OPEA Monitors Last Minute Legislation Rush

OPEA staff spent a late night monitoring and amending legislation as the House of Representatives rushed bills through to meet the Thursday deadline. The deadline requires bills to have been processed through their House of Origin to continue in the process.

OPEA was successful in amending HB 3391, the Enterprise Agency Bill, to remove language that would have allowed state agencies who participate in the Enterprise Agency Program to opt out of the merit rules. The Enterprise Agency bill is very similar to the Iowa Charter Agency program reviewed by the House Government and Modernization Interim Study and reported on by OPEA over the summer.

“The concept of the Enterprise model is one that OPEA has looked into,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “The Governor’s office has made this one of their goals for achieving greater efficiency in state government.”

OPEA expressed concerns regarding the language in the bill that allows enterprise agencies to opt out of the merit rules, pointing out that many of the largest state agencies that might participate, like the Department of Corrections, are merit agencies.

“Employees hired into these agencies need to come into the state under the umbrella of the merit system and be afforded the same protections that other workers will have,” said Zearley.

With the help of Representative Lisa Billy, R-Purcell, Tad Jones, R-Claremore, Mike Jackson, R-Enid and Minority Leader Danny Morgan, D-Prague, OPEA was successful in having the opt-out language stricken from the bill and the merit system restored.

The measure then narrowly passed the House 51-50, because of concerns with lifting purchasing procedures.

In other areas, OPEA reported the failure of HB 3312 by Representative Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa. This bill titled “The Defined Contribution Implementation Task Force” would have looked at implementing a defined contribution system for all the public pension systems.

“This is something that is very alarming to OPEA and all state employees,” said Zearley. “A study in 2002 reported that the transition from a defined benefit to a defined contribution system was too expensive and would not provide better benefits to retirees. This is not a concept that OPEA supports.

The bill, as it was presented on the House floor, would have only changed the Judges’ Retirement System, which is also administered by OPERS. The bill failed 40-60.

OPEA also expressed its concerns with another bill, HB 3003 by Representative Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher. The bill would have created the Sustaining Oklahoma’s Energy Resource Board.

Rep. Johnson explained that 20 % of Oklahoma’s revenue comes from oil and gas taxes. Under this proposal, some of these tax dollars would be used to explore new technologies for extracting additional oil and gas.

OPEA, along with several state representatives, expressed concerns with the bill, noting that it “smelled of corporate welfare”.

Several House members pointed out that “the best place to create new technologies is in the private sector through competition for resources and that utilizing tax money to help pay for the private companies research costs would allow for larger corporate profits and lower general revenue funds for essential state services.

The bill passed 83-17 with one member excused.

OPEA reports that all surviving bills will be transmitted to the appropriate opposite Chamber, assigned to committee and will start the process all over again.

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