This is a big week in the Legislature. It is a key deadline week. By this Thursday another set of proposals will fail to advance past the deadline and will become dormant for this year.
Fortunately, many aggressive reform proposals are still alive.
What follows is a brief description of some of the issues that appear set to win approval prior to the deadline and remain alive for additional consideration as the session moves into its final month.
This week the House of Representatives considers the proposal to reform Oklahoma’s costly workers’ compensation system. The current cost of the Oklahoma system is sixth highest in the nation. Many believe the high rate paid by Oklahoma businesses remains one of the last major barriers to our ability to compete for economic growth.
There is now little doubt that in its final form the proposal will be far reaching and transition the Oklahoma comp claim adjudication system from judicial to administrative-based. Oklahoma and Tennessee are purportedly the last two states to use a judicial system to adjudicate workers’ comp claims. The Tennessee Legislature is also moving legislation to make the transition and so the race is on to see which state will be the last in the nation to implement the reform.
This week the Senate is expected to take up the governor’s plan to consolidate or eliminate more than 50 state boards and commissions. Myself and fellow Edmond-area state Rep. Mike Turner authored these proposals in the House in our roles as chairman and vice chairman of the House Government Modernization committee. Should the Senate approve the initiatives we will need to ask the House to approve the Senate amendments and then the proposals will be ready to go to the governor for her signature. I have enjoyed working with two local senators who serve as principal authors of the most aggressive of these proposals. Guthrie Sen. A.J. Griffin and Edmond-area Sen. Greg Treat have performed a lot of the hard work to help the proposals remain viable and move forward. Based on my first-hand observations, the taxpayers are greatly indebted to these two hard-working legislators.
I believe a multi-year tax reform proposal will win approval. Reductions would take place between now and the 2016 tax year and if certain conditions are met will reduce top rates down to 4.85 percent. This helps keep Oklahoma competitive with Kansas which recently has implemented significant tax reform and will let Oklahomans keep more of their money. They will use it much better than the government ever could.
It has become obvious that no bond issues will be brought forward this year. I believe this is the first year since I have been in Legislature when no bond issue has been proposed. This is due to the strong leadership in the House of Representatives, which has aggressively held the line against new debt issuance.
The effort to put a cap on the state’s ability to issue debt continues to advance in multiple bills. It feels like we are finally turning the corner and putting an end to the wasteful debt issuances of the past.
I expect legislators will show how Oklahoma’s infrastructure needs can be met without issuing new debt. Before the end of session funds should be made available to fix the deferred maintenance needs of the Capitol building and other neglected but presumably still needed state-owned properties. The work continues to pass House Speaker T.W. Shannon’s plan to put in place a system for liquidating unneeded state-owned property and using the proceeds to repair the buildings such as the Capitol, which have been neglected.
Numerous welfare reform proposals are receiving approval. This includes a proposal the House voted for last week to stop inappropriate transfers of benefits from person to person, a prohibition on the use of welfare money at casinos and liquor stores and the proposal I previously wrote about to ensure food stamp recipients are employed and hopefully working their way out of dependence upon the government.
These are a few of the aggressive reforms that are still making their way through the legislative process. There are others and should you have questions about a specific proposal please let me know.
REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.