Oklahoma ScissorTales: A shorter pile of legislation in 2020
Members of the Legislature weren’t quite as active filing bills for the 2020 session, which begins Feb. 3, as they were a year ago.
In a welcome bit of news, senators filed 840 bills and 19 joint resolutions by the Jan. 16 deadline. That’s 200 fewer bills than were filed ahead of the 2019 session (although more than 600 Senate bills were carried over from last year).
In the House, members filed 1,361 bills and 16 joint resolutions by the deadline. A year ago, the House clerk reported 1,733 bills and 21 joint resolutions were filed.
Among some of the meatier bills is an effort by Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-The Village, to cut red tape that can keep unaccompanied homeless minors in Oklahoma City from getting medical are and identifying documents.
A bill by Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, would keep juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole (23 states have done the same) and would prohibit mandatory minimum sentences of more than 20 years for any offender younger than 18.
Other significant pieces of legislation were filed, along with the usual slew of far less meaningful bills. But the fact the stack of bills isn’t quite as tall as last year is something to cheer.
Alcohol distribution law sent packing
Oklahoma legislators may find themselves wrestling once again with the issue of alcohol distribution. Last year, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 608, which required that the top 25-selling wine and spirits on the market make their product available to all wholesale distributors. Approval of the bill came less than a year after voters had approved a state question that let wine and spirits manufacturers designate a single wholesale distributor. This week, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower-court ruling in declaring SB 608 unconstitutional. In a 5-4 ruling, justices said SB 608 was “clearly, palpably, and plainly inconsistent” with constitutional language that allows wine or liquor manufacturers to choose their wholesaler. The ruling ensures a continuation of the industry flux that began with the voters’ choice in 2018.
A reasonable bump in zoo tickets
The city council has approved a request to increase by $1 the general admission price for the Oklahoma City Zoo, effective Feb. 1. That means adults will pay $12. Admission for children ages 3 to 11 will cost $9, as will tickets for those 65 and older (kids younger than 3 are free). As with any ticket increase, the bump will surely produce some grumbling. But the city is blessed with a wonderful zoo that keeps getting better — and it remains a bargain. Executive Director Dwight Lawson told the council our zoo’s admission prices were listed 61st in 2018 by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It’s also worth noting that parking is free and the zoo allows re-entry on the same day. As part of a promotion on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, the zoo is offering half-price admission to visitors who check their smartphones at the gate. Given the hold that our phones have on so many of us, it will be interesting to see how many are willing to make that deal.
Seeking a legislative remedy for gun law
State Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, isn’t giving up his fight to end permitless carry in Oklahoma. The law approved by the Legislature last year allows most Oklahomans 21 and older to carry guns without a license (it also covers military service members 18 and older). In advance of the law taking effect, Lowe joined others in trying to put the issue before voters, but they didn’t secure enough signatures. Lowe plans to try a legislative remedy this time — his House Bill 3357 would repeal the law. “This legislation is a product of the hundreds of conversations I have had personally with Oklahomans who don’t want irresponsible gun owners to carry firearms in public,” Lowe says. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the law easily, making Lowe’s effort a long shot at best. But give him points for persistence.