Myriad Proposals by Democrats Died Without Ever Receiving a Hearing
OKLAHOMA CITY – House Democrats saw a host of their proposals in the areas of health care, energy production, education, politics, insurance, and motor vehicle operations die in Republican-controlled committees this year.
Those measures included proposals to exempt purchases of hearing aids from sales taxes, outright bans on texting while driving, allowing “death with dignity, imposing limits on college tuition increases, establishing barriers between oil/gas wells and nearby homes, raising the minimum wage, and a measure that would have produced perhaps $150 million in federal funds for Native American health care at no cost to the state.
Following is a sampling of the Democratic proposals that died without ever receiving a hearing:
- Sales of hearing aids used by a hearing-impaired individual would be exempt from sales taxes if the devices were prescribed by a state-licensed audiologist or hearing-aid dealer or fitter, under House Bill 1138 by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa. That measure died in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Revenue and Taxation without ever being discussed.
It was no surprise that the proposal died on the vine, since the Legislature faces a $611 million budget gap this year. However, the subcommittee chairman, Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, has tried unsuccessfully for seven consecutive years to secure a tax exemption for hearing aids, especially for senior citizens on fixed incomes.
- A proposed task force to “study senior issues and make recommendations on ways to improve the lives of the increasing number” of senior citizens in Oklahoma wasn’t considered. House Bill 2041 by Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, died in the House Rules Committee. According to the AARP, more than 530,000 Oklahomans are aged 65 or older, and Social Security is the sole source of income for one-third of them.
- A “Death With Dignity” measure, House Bill 1673 by Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, expired in the Public Health Committee from total neglect. It would have allowed any adult Oklahoman deemed to be mentally “capable” but suffering from a terminal illness to submit a written request for medication “for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner…”
- House Bill 1341 by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, would have made it illegal to smoke in a motor vehicle transporting a child 16 or younger. That proposal was snuffed out in the Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances Committee. A similar measure – Senate Bill 747 by Sen. Randy Bass, D-Lawton – was spurned by the Senate in a floor vote Tuesday.
- State employees who are on maternity leave would have been eligible to receive short-term benefits from the Disability Insurance Program administered by the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board, under House Bill 1850 by Democratic Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. That bill received no hearing from the State Government Operations Committee.
- Insurance carriers would have been compelled by House Bill 1336 to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autistic disorders. “Insurers pay for Viagra but not for autism medications,” said Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, author of the proposal. “That’s nuts. HB 1336 was never considered by the Insurance Committee.
- Rep. David Perryman wanted to prohibit any caretaker convicted of abuse, verbal abuse, neglect or exploitation, or exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult, from inheriting from the victim, or receiving any portion whatsoever of the victim’s estate. Nevertheless, his House Bill 1031 died in the Judiciary and Civil Procedure Committee without being discussed.
- A measure by Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, that would have enabled Oklahoma to receive an estimated $150 million to underwrite health-care services for Native Americans died in the House Committee on Public Health without ever receiving a hearing.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority would have been authorized by House Bill 1831 to submit a waiver to the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services for care provided in Indian Health Service facilities, Native American health facilities, and Urban Indian Organization health facilities. The waiver would provide payments to those facilities for formerly reimbursable services, “and more generally to cover otherwise uncompensated care.”
The Republican-dominated House opted to exempt itself from a couple of restrictions the Legislature has imposed on others.
- House Bill 1038 by Perryman, D-Chickasha, would have banned “robocalls” that solicit funds or support for or opposition to a political candidate, cause or organization. The House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Procedure hung up on the proposal.
- And Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, proposed in House Bill 1049 to include the Legislature and the state judiciary in the definition of a “public body” subject to the state’s Open Records Act. However, that measure died in the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.
- House Bill 1631 by Rep. Mike Brown, to impose limits on the amount of money that can be transferred from state agency revolving funds to the General Fund, died quietly in the House Committee on Rules. Last year the Republican-controlled Legislature diverted $291 million from 29 revolving funds and savings accounts in order to balance the state budget, Brown, D-Tahlequah, recalled.
- House Bill 1429 by Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, would have reduced the number of high-stakes tests that Oklahoma school children are required to take. In addition, high school seniors who have met the graduation requirements mandated by the State Board of Education could receive a diploma, regardless of their scores on an end-of-instruction exam, under procedures that would have been established by HB 1429. The bill died in the Common Education Committee.
- House Bill 2043 by Young, which would have empaneled a Minority Teacher Recruitment Advisory Committee, died in the House Rules Committee.
- The amount that a retired school teacher could earn upon returning to a public school classroom, and still qualify for state pension benefits, would be doubled from $15,000 to $30,000 by House Bill 1112 by Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita.
- Similarly, House Bill 1364 by Rep. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman, would have allowed a retired teacher to earn up to $25,000 yet still continue to receive state pension benefits. Both measures died in the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee without ever receiving a hearing.
For the third consecutive year, an eastern Oklahoma legislator filed a measure to “rein in the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.” :
- House Bill 1334 by Lockhart decrees that no state agency would be allowed to increase “any fee, fine or tuition in the same year the state agency received an increase in funding” from the Legislature. The bill defines a state agency to mean “any constitutionally or statutorily created state board, bureau, commission, office or authority.”
“The cost of a college degree has gotten out of hand,” Lockhart said. “These young adults are just starting out in life, and usually they start at the bottom of the pay scale in their respective professions. It’s tough to succeed when you’re saddled with student loan debts that are literally the size of a home mortgage.”
HB 1334 collected dust and died in the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability.
Energy Production Setbacks
- Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, introduced legislation to impose setbacks on oil/gas wells drilled near homes or domestic wells.
House Bill 1107 would have prohibited the wellbore of a vertically or horizontally drilled oil or gas well within a radius of 500 feet from “any occupied structure” or 300 feet of “any producing freshwater well.” It would have prohibited a “fracked” well from being established within a radius of 2,000 feet of any occupied structure or any producing freshwater wells.
It also would have prohibited siting an oil or brine storage tank, or compressors, heaters, separators, etc., within a radius of 100 feet of any occupied structure.
HB 1107 died in the Environmental Law Committee without ever being debated.
Under existing state law, there is no minimum distance for drilling equipment or energy production wells to be set back from any habitable structure.
However, state law requires structures to be sited a minimum distance from any drilling operation: no closer than 125 feet of the wellbore of an active well, or 50 feet from the center of any surface equipment necessary for the operation of an active well, including oil storage and brine storage tanks.
- House Bill 1571 by Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, would require all new or renewed residential property insurance policies to offer coverage “for loss caused by the peril of earthquake.” The coverage would be optional, but carriers would be compelled to notify their customers of its availability. That bill died in the Insurance Committee without ever being discussed.
State and federal geologists counted 5,418 earthquakes throughout Oklahoma last year, ranging in intensity from barely perceptible by seismographs to a magnitude-4.2, Oklahoma Geological Survey data show.
A record 567 of those ’quakes registered magnitude-3 or greater. In comparison, U.S. Geological Survey data reflect that Oklahoma experienced an average of fewer than two magnitude-3 ’quakes per year for 30 years, from 1978 through 2008.
- Mandatory minimum vehicle liability coverage for property damage in car wrecks would have been raised from $25,000 to $35,000 in House Bill 1671, by Brown. The bill died in the Insurance Committee without receiving a hearing.
- In House Bill 1136, McDaniel proposed to outlaw a motorist’s use of a cellular telephone or other electronic communication device to “write, send, or read a text-based communication” – texting, emailing or instant messaging – while the vehicle is in motion.
A related measure, House Bill 1009 by Perryman, would have made it unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle on any public street or highway of this state while using a cellular telephone or electronic communication device “to compose, send or read a text-based communication while the motor vehicle is in motion.”
Both bills (HB 1136 and HB 1009) died in the Public Safety Committee.
Instead, the House passed House Bill 1965. Under current state law, texting while driving is not a primary offense. A law enforcement officer cannot pull over and ticket a driver for texting while driving unless the motorist is speeding, driving recklessly such as weaving across lanes, or has a wreck.
That would not be changed by HB 1965. The bill decrees that enforcement of the proposed new statute “must be accomplished only as a secondary action when an operator of a motor vehicle has been detained for a suspected violation of another traffic law…”
- Legislation that would have given shareholders control over political contributions from corporations died in the Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee. House Bill 1056, the “Shareholders Bill of Rights Act,” would have allowed shareholders to control corporate political donations in Oklahoma.
“If campaign and ethics laws cannot limit the amount of money that a corporation can pour into a political campaign, then its shareholders should be able to,” asserted Perryman, author of the measure. “After all, the money in a corporate treasury belongs to the shareholders.”
- An energy conservation measure projected to save state taxpayers $100 million over the next decade was shelved. House Bill 1340 by Dunnington would have expanded an energy conservation program that has saved millions of dollars in utility bills at state-owned properties by implementing comprehensive energy-saving plans. HB 1340 would extend the same program to public school buildings, and thus has the potential to return millions of dollars to classrooms via “smart energy” policies.
Minimum Wage Measures
- At least three proposals designed to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma have been derailed this year by House Republicans.
Dunnington’s House Bill 1343 would have repealed the statute which the GOP-dominated Legislature approved last year, forbidding any municipality from establishing a minimum wage rate that an employer would be required to pay his/her employees. As a matter of public policy “and due to an overriding state interest,” Senate Bill 1023 declared, the Legislature “pre-empts the entire field of legislation in this state touching in any way” the mandated minimum wage.
HB 1343 was suffocated in the Economic Development, Commerce, and Real Estate Committee.
So was Dunnington’s House Bill 1344, which proposed to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.
In addition, an amendment to House Bill 1375, proposed by Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma over the next three years to $10 per hour, was overwhelmingly spurned by House Republicans on March 2.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
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