Legislative Victories, but What is Next?

State employee market-based pay (HB 3422) has been signed into law!

HB 3422 is the infrastructure to begin state employee Market-Based Pay. Members have heard me, OPEA Membership Reps, and elected officials talk about moving state employees to a Market Based Pay structure. After our interim study from October 7th. 2021 where OPEA advocated for a market-based pay structure this is the bill that puts the program into place.October 7th, 2021 Interim Study. OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley

HB 3422 will establish a yearly internal study conducted by OMES to examine the overall compensation of all state employee positions. This study will include an analysis of job types, compensation levels compared to the private market and/or comparable jobs in surrounding states, and overall staffing levels in specific positions within the state workforce. Once concluded the study results will be given to stakeholders to address issues identified by the compensation study. The identified issue areas will be job classes paid under 90% market value and positions with critical staffing concerns. In addition to the annual study, subsequent studies will be conducted every four years by an independent contractor to examine the benchmarks used in the annual OMES compensation study and the needs within the state workforce. This is a check to guarantee OMES is fairly evaluating state employee job classes and pay. This legislation requires the state agencies and legislature to address the underpaid/understaffed positions in the state workforce. They can no longer simply ignore the pay and staffing issues occurring at our state agencies.

OPEA first learned of the market-based approach from our friends to the east at the Tennessee Public Employees Association (TPEA). This legislation closely mirrors practices used in the state of Tennessee where the study has allowed for compensation to closely match the need of agencies to attract and retain quality employees and the need of the employees to be well compensated for their labor.  Twelve years ago prior to implementing this legislation, the State of Tennessee was in a similar position to Oklahoma. Tennessee state employees were far below 90% market value and struggling to recruit and retain quality employees. This legislation turned around their state employee workforce increasing pay and improving state employee recruitment and retention. The bill will allow Oklahoma to recruit more top-tier talent and ensure that we retain our most valuable veteran employees.

Historically, OPEA would ask for one-time raises for Oklahoma’s State Employees, a 5% raise this session, $1500 raises next session, etc. Since HB 3422 has been signed into law we will no longer have to beg for raises year after year. This legislation is the long-term solution for state employee compensation. This is transformative landmark legislation for Oklahoma state employees.

HB 3420 has been signed into law and state employees have more job protections than ever before!

Since January 1, 2022, Oklahoma State employees modernized merit system has been operating on emergency administrative rules. This week Governor Kevin Stitt signed HB 3420 into law. Therefore updating and codifying our new modernized merit system’s rules.

Previously less than 60% of Oklahoma state employees had appeal rights due to being classified state employees. Each year state agencies were stripping appeals rights from employees by rapidly unclassifying hundreds of positions. Now state employees will never have to worry about their right to appeal adverse actions taken against them. The biggest change is that 95% of Oklahoma state employees are statutorily mandated to have access to the new modernized merit protection system. Gone are the days of agencies unclassifying positions to deny employees of their appeal rights. The 5% EXCLUDED from the new appeal process is the top-level executives in each state agency. Everyone included in the  5% without appeal rights would more than likely have already been notified by their agency that they are excluded.



The new appeal process puts a timeline of 30 buisiness days from filing to the initial hearing. This is a huge win for employees. Previously some agency lawyers would simply file continuances and slow down the process. This was their way of avoiding a hearing and waiting out the employee. This practice was toxic to state employees and was a well-known loophole in the old system. When an employee is on suspension without pay and waiting for a hearing most struggle to pay bills because we are living paycheck to paycheck.  Some agency lawyers know that and avoid the hearing until the state employee gives up and seeks other employment.

The new rules have sealed loopholes in the old merit protection system. One of those loopholes was regarding the Reduction in Force (RIF) & Voluntary Buy-Out (VOBO) rules and options for state employees. The new rules guarantee more money & options for the state employees that unfortunately have to undergo one of these separation processes.

One of the changes you will notice immediately is that state agencies will begin to create internal appeal procedures for lower-level disputes. The agencies will handle issues such as leave disputes, dress code, and the lowest level of discipline. Generally, they will handle issues that will not impact your employment. The old merit protections commission would accept almost every case and it hurt the process. OPEA will continue to advise and in some cases represent our members in the lower-level agency dispute process.


What’s Next?

As we come to the tail end of another legislative session, we come to the largest constitutional requirement placed on our elected officials, passing the next year’s budget.  Besides passing laws, developing, and passing an annual budget is the crux of the state Legislature.  But the current budget process has changed significantly over the past 115 years.  Here is a brief rundown of how the budget process has worked in the 58th Legislature.

The process begins with initial meetings of the Board of Equalization prior to the convening of the legislative session.  This Board has the goal of establishing exactly how much funding the Legislature will be responsible for allocating.  Once those numbers are established, the Governor will typically release a proposed budget.

This proposed budget is often used as a starting point for negotiations between senior leaders to further develop a final ‘budget deal’.  Once legislative leaders have settled on a deal, those concepts and numbers are written into bills and then ran through the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB).  JCAB is a specialized legislative process that allows budget bills to be written, introduced, and passed from the committee in a streamlined process.

After these bills have passed JCAB they will be voted upon by both the House and Senate simultaneously.  The bills will then be enrolled with the Secretary of State and sent to the Governor for approval.

During the negotiation process, many different groups and organizations will attempt to have their own priorities included.  OPEA provides information to decision-makers during this time regarding our legislative platforms that have a fiscal impact.  For example, some of the measures we have advocated in the budget process include

  • Market-based salary increases and a continuing study to address salaries (HB 3422)
  • Increasing the benefit allowance (SB 650)
  • Increasing longevity pay (SB 981)
  • Specific sick leave for those diagnosed with COVID-19 (HB 3911, SB 1183)
  • Rollover of leave lost during COVID-19 (SB 282, SB 333)
  • Standardized on-call pay (HB 1787)
  • A floating state holiday (HB 4190)
  • Payouts for employees over the leave cap (HB 2294)

If you have any questions regarding the budget or legislative process, please feel free to contact Chancen Flick at any time via email at chancenf@opea.org or call at 405-808-8181

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