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Wondering what went down during Oklahoma's 2024 legislative session? Here's a recap

Oklahoma's Capitol Dome
Kateleigh Mills
/
KOSU
Oklahoma's Capitol Dome

Thousands of bills were filed this legislative session and hundreds were signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt. KOSU and StateImpact reporters followed some of those measures until they either became law or died somewhere in the process. Here is what they learned:

Tax cuts and budget talks dominate the regular session

As Gov. Kevin Stitt’s public, bicameral “2024 Budget Summit” bled into the final week of the regular legislative session, the governor relented on his push for an income tax cut to be included in a joint budget resolution, speeding up the budget process.

Stitt initially pushed for a quarter-percent cut to the state income tax, then advocated for a flat rate and “pathway to zero.” After weeks without an agreement, Stitt said he’d drop the tax cut for the time being if lawmakers agreed to four concessions:

  • The research and eventual implementation of a business court system in Oklahoma
  • A 7% salary increase for district court judges
  • $20 million added to Stitt’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which is intended to convince companies to move to Oklahoma with financial incentives
  • Continued appropriations for the State-Tribal Litigation Fund

“If we can, we can put those four things in here, and we get this done today, then I will not veto this budget,” Stitt said on the last day of budget negotiations.

Republican leaders in both chambers agreed to appease Stitt to finish the budget process and avoid an extension of the regular session.

Despite disagreements on the income tax cut, lawmakers and Stitt worked together — and across partisan lines — to pass some tax cuts and other forms of inflation relief.

From right to left, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, Governor Kevin Stitt, and House Speaker Charles McCall take a selfie following finalized budget agreements, May 22, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Lionel Ramos
/
KOSU
From right to left, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, Governor Kevin Stitt, and House Speaker Charles McCall take a selfie following finalized budget agreements, May 22, 2024, at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, started the session pushing for sweeping tax cuts.

“The budget is 5.3% smaller than last year overall,” McCall said. “We are going to have a minimum of $4.8 billion in savings and total reserves for the state. So, there was room in the budget for the personal income tax cut in my opinion.”

However, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City committed only to cutting the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries.Treat said he is proud of his accomplishments this session, highlighting the grocery tax cut as the largest tax cut in state history.

“We delivered the largest tax cut in state history through the grocery tax, provided a transparent budget process, kept a billion dollars in cash free and clear from all the other savings accounts,” Treat said.

By the end of the summit, House and Senate leadership agreed to dole out $12.5 billion to state agencies and one-time and legacy project investments. That’s down from $13.2 billion last fiscal year.

Joint appropriations bills were created following the budget summit and hashed out on the floor of each chamber until the last constitutional day of the regular session.

Despite strong opposition from House Democrats, the general appropriations bill, Senate Bill 1125, passed the chamber with an 80-17 vote.

Democratic reaction

Leaders of the minority caucuses held a press conference late last week to recap the session from their point of view.

Senate minority leader Sen. Kay Floyd, along with next year’s leader-elect Julia Kirt and House minority leader Cyndi Munson, reiterated the lack of a direct role for their caucus in budget discussions as a main point of disappointment for them, despite expressing gratitude for greater transparency on behalf of the Senate.

Munson said Republican leaders are misleading voters by presenting the smaller budget in a purely positive light.

“It's irresponsible and disingenuous to go around the state of Oklahoma and tout record savings, and not actually use those tax dollars that we pay to invest in the services that we expect to be high-quality services,” Munson said.

Instead, she said, lawmakers across the aisle are leveraging the money of all Oklahomans to justify a financial break for the state's wealthiest. 

Rep. Kevin Wallace, R-Welston, is the House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chair. On Thursday, he defended the budget and its process on the House floor but acknowledged room for improvement.

Spring Creek located in northeast Oklahoma
Graycen Wheeler
/
KOSU
Spring Creek located in northeast Oklahoma

More protection for poultry operations, fewer for surface water

After bouncing back and forth between the House and the Senate, both chambers passed controversial legislation to stifle lawsuits against poultry corporations.

House Bill 4118 aimed to change the law that holds poultry farms responsible for water pollution. As long as a poultry operator is following a state-approved nutrient management plan, which describes how to dispose of chicken poop and other waste, they would be protected from pollution lawsuits.

“All it says is if you do what we tell you to do, and you follow the rules,[...] then somebody who moved into Northeast Oklahoma from Branson can't sue you because they don't like living next to a poultry farm,” said Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando.

The bill met staunch opposition from the Inter-Tribal Council of Oklahoma’s five largest tribal governments, conservation groups and some Northeast Oklahoma residents.

HB 4118 seemed to fizzle out after being sent to a conference committee for fine-tuning. But lawmakers rolled its language into Senate Bill 1424, which also aimed to increase fines for poultry operations found to be in violation of their nutrient management plans.

“The transfer of language from HB 4118 to SB 1424 indicates the original lack of support for these provisions,” reads a statement from the Inter-Tribal Council. “While we support our local farms and the agriculture industry, this must not come at the expense of clean water.”

Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, said the measure wouldn’t benefit small-scale local poultry farmers and could subject them to higher fines. Instead, SB1424 would help large corporations like Tyson.

“What this does is allow these poultry integrators — that are not based in Oklahoma, by the way — to use our state as a disposal site for their poop,” Blancett said. “And it goes into our lands, it goes into our water, it goes into our aquifers. And they are not held accountable.”

The bill passed the House on the final day of session after clearing the Senate one day earlier.

Reading gets heavy emphasis

This year’s legislative session didn’t yield the same magnitude of education funding that Oklahoma saw last year, but lawmakers did infuse $25 million more into general school operations.

Lawmakers continued last year’s focus on teacher recruitment, setting aside more than $11 million for student-teacher pay and future educator scholarships. However, stipends for support staff and an earnings cap increase for retired teachers who return to the classroom ultimately failed.

The budget for the State Department of Education hasn’t been signed by the governor yet, and State Superintendent Ryan Walters has pushed back against a stipulation banning the department from using state funds on media or public relations campaigns.

The conversation around how educators teach kids to read is re-emerging. Walters has emphasized the need for science of reading training for teachers — going so far as to demand it from Tulsa Public Schools — which, as of May, has reached 100% completion of training elementary and secondary teachers.

Lawmakers are also going all-in on science of reading techniques, which centers literacy learning around sounding out words. Senate Bill 362 is awaiting the governor’s signature, and it would overhaul what was the Reading Sufficiency Act — renamed the “Strong Readers Act.” It would increase training, ban some methods and bolster student screenings.

Oklahoma City resident Mauricio Fonseca holds a blended Mexican and American flag in the air during a protest against HB 4156 on May 15 outside the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Lionel Ramos/KOSU
Oklahoma City resident Mauricio Fonseca holds a blended Mexican and American flag in the air during a protest against HB 4156 on May 15 outside the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Lawmakers, Stitt pass state-level immigration enforcement

Oklahoma lawmakers began the session with a spate of anti-immigration measures to consider. Although several gained traction, only one bill, introduced part-way through the legislative session by McCall, was signed into law by the governor.

House Bill 4156 creates a new state crime in Oklahoma called “impermissible occupation,” criminalizing anyone in the state without legal permission. It’s based on the Texas Senate Bill 4, which permits local police in that state to arrest people they suspect may not have legal immigration status and is tied up in court.

Oklahoma lawmakers say Attorney General Gentner Drummond helped them craft the measure to crack down on illegal marijuana grows, fentanyl imports and human trafficking crimes, which they claim are seeing spikes thanks to increased illegal immigration.

The Oklahoma measure drew Latinos and other members of immigrant communities out in protest more than once and spurred heavy criticism from municipal and county law enforcement.

Weeks after Stitt signed the measure, the federal government threatened him and Drummond with lawsuits unless they agreed not to enforce the new law. Federal officials say Oklahoma is overstepping by legislating matters of immigration.

Drummond said he welcomed the threat, which federal authorities made good on. Days later, state and national advocacy groups filed a second lawsuit against the measure.

Opponents of the sweeping immigration law are hopeful courts will stop it from being enforced until those lawsuits are decided.Oklahoma’s measure will join its Texas muse in legal limbo if that happens. If not, the law is set to take effect July 1.

Meanwhile, Stitt assembled a Task Force to research the issuance of state-level work visas for immigrants looking to join the Oklahoma workforce. Democrats say Stitt is trying to appease his Republican base while also mitigating the backlash from immigrant Oklahomans.

Among them is Sen. Michael Brooks, who's tried multiple times to pass legislation allowing people paying state taxes with Individual Tax Identification Numbers rather than social security numbers to be issued driver’s licenses from the state. Those efforts have failed repeatedly.

Abortion bills make little progress, health care workforce changes become law

House Bill 3013 sought totarget people who deliver or mail abortion-inducing drugs to mothers. The penalty for “abortion trafficking” would have cost up to $100,000 in fines, ten years in prison, or both, but the bill died in the opposite chamber.

House Bill 3002 moved a bit further, but died before it reached the Senate floor. It would have extended rights to a woman’s unborn child, saying it could also be a victim of battery, and aggravated assault and battery.

Some lawmakersexpressed concern about the potential impacts it could have on fertility treatments, saying an unlawful use of force could apply in situations where damage occurs to an embryo during treatments. This conversation came not long after legislation in Alabama that caused fertility clinics to shut down because they feared lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

Some health legislation that saw success fell in the area of mental health.HB 3015 will lower the hour requirement for supervised practice from 4,000 to 3,000 for three social work licenses, making the state more competitive withhour requirements nationwide.

Oklahoma’s estimated 6,000 licensed social workers areonly meeting about two-thirds of the state's mental health needs, and this legislation willhelp them get to work faster.

SB 1344 also passed. It requires state agencies to secure funding for education and health care services related to non-opioid alternatives.

If requested, these agencies will also assistschools, municipalities and counties that receive grant funding under the Political Subdivisions Opioid Abatement Grants Act in developing and implementing plans tocounteract the state’s opioid crisis.

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary
Quinton Chandler
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Penitentiary

Prison rodeo a no-go

Legislators also considered an effort to revive the Oklahoma State Penitentiary Rodeo arena in McAlester.

The last rodeo was held at the facility in 2009 but was discontinued because of a lack of funding and degrading grounds. This session, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections sought an $8.3 million appropriation for restoring and expanding the prison rodeo arena. The department has designated $1 million for the project.

House Bill 3749 and Senate Bill 1427, would have allocated funding for the effort. Some lawmakers said the rodeo would reduce recidivism rates and have a positive economic impact, and others voiced safety concerns and said there are more immediate issues, like infrastructure needs, in correctional facilities.

In May, Steven Harpe, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said the department is not seeking the appropriation and asked for an interim study to be conducted. He made the announcement during the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary Meeting.

“I think at this late date, I mean obviously we’ve been a little frustrated with the process, but I think it’s probably in the best interest of all involved that we take a step back,” Harpe said. “Go to the interim study, be able to answer as many questions as possible and bring it back in February.”

Groundwater protection bill vetoed

Poultry wasn’t the only arena in which the legislature weighed regulatory burdens against the protection of water resources.

House Bill 3194, aimed to maintain Oklahoma’s underground water stores, almost made it into law. The state legislature-approved measure would have required farmers, ranchers and other commercial irrigators to track how much water they pull from Oklahoma’s aquifers.

“You're going to take great strides in getting information to the Water Resources Board, taking off that big hurdle about how accurate that information is,” said Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, one of the bill’s authors.

But Stitt vetoed HB 3194, calling it “government overreach at its finest.”

“While forcing water meters on Oklahomans may seem innocuous, it is undoubtedly a violation of private landowners’ rights and emboldens the government to continue down that path,” Stitt wrote in his veto statement.

The legislature did not attempt to override Stitt’s veto.

Goats, sheep and cattle will repeatedly eat kudzu, according to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Mitchell Alcala
/
OSU Agricultural Communication Services
Goats, sheep and cattle will repeatedly eat kudzu, according to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Lawmakers considered gnarly weeds, but Stitt rejected regulating them

A bill adding invasive two plants to the Oklahoma Noxious Weeds Law was struck down.

Under the proposal, landowners have to control, treat or eradicate the plants listed in the law on their property. House Bill 3186 would have tacked on poison hemlock and kudzu to the plant hit list,

The measure passed with comfortable majorities in the House and Senate, but Stitt vetoed it in late April.

“Noxious weed control is a worthy endeavor, but I would prefer to entrust it to individual landowners rather than the environmental state,” according to the veto notice from Stitt’s office.

Other states have a type of noxious weed law but for Oklahoma, the only plants included in the law are three types of thistles.

Landowners can submit a complaint to the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry about plant overgrowth. People who fail to control the thistles can face a fine or legal action. One of the bill’s authors, Sen. Grant Green, R-Wellston, said when the department of agriculture checks the land, the problem is usually resolved before a penalty.

Food label changes

Lawmakers also looked at food labels. One measure, House Bill 2975 was signed into law in April.

The new law will allow producers to register for a number through the State Department of Agriculture to use on homemade food product labels instead of their full name, address and phone number. One of the legislation’s authors, Rep. Rick West, R-Heavener, said in a press release a constituent asked for the bill.

"This is for the safety of the people that make food for sale in their homes," West said. "The government should have record of a producer's personal information in case there needs to be some recourse for a product sold, but the general public does not need a seller's private phone number or physical address. This also should help cut down on identity theft or fraud."

While on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said she was concerned if consumers could get a producer’s information from the department if a product harmed them. Floyd said in the measure, there was no requirement for the department to release the information.

Another author of the measure, Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, said he thinks the process for handling complaints would be the same as managing other complaints.

The act takes effect Nov. 1.

University of Oklahoma students walk to and from class on the Van Vleet Oval in Norman.
Robby Korth
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma students walk to and from class on the Van Vleet Oval in Norman.

Bills doubling down DEI bans failed, but university inclusion programs still shuttered

Following Stitt’s December executive order calling on higher education institutions to defund their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs, Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, introduced various bills targeting DEI offices and policies.

Although Standrige's bills died in the Senate, universities across the state have moved to adhere to Stitt’s order. The University of Oklahoma announced in March that it would be renaming its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office to the Division of Access and Opportunity. A month later, the Gender + Equality Center, which supports OU’s LGBTQ+ community, closed its doors. In February, Oklahoma State University changed its Office of Institutional Diversity to the Division of Access and Community Impact.

He introduced the failed bills in the wake of an interim study to scrutinize the influence of DEI programs. Here’s what they would’ve done:

  • Senate Bill 1303 would have prohibited diversity, equity and inclusion offices and banned mandatory training related to race, color, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation in higher education.
  • Senate Bill 1304 would have created the Oklahoma Workforce Education Revolving Fund under the administration of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. The department would award funds to institutions that do not have DEI offices, did not hire staff to support diversity initiatives and did require students to take certain courses. 
  • Senate Bill 1305 would have prohibited institutions of higher education from requiring or incentivizing participation in DEI and critical race theory-related courses or content.
  • Senate Bill 1306 would have prohibited institutions of higher education from requiring enrollment in certain courses, not part of their core curriculum, such as diversity, equity and inclusion-specific classes.

Ranked-choice voting gets banned

Lawmakers tackled various election-related issues, including ranked choice voting, voter identification, technology use and more.

House Bill 3156 passed both chambers of the legislature along party lines at the end of April. The bill prohibits the use of ranked choice voting in elections at any level in Oklahoma.

Ranked choice voting is a system in which voters rank candidates in preference from their first choice onwards. Any local ordinance conflicting with this prohibition will be declared void, as will any election that uses these prohibited systems.

Oklahoma is not the first state to ban ranked choice voting. Since Tennessee first banned the system in 2022, eight other conservative-leaning states have joined it.

Sen. George Burns, R-Pollard, introduced two bills this session proposing election changes, but both stalled in committee.

Senate Bill 1414 would have required voters to present a photo identification card when they head to the polls in an effort to decrease voter fraud. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, strict voter ID requirements actually do greater harm than good.

The rate of in-person voter impersonation is only 0.00004%. However, up to 11% of eligible voters, mostly senior citizens, minorities, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students, don't have the required photo ID.

Senate Bill 1515 would have allowed county election boards to use GPS location-tracking technology to ensure a voter is assigned to the correct precinct.

Two voting stations in an Oklahoma polling location.
Xcaret Nuñez
/
KOSU
Two voting stations in an Oklahoma polling location.

State Questions become harder to ask

Kirt and Floyd both said they were worried about the state’s initiative petition process becoming inaccessible.

“We had the opportunity to protect the voice of the people of Oklahoma, and we missed that opportunity when a bill was run to extend the initiative petition protest period from 10 days, which by the way, it's been for over 100 years, now to 90 days,” Floyd said.

She was referring to House Bill 1105, authored by McCall and sent to the governor one day before the end of session. Floyd says the change will be delayed when state questions are put up for a vote after the general elections in November.

“It's very likely that a lot of these questions depending on when they are filed, will be missed, as far as the election deadline is concerned,” she said.

There is alsoSenate Bill 518, which adds $750 petition filing fee, a background check for people collecting signatures, and one more step in the validation process of collected signatures.

New Oklahoma law criminalizes sleeping on state property

Oklahomans experiencing homelessness will face a new hurdle: a law that criminalizes sleeping on state land.

Senate Bill 1854 makes sleeping overnight on public lands without permission a misdemeanor. Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on April 26. Republican lawmakers who supported the bill said it promotes public safety.

The first time a person is caught sleeping on state land, they’ll receive a warning. If repeat offenders refuse assistance offered by an arresting officer, like a ride to a shelter, they can face up to a $50 fine and a jail sentence of up to fifteen days.

Meagan Taylor is an attorney and the executive director of Diversion Hub, an Oklahoma City nonprofit that helps people navigate the justice system. She said the new law will have unintended consequences.

“Because they're stuck in this cycle, they're not able to maintain solid employment… because they can't go to work because they have to check in with a probation officer or drug test or whatnot,” Taylor said. “And so reducing the touch points with the system, I believe, will ultimately create a more successful platform for people to thrive.”

The law goes into effect on Nov. 1.


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Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
Anusha Fathepure is a summer intern at KOSU as part of the Inasmuch Foundation's Community Fellowship Class.
Cait Kelley is a summer intern at KOSU through the Scripps Howard Fund summer internship program.
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