UPDATED: OPEA News: SB 1498 Fails; SB 1046 Passes without Title on the Bill

(UPDATE) There has been some confusion about what it means when a committee strikes the title on a bill. The Senate General Government Committee voted to strike the title on Senate Bill 1046, which means the bill can undergo significant changes before it is voted on again. The following is a definition of what it means to “strike the title” of a bill. You can find a helpful glossary of legislative terms here. (Note: The PDF document is from the Oklahoma House of Representatives.)

“STRICKEN TITLE: Often a member of one of the houses will ‘strike the
title’ as an amendment. This ‘cripples’ the bill so that the house of origin
will be able to consider the legislation again before it is acted upon in its
final form.”
The Senate General Government Committee today heard two bills important to OPEA and OPEA members. Senate Bill 1046, sponsored by Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) and Senate Bill 1498, sponsored by Senator Bill Brown (R-Broken Arrow).

Newberry began by asking the committee to strike the title on the bill. Striking the title allows members to make significant changes to current pieces of legislation.

“This is a work in progress,” said Newberry. “We have been working with OPEA and other groups as we find ways to strengthen our merit protection program.”

“[This bill] will politicize the workforce,” Adelson said. “It’s very unfortunate that we are looking at something like this because we need these [employees] to protect the state’s interest without having to worry about getting fired.”

In debate, Senator Harry Coates (R-Seminole) said he also had concerns about the legislation. He apologized for not asking questions earlier, but said he was not really sure why the legislation was needed in the first place.

In his closing statement Senator Newberry said he had been visiting with organizations about strengthening the merit protection system.

Newberry used classified supervisors who have subordinate classified employees as an example of how the the merit protection system could be strengthened to provide workforce training opportunities to address potential problems that may arise from the situation.

With the title off, the committee voted a “Do Pass” recommendation for SB 1046 by a vote of 5-3.

Senate Bill 1046 will now go to the full Senate for a floor vote.

Later, the committee took up Senate Bill 1498, which would eliminate OPEA’s voluntary payroll deduction option.

After calling on Senator Brown to explain his bill, Chairman Cliff Aldridge (R-Choctaw) offered an amendment that would omit the Oklahoma United Way from the list of organizations currently eligible for the VPD option.

Of his amendment, Aldridge said he was not even sure it was constitutional to single out an organization from having the VPD option. Secondly, he said he did not think it was a good idea for the state to take money from employees for non-profit groups.

“I have a problem with the government’s role and responsibility to take money from our state employees and then re-divert that to 501(c)(3) [groups],” Aldridge said. “I have problems with us coming in and taking from one organization that’s employee related and ‘okaying’ it for a non-profit.”

The amendment passed by unanimous voice vote.

Brown said he had no idea why so many organizations were on the current list, but said he planned to address the others with future legislation.

Senator Bryce Marlatt (R-Woodward) then asked Brown if he would consider striking the title of the bill to work on removing all organizations from the list.

Brown reiterated that he would be working on the legislation next ssession, but Marlatt pushed him on the issue a second time.

“You’ve been diligent in following up,” Marlatt said. “We are early in the Session, [so] why can’t we work on this now?”

Brown said he would rather go forward with the current legislation and work on the other organizations at a later date.

In response to a question from Adelson about the number of OPEA members currently using the VPD option, the Chair called on OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley to answer the question.

Zearley said his organization currently had about 10,000 state employees taking advantage of the option.

“It’s a voluntary group,” Zearley said.

Vice Chair Roger Ballenger (D-Okmulgee), said he disagreed with Brown calling employee organizations “politically active” organizations.

“[The organizations] do a lot more,” Ballenger said. “Is it your intent to make it a little more difficult to keep being an active member of OPEA?”

Brown said he did not know why taking away the VPD option would impact membership levels.

In debate, Shortey told Brown he would not vote for his bill because he thought the legislation specifically targeted at employee organizations and the services they offer to state employees.

In a follow-up, Shortey said he assumed Senator Brown would be working to eliminate the payroll deduction option for everyone.

Brown answered in the affirmative, but said he would still allow automatic insurance withdrawals already provided by the state of Oklahoma.

“If any of these services are hurt because of this legislation, I think that would be detrimental to the employees,” he said. “They deserve a voice…they deserve to have someone fighting on their behalf.”

Ballenger then said he would have voted for the bill if Brown would have agreed to strike the title, but said he would not vote for the legislation in its current form because he felt the legislation was a “direct slam” against state employees.

“Our state employees have been rather demoralized,” Ballenger said. “They haven’t had a pay raise in six years, and in my opinion, this is going to be interpreted by state employees as another kick in the gut.”

Ballenger went on to express concerns about future of state employees in Oklahoma.

“My fear is that the day is coming when we can’t get good state employees to stay with us,” he said. “I’m standing behind state workers.”

In closing, Brown said his intent was not to do away with associations or state employees, but did say he had a problem with allowing the state to withhold dues from checks for organizations because he did not think it worked toward the goal of reforming state government to make it run more efficiently.

“I understand that [state employees] need a raise,” he said. “We need to take care of our state employees, [and] we need to give them more than what we have been able to give them over the past few years.”

The bill failed by a vote of 3-5.

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