House Committees Approve Bills to Entice Doctors, Workers to Move to Rural Areas

OKLAHOMA CITY (14 February 2017) – Two House bills intended to attract doctors and workers to sparsely populated areas of Oklahoma were endorsed in committees this week.

House Bill 2301 by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, would authorize a tax exemption on the first $25,000 of annual income earned by any “qualifying doctor” who moves to a rural area of Oklahoma. The exemption could be claimed so long as the doctor remained in that designated area, the bill indicates.

The bill defines a “rural area” to mean any town or unincorporated area that has fewer than 25,000 residents and is at least 25 miles from the nearest municipality that has a population that exceeds 25,000.

The bill also specifies that a “qualifying doctor” means a medical doctor or osteopathic physician who:

  •             is licensed to practice medicine in Oklahoma;
  •             was graduated from a medical institution of higher education in this state; and
  •             resides within the same county as the rural area where the compensation that qualifies for the tax exemption proposed by HB 2301 is earned.

HB 2301 cleared the Appropriations and Budget Committee in a bipartisan vote Monday, 21-5. Supporters included 17 Republicans and four Democrats, while the opponents numbered three Democrats and two Republicans.

House Bill 1156 – which would provide a five-year exemption from all state income taxes for anyone who moves from another state to any Oklahoma county with a declining population – passed the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

The bill stipulates that the move must be made to a county “which has been projected to have a decline in its population” between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2075, as identified in” a publication issued by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce: the “2012 Demographic State of the State Report – Oklahoma State and County Population Projections Through 2075”.

Counties identified in the Commerce Department report included Alfalfa, Beaver, Blaine, Choctaw, Cimarron, Cotton, Craig, Dewey, Ellis, Grant, Greer, Harmon, Harper, Hughes, Jackson, Jefferson, Kay, Kiowa, Major, Nowata, Roger Mills, Seminole, Tillman, Washita and Woods.

HB 1156 received a “do pass” recommendation from the committee on a 16-1 vote Tuesday. The lone vote in opposition was cast by Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester.

“How come this bill is in Ag” instead of the Appropriations and Budget Committee, Renegar asked.

“Because this is a rural development bill,” replied Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, principal author of HB 1156.

In response to a question from Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, Biggs said HB 1156 is identical to HB 2301 introduced two years ago by former Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole. HB 2301 “got hung up” in a House/Senate conference committee that was unable to agree on a compromise, Biggs related.

Biggs claimed that a Rural Opportunity Zones measure that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law in 2011 “has been successful in attracting people” to rural areas of the Sunflower State. ROZs are 77 Kansas counties authorized to offer 100% state income-tax waivers for up to five years, and/or student loan repayments up to $15,000, to new full-time residents who have not lived in Kansas for at least the past five years.

After the committee meeting, Renegar said he opposed HB 1156 because, “I don’t believe people who are making $30,000 to $50,000 a year are going to move to an area of declining population just so they can save perhaps $2,500 a year on taxes. It costs a lot of money to pack up and move.”

HBs 2301 and 1156 will now be placed on the House calendar for floor votes.


Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
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