 15-day period after lawmakers adjourn sine die. And if he doesn't take any action, the bill does not become law and he does not have to explain why. So. there's no veto message related to Senate Bill 236.

Dick Pryor: Did he veto all other tax exemption bills?

Shawn Ashley: Well, he vetoed one that would have helped nonprofits that benefit schools. He said that particular bill would have complicated the tax code. But then he signed six other sales tax exemption measures, some that benefit businesses and some that benefit nonprofits like city-county libraries.

Dick Pryor: The other pocket veto came on House bill 1010. What would that bill have done?

Shawn Ashley: This bill creates the Advisory Council on Traumatic Brain Injuries. And what this council was to do was to make recommendations to the legislature, the State Department of Health and the governor related to the treatment, prevention and education about traumatic brain injuries. Representative Trish Ranson, the House author of the bill, said that this measure was important in helping the state draw down federal funds that were available to deal with this issue.

Dick Pryor: House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat have created a new joint committee to determine how the state should spend federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. What is the committee's plan?

Shawn Ashley: The 24-member joint committee will receive and evaluate proposals from state agencies for use of those federal funds, and the joint committee will make recommendations to another group made up of six legislators and five members of the executive branch who are going to score those recommended proposals and then send the highest scoring proposals on to Governor Kevin Stitt, who will make the final decision regarding the allocation of those moneys. Now, looking back at the 2021 regular session, lawmakers passed legislation that said executive branch agencies cannot use this type of money in such a way that it would increase a future burden on the state budget. In other words, they can't begin a program with federal money that one day is going to run out and then have to be replaced with state funds. And this joint committee gives lawmakers a little bit of control over that process.

Dick Pryor: Is that unusual?

Shawn Ashley: This is the first time we have seen it. If you look back to 2020, when the Cares Act funding was provided by the federal government, that rolled directly to state agencies and through the office of the governor. And the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) in evaluating the use of that money, raised some concerns that some of it may not have been spent properly and properly documented, and that in fact, the legislature was perhaps not as involved as it should be. This joint committee seems to address that concern.

Dick Pryor: General revenue fund collections were up in May. What do the numbers tell us about the economy?

Shawn Ashley: Well, many states across the country are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. General revenue fund collections in May exceeded both the estimate on which the current fiscal year budget is based and the prior year, according to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. If you consider the first eleven months of the fiscal year, collections are above the estimate by nearly 65 million dollars. That sets the stage for a Rainy Day Fund deposit, replenishing some of those reserves that were spent during the 2020 legislative session to help balance that budget.

Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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