The first deadline and the first month of Oklahoma legislative session have passed. OPEA staff and members have been at the Capitol daily advocating for state employees by working to stop bills and issues of concern while continuing to move OPEA bills forward. More importantly, OPEA has been meeting with leadership about legislative priorities. In the first weeks of session, OPEA met personally with House Speaker TW Shannon and Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman to discuss the OPEA legislative program.
- At the top of the agenda is the need for a market pay plan and immediate relief for state employees and two bills have passed House committee. HB 1717, by Rep. Leslie Osborn and Sen. Clark Jolley, provides a $1,000 one-time payment for employees who have received a “meet or exceeds standards” on their most recent evaluation. The bill exempts employees who have received at least $1,000 in a market adjustment in the past two fiscal years. In addition, the bill supports the comprehensive study of state employee total compensation to be performed after session. This bill overwhelmingly passed the House floor and moves on to the Senate. HB 1794, Rep. Mike Christian, provides a $1,000 one-time payment for state employees who “meet or exceed standards” on their most recent evaluation. This bill awaits floor action in the House.
- Another priority for OPEA this session is reinstating cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for retirees in the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS). HB 1873 by Rep. Lisa Billy would allow the legislature to fund COLAs from the retirement system as long as the system is funded at 80 percent after the COLA. The bill was not heard in the House Economic Development and Retirement Committee. However, several retirement bills are still alive that could be used to insert a similar measure. In addition, Sen. Patrick Anderson and Rep. Todd Thomsen have authored SB 1111 establishing a revolving fund for COLAs in the Treasurer’s office.
- OPEA is working with leadership and other legislators on the proposal to transition newly- hired state employees to a defined contribution (401(K) type), cash balance, or hybrid, retirement system. This proposal would not include current state employees or current retirees. The Association’s priority in these proposals is keeping the current retirement system adequately funded to ensure future retirement payments to current employees and to our retirees. In addition, OPEA is working to ensure that any new plan be an asset to recruiting and retaining future state employees and providing them with a secure retirement.
- HB 2077 by Rep. Randy McDaniel and SB 732 by Sen. Rick Brinkley are identical bills and each provides for an optional retirement plan for newly-hired employees. Plans in this proposal would not apply to current state employees or retirees. Each bill has a maximum of 6.5 percent match paid by the employer. Agencies would pay a contribution of ten percent of the employee’s salary to help pay off the unfunded liability of the current retirement system. Several other bills relating to retirement bear watching this session. They have been filed and are moving through the process but currently remain “shell bills” without substantive language.
- At the beginning of session, Rep. Jason Murphey was considering a proposal to consolidate all human resources functions into the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), the former Office of State Finance. OPEA brought concerns about this proposal to Rep. Murphey and is requesting a study to refine the merit system and agencies’ increased usage of the unclassified service in state government. Rep. Murphey has agreed to be the House author of SB 979 by Sen. Anthony Sykes, which has advanced to the House of Representatives. Rep Murphey’s consolidation proposal has not yet been heard by the House.
- Legislation that would return Oklahoma Military Department (OMD) employees to the merit system has passed the House States’ Rights Committee and may soon be heard on the House Floor. HB 1763 by Rep. Dustin Roberts and Sen. Anthony Sykes reverses legislation passed in 2011 which unclassified OMD employees. Several OPEA members from OMD met with committee members prior to the meeting at the Capitol to explain the importance of the merit system in the performance of their jobs.
- OPEA’s legislation, SB 228 by Sen. Frank Simpson, providing a career ladder for employees at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) has passed the Senate unanimously and is moving, ahead of schedule, to House committee. It allows DVA to pay tuition for high performing employees to attend college or career-tech classes tuition free to obtain skills or licenses required by DVA to help repay the agency for the cost, employees who attended classes under the program would continue employment with DVA for a specified amount after graduation. OPEA hopes to eventually expand this pilot program to other state agencies.
- Rep. Mike Jackson has authored legislation to reverse the Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Commission’s decision in November to close the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid and the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Paul’s Valley and moves the residents who have serious disabilities and medical conditions into community settings. Oklahoma, like other states, has community providers. However, only four states have closed all state-operated residences for this population. Most states that have closed large facilities have state-run group homes as a safety net.
- HB 2060 by Rep. Scott Inman will increase the penalty for knowingly assaulting an OKDHS or Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) employee. Some OKDHS and DRS workers have been threatened and stalked by clients who disagreed with their decisions. If passed, a person who assaulted a worker could be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and/or fined up to $500. If the conviction is assault and battery the penalty shall be one year and/or a fine up to $500. These penalties are like those charged when referees and coaches are assaulted. Staff in correctional and juvenile facilities already has this protection. Rep. Inman would also like to pursue this for other state employees in the future.
- Two bills limiting OPEA members’ ability to pay dues through payroll deduction were filed but not heard in House or Senate Committee. HB 1993 by Rep. David Brumbaugh and SB 31 by Bill Brown would have eliminated payroll deduction for state employee organizations, but retain the deduction privileges for more than 90 insurance companies, banks and credit unions. OPEA shared concerns with Rep. Brumbaugh. Both bills were not put on committee agendas and will not advance this year.
OPEA members and staff continue to work with legislators to ensure that bills beneficial to state employees are heard. We will keep you updated on www.opea.org and be sure to like OPEA on Facebook and follow OklaPEA on Twitter.