When the legislative session begins Monday, state lawmakers will have more than 4,500 pieces of legislation they can consider. StateImpact reporters have been combing through the bills and have this preview.
In the wake of the teacher walkout almost two years ago, continuing to reform education is a major priority for lawmakers. Here are some of the topics and bills worth watching in education:
Combating the teacher shortage:
Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is one of the top concerns for legislators. There are more than 3,000 emergency certified teachers, teachers who don’t have all the required training, in the state’s classrooms. Legislators want to change that.
They’re taking a varied approach, looking to retain teachers and find new ones. Measures introduced would take actions like allowing school boards to renew emergency teaching certificates under certain circumstances, allowing teachers with out-of-state teaching experience to obtain a teaching certificate and apply that experience to an Oklahoma teaching schedule and give bonuses to exemplary teachers.
Virtual charter school reform:
Legislators also want to reign in virtual charter schools. That includes measures that would likely impact Epic Virtual Charter Schools. Public school districts are losing students to the state’s virtual charter schools. As enrollment has grown by thousands of students in virtual charters like Epic, it’s declined by similar amounts in the state’s largest districts like Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Lawmakers have introduced measures to limit charter school funding and to help public schools prevent transfers to virtual charters. Sen. Gary Stanislawski, chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, has also introduced a bill to reform the statewide Virtual Charter School Board, changing its name and increasing the number of members.
Lawmakers are also looking at a number of other issues including:
- Dyslexia: a number of bills have been filed by Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Rep. Sherrie Conley, R.-Newcastle, that would create mandatory screening for dyslexia. Oklahoma doesn’t screen for dyslexia but has done a number of reforms in recent years.
- Tribal regalia at graduation: House Bill 3046 would prevent a school district or school from banning tribal regalia, specifically eagle feathers, at graduation ceremonies. (Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton).
- Concussions: House Bill 3561, would create a concussion review board to track and report on concussions and sudden deaths of student athletes. (Rep. Cynthia Roe, R-Lindsay).
- NCAA likeness: House Bill 3347, would allow college athletes to seek endorsements and be paid for their likeness. (Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City and Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa).
Criminal Justice Reform
Because of political infighting at the end of the 2019 legislative session, several criminal justice bills stalled. If an agreement has been reached in the interim, lawmakers could take them up shortly after they convene. State Senator Roger Thompson told a public forum in January he expects that to happen, especially in the case of bail reform.
Bills to watch in 2020 include:
- House Bill 1100 would give courts clear rules for determining when a defendant should be prosecuted for a felony drug crime such as possession with intent to distribute. (Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie and Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City)
- House Bill 2009 shortens prison sentences for repeat offenders convicted of most nonviolent felonies. This bill has an uncertain future. Sentencing reform advocates have launched an effort to put this same issue before voters in this year’s general election. (Rep. Garry Mize, R-Guthrie and Sen. Bill Coleman R-Ponca City)
- House Bill 2273 focuses primarily on parole. The legislation would create an accelerated parole process for prisoners who have six months or less left on their sentences. In addition, the bill dictates what kind of parole violations should allow authorities to send a person back to prison. It’s unclear what will happen to the bill this session because several of its changes have already been adopted by the state Pardon and Parole Board. (Rep. Josh West, R-Grove and Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher)
- Senate Bill 252 failed in the House 45-49. This bill would require courts to give affordable bail terms to most defendants charged with nonviolent crimes. The authors’ goal was to make sure most people could afford to get out of jail before their trials. Exceptions are included for people considered to be dangerous and defendants who are unlikely to come back to court. (Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City and Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah)
Other criminal justice, public safety measures:
- Multiple bills including Senate Bill 1236 (Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City) and Senate Bill 1298 (Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City) would authorize or require the Department of Corrections to create prisoner reentry programs. The legislators’ goals are to see more prisoners rehabilitated before they are released.
- Senate Bill 1164 would require the Department of Corrections to give the governor, and legislative leaders annual reports on the use of contraband cell phones in state prisons. (Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher)
- Senate Bill 1081 would preempt federal and state government agencies from seizing guns from individuals determined to be dangerous and issued an extreme risk protection order. It also would also would challenge attempts by government agencies to prohibit gun ownership by individuals issued an extreme risk protection order. (Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow)
- House Bill 3357 attempts to repeal a law that allows most Oklahomans aged 21 and older to carry guns without obtaining a license. (Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City)
At least 17 bills address medical marijuana. Some of those bills would expand rights, and others would impose restrictions.
Legislation filed by Representative Jim Olson, a republican from Roland, prohibits marijuana establishments from being located “near a place of worship.” Other bills take aim at taking a cut from the taxes imposed on medical marijuana in the state.
Opioid litigation money:
In 2019, Teva pharmaceuticals agreed to an $85 million settlement with the state, to keep them out of court. That move left Johnson & Johnson as the only defendant in the case.
Lawyers hired by the state were entitled to $13 million under the terms of their agreement with Hunter’s office.
Because Teva settled after legislators hurriedly changed state law, the remaining $72 million Teva settlement is in the state treasury, waiting to be allocated by lawmakers.
In January 2020, Endo International also agreed to a settlement to keep them out of court. Oklahoma had threatened litigation, claiming the drugmaker contributed to the opioid crisis by inappropriately marketing its addictive painkillers.
Hunter’s office says the $8.75 million Endo settlement will join the Teva settlement in the state treasury after lawyer’s fees have been deducted.
Now state lawmakers will have their opportunity to divvy up the money. Shell bills have been filed, with titles like Oklahoma Opioid Reform Act, but it’s unclear where the legislation would allocate the funds.