It was a quiet week at the state Capitol, but does not mean things were not happening. Monday’s decision ending the Personhood Initiative drive got t most attention, but arguably it was not the most notable event of the week.
Without the stress of deadline week, the House of Representatives accepted Senate amendments to House Bill 3052, the historic justice reinvestment initiative that House Speaker Kris Steele has shepherded through the Legislature.
After a 71-18 vote in the lower chamber, the measure now sits with Governor Mary Fallin.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Steele said, “I do think it is a significant moment; in fact, I think it is a game changer of the state of Oklahoma and the way that we handle our criminal justice system. I think that it is going to give us an opportunity to make decisions based on facts and evidence, rather than emotions and anecdotes.”
He continued, “More than anything, I think we’re provided an opportunity to increase public safety by requiring the supervision component for everyone that is released from prison.
“Also, it has given us an opportunity to relax or relieve some pressure on our current prison population, by the effective use of intermediate revocation facilities for low risk nonviolent offenders, as well as provide necessary resources to local law enforcement entities to really focus on prevention and strategies within their jurisdictions for preventing crimes from ever being committed in the first place.”
A bump in the road for legislative leaders came last week with House rejection of a workers compensation “opt out” bill pressed by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa.
Steele told CapitolBeatOK he believes the opt out proposal is worthy, but probably dead for this year. He commented, “I am a big advocate for additional workers compensation reform. I think this opt out plan is a viable option. It ought to be considered. To be honest, … at this point in the session, it is more likely than not that the issue will be studied over the course of the interim, and become a centerpiece for next year’s legislative session.”
He continued, “That being said, there are some vehicles that are still alive related to the workers comp system that could be utilized should a plan come together, to give us an opportunity to continue to work on that issue.”
Quiet weeks at the Capitol can sometimes be deception. Asked about discussions behind the scenes this week, Steele reflected, “We’re at the point in the session, where we have about three weeks left before we are constitutionally required to adjourn for this session. So, we’re focusing primarily on conference committees. That’s where the bulk of our policy discussions will take place.
“Outside of that, we’re continually, almost daily now, talking about our budget negotiations and our income tax reform/reduction proposals. I think that we’re right where we need to be in relation to all of those issues.
“I suspect that the budget and the income tax reform proposal will all come together soon, probably in the next two weeks, and we’ll be able to run those proposals through the legislative process.
“We’re gathering input from our caucus members as we speak in order to put together a balanced budget, a conservative budget, but one that protects core services of government while reducing the overall tax burden on Oklahomans. We’re very excited about the prospects of being successful with these particular goals.”
Steele said the Legislature is unlikely to finish its work early. He said, “I don’t think so, not at this point. We would love to get done early, but we don’t want to shortchange the work that is in front of us. And, given the magnitude and the amount of work that we have left, I think we’re going to stay here until the last Friday in May.”