House Debates State Agency Spending Audits, Dilapidated/Abandoned Property, Military Veterans Registry, Tax Credit for Military Families, Safety ‘Halo’ for Bicyclists, Nursing Home Administrator Requirements, Handguns on Buses
OKLAHOMA CITY (20 March 2017) – An ad hoc commission to audit expenditures of state government agencies “in order to identify opportunities for savings” would be created by a bill the House of Representatives approved Monday.
The legislators also endorsed measures that would target dilapidated or abandoned properties, create a registry of all military veterans in the state, authorize a tax credit for military families, modify requirements for nursing home administrators, establish a religious holiday, enlarge a safety “halo” for bicyclists, allow handguns on buses, and resurrect a measure that appeared dead last week.
Audits of State Agency Spending Proposed
All state agencies would be evaluated at least once every four years “in order to identify agency-specific efficiencies,” House Bill 2311 stipulates.
The commission would be authorized to contract with a private company, a non-profit or academic institution to assist with the spending audits.
Opponents noted that every year the Legislature examines the budgets of all appropriated state agencies (which number approximately 70). Consequently, “That information is already available, isn’t it?” asked Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City.
Opponents also pointed to the potential cost of the proposed audits.
State Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, wrote recently that state agency chiefs testifying in Senate committees have said that examinations of their agencies by the State Auditor & Inspector have cost “from $8,000 to as much as $26,000.”
Similarly, Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, provided a document which showed that the Payne County Commissioners paid the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office almost $362,000 over the past four fiscal years for audits of the county’s ledgers.
Objections notwithstanding, HB 2311, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, passed, 64-24. All votes in support of the measure were cast by Republicans, and all votes against were cast by Democrats.
Identifying Expenditures to Meet Program Requirements
State agencies would be required by House Bill 1942 to include in their annual budgets a description of all federal funds received for any program in which the agencies participate, the requirements of those programs, and the amount of “expenditures spent to meet the requirements of” those programs.
The GOP-sponsored bill passed in split vote, 65-23. The measure was supported by 64 Republicans and one Democrat; all 23 “nay” votes were cast by Democrats. Now the bill will be referred to the Senate for consideration.
Eliminating Municipal Eyesores
A municipality would be empowered by House Bill 1381 to require the owner of dilapidated or abandoned property to “provide the name, physical address and telephone number” of an individual designated to “receive and respond to communications concerning the property” that’s targeted for abatement. The municipality “shall not assess any additional charge when requiring the information,” HB 1381 specifies.
Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, asked whether it is accurate that approximately half of the rental properties in Tulsa are deemed to be substandard. The author of the bill, a Tulsa Republican, confirmed that estimate.
HB 1381 passed the House by a vote of 69-20. Two dozen Democrats, including Proctor, joined 45 Republicans in support of the measure; every vote against the proposal was cast by a Republican. The bill will now be transmitted to the Senate for consideration.
Under a House bill enacted in 2014, registration of any real property by any municipality is “declared to be a statewide concern and shall be prohibited.”
No municipality is allowed to enact or attempt to enforce through fees, civil fines or criminal penalties “any ordinance, rule or regulation to require the registration of real property,” the law decreed. That derailed programs in Del City, Midwest City, Oklahoma City, Stillwater and Bartlesville that were designed to eliminate blighted buildings and neighborhoods, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman and Reps. Cory Williams and then-Rep. Kay Floyd lamented.
However, a municipality is not barred from enacting and enforcing rules and regulations to require owners of real property to comply with established occupancy standards spelled out by ordinance and state law.
The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) would be directed by House Bill 1198 to create a registry of all military veterans in this state.
The information would include each veteran’s name, dates of service, branch of military service, rank, and, if applicable, the date of the veteran’s death and the location of his/her burial.
The data sought would apply only to anyone who was on active duty and received an honorable discharge from the armed services.
The bill passed the House, 90-0, and was referred to the Senate for consideration.
A companion measure, Senate Bill 456, would require the ODVA to create and administer a registry of military veterans who are totally service-disabled. That bill passed the Senate, 45-0, and was transmitted to the House.
Daycare Tax Credit for Deployed Military Families
The House unanimously endorsed a measure that would create a state income-tax credit for daycare expenses incurred by families of deployed military personnel.
House Bill 1312 by Rep. Collin Walke would authorize a tax credit for daycare expenditures on a qualifying dependent child during any period when a member of the armed services is deployed “to another location in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster” for 30 or more consecutive days, during which time the service member is unable to be accompanied by his/her family at government expense.
The proposed credit would start in tax year 2018 and could not be used to reduce the claimant’s tax liability “to less than zero,” HB 1312 provides.
The legislation would apply to dependent children 12 or younger at the time the daycare expenses were paid, and permissible expenses would be limited to the care of a child “for not more than 12 hours per day.”
“Servicemember” is defined in the bill to mean a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Reserve Corps of the nation’s Armed Forces, or the Oklahoma National Guard.
“This credit would be a valuable benefit to military families whenever a parent is deployed to a combat zone or a disaster area for an extended period,” said Walke, D-Oklahoma City.
HB 1312 was approved 89-0 by the House and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.
Nursing Home Administrator Requirement Modification
The statutory requirements for would-be administrators of nursing homes is subject to amendment by House Bill 1551.
The bill would bar the State Board of Examiners for Long-Term Care Administrators from requiring a nursing home administrator to have a four-year college degree in order to be licensed or certified if the candidate has “10 years of experience in administrative management, with five years of experience as a certified assistant administrator in a long-term care facility.”
Brett Coble, administrator of Meridian Nursing Home in Comanche, OK, said prospective nursing home administrators in this state have to complete two exams. One is a 100-question state standards test, and students must achieve a score of at least 75. Administrator candidates also must undergo a National Association of Long-Term Care Administrator Boards Exam of 150 questions, on which a minimum score of 113 (75%) is required.
Nursing home administrator candidates in Oklahoma also must complete a 16-week Administrator University course.
In addition, if an administrator candidate has a four-year college degree in a health care field, he/she must participate in a 560-hour “Administrator in Training” (AIT) internship program. If the nursing home candidate has no college diploma, or a degree in some field other than health care, he/she must complete an AIT program of 720 hours.
Former state Rep. James Lockhart of Heavener, who on Monday became administrator at the Heavener Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, said he spent more than $10,000 and worked and studied for more than a year to obtain his license and complete his requisite training.
“It can be a costly endeavor for someone doing it on their own,” Coble conceded, “but a lot of facilities will pay for their people to become licensed.”
HB 1551 passed in a split vote, 57-35, and will be referred to the Senate for consideration.
Christian Holiday Endorsed
“Good Friday,” the Friday preceding Easter Sunday, would be designated as a paid state holiday under House Bill 1444.
Good Friday is a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary.
Paid holidays this year for state employees were/are New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Christmas Day and the day after.
HB 1444 passed the House, 69-24 – it was supported by 46 Republicans and 23 Democrats, and was opposed by 22 Republicans and two Democrats – and was transmitted to the Senate for consideration.
Two bills that constituted 373 total pages of proposed amendments to the workers’ compensations statutes – House Bills 1462 and 1921 – strolled through the House uncontested Monday, because their titles were stricken. That’s a procedural motion which indicates the bills will be subject to House/Senate negotiations before a final product is presented for consideration.
But a third workers’ comp measure, House Bill 2242, which encompasses seven pages, triggered substantial floor debate and barely scraped by.
It provides that if a subcontractor fails to carry workers’ comp insurance on his/her employees, liability would devolve to the person or entity for whom the work is being performed, unless an intermediary contractor carries workers’ comp insurance.
Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, insisted that if a subcontractor fails to secure workers’ comp insurance, HB 2242 would shift the burden of paying for an injured worker’s medical treatment from the prime contractor to the person for whom the work is being performed: i.e., the homeowner.
HB 2242 squeezed through the House, 52-39, but was held for reconsideration of the emergency clause, which failed on a 49-25 vote.
Give Cyclists Some Space
The “lateral safe distance” between a motor vehicle and a bicycle on a two-lane road would be expanded by House Bill 2191 from 3 feet to 5 feet. On a multi-lane road, a motor vehicle driver would be required to move into another lane to safely pass a bicyclist.
The driver of a motor vehicle causing a collision, crash, fall or physical injury to a cyclist would be fined $500. If the mishap caused the cyclist’s death, the fine would be $5,000.
When asked whether HB 2191 would create a “special class,” Rep. Cory Williams, author of the measure, said that state Transportation Department workers are a specially protected class, and he noted that bicyclists are “highly vulnerable”. Oklahoma has “a huge cycling community,” the Stillwater Democrat added.
The bill passed in a split vote, 53-33, and will be transmitted to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa.
Guns on Buses
State law provides that no one but an authorized law enforcement officer may board a bus while transporting a “dangerous or deadly weapon.” House Bill 1721 would authorize an exception for persons who have been issued a concealed-carry license “pursuant to provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act.”
State law further provides that it is illegal to discharge a firearm into or within any bus, terminal or other transportation facility. However, HB 1721 would authorize an exception in the event “such action is determined to have been in defensive force resulting from reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, told the Republican author of the measure that he rides the bus virtually every day and has never encountered a situation where he thought a firearm was needed.
HB 1721 passed the House, 75-8. The opponents were Democrats Meloyde Blancett, Regina Goodwin and Monroe Nichols, all of Tulsa; Claudia Griffith, Norman; Cory Williams, Stillwater; Cyndi Munson, Collin Walke and George Young, all of Oklahoma City. Bennett said he was on the ’phone, trying to contact officials at EMBARK (formerly Metro Transit), Oklahoma City’s public bus system, about the measure, when the vote was closed; consequently, Bennett was officially listed as “excused” when the vote was recorded.
House Votes to Reverse Course
Legislation that was previously derailed squeaked by on reconsideration Monday.
The Republican measure, House Bill 1577, would require the State Department of Education to include on its website an itemized accounting of vacant or unused properties of Oklahoma’s school districts.
The House rejected the idea, 35-56, on March 13. But the Republican author of the measure succeeded in resurrecting the bill Monday and it passed on reconsideration, 51-36.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile