Senate moves to update Open Meetings Act
By the end of last week, it was five weeks down, many more to go. At the beginning of last week, we had nearly 330 Senate bills left on the floor agenda to get through by March 24.
Given that this week is Spring Break and we were scheduled to adjourn on Tuesday, March 15, we needed to hear at least 30 bills a day to get through them all, but as always happens, many of these measures won’t move forward. This typically happens because there is a House bill on the same issue, the language will be added to another bill, or the author chooses not to have their bill heard.
On Tuesday, March 8, the full Senate approved two of my bills aimed at continuing our efforts to modernize laws on alcohol sales. These deal with the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages and are an effort to help this industry with the ongoing workforce shortage, and to get rid of an unnecessary packaging requirement that was overlooked last session.
More than 90 bills were passed out of the Senate last week, and I’d like to touch on a few of those. The first is one I’ve discussed before, but I’m thrilled it’s moving through the process so quickly.
We learned a lot of lessons during the pandemic, which highlighted various areas of government programs and services that needed to be improved to better serve our citizens. One example was the problem with obtaining REAL IDs and getting other documents renewed. This major reform will create Service Oklahoma to completely overhaul and unify our state’s tag agencies to improve services for all Oklahomans regardless of where you live in the state.
We also learned how much more efficient business and government can be in a virtual world. While virtual meetings were temporarily allowed during Gov. Kevin Stitt’s emergency declarations, those expired once that declaration was removed. It was obvious that citizens enjoyed having that online option, as participation in various public meetings increased significantly.
For this reason, we passed legislation updating the Open Meetings Act to require public bodies such as school boards, local municipalities, and state agencies to stream and post all public meetings online. This will pertain to those entities with a website and who utilize high-speed Internet. The bill will also allow public bodies in counties with an active state of emergency declaration to conduct executive session via videoconference if they’d like. This is going to completely change how citizens participate in their government at all levels.
The Senate also approved a measure to further honor our military veterans by exempting their retirement pay from being taxed. Legislative leaders in both chambers and the governor have all shared their support of this much-needed reform. Oklahoma is one of only 17 states that taxes military pensions, but if we want to be truly pro-military, we need to get this exemption signed into law.
These were just a few of the many important measures that moved through our chamber last week and will next be considered by House committees.
You can contact me by calling (405) 521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.