Governor inks 53 House and Senate bills.

The governor signed 53 more House and Senate bills Tuesday, including three measures pertaining to state employee wages and public officials’ salaries, various state budget bills, and several miscellaneous pieces of legislation.


Visitation Modification


Court orders concerning child visitation will be required by Senate Bill 1612 to contain a provision stipulating that the custodial parent has “a duty to facilitate” visitation of a minor child with the non-custodial parent.


The legislation provides that whenever a motion for enforcement of visitation rights is filed with the court, the judge can award reasonable attorney fees and court costs to the prevailing party. The bill also repeals an existing requirement that the court order mediation whenever a motion is filed for enforcement of visitation rights.


“Unfortunately, the visitation rights of law-abiding noncustodial parents are continually trampled because they simply can’t afford the court costs of taking the custodial parent to court after every visitation violation,” said Sen. Ron Sharp, principal author of the measure. “This bill keeps noncustodial parents from having to go through the hassle and expense of getting a lawyer when the custody schedule isn’t upheld by the custodial parent. They can simply fill out a form at the courthouse, detailing the visitation schedule violations, and the court will re-evaluate the visitation schedule and punish the violator, if need be.”


Rep. Jon Echols, a family law attorney who was the House sponsor of SB 1612, said violations of court-ordered visitation by custodial parents are growing at an alarming rate, but noncustodial parents typically cannot afford to fight for their rights. He also said that a majority of district attorneys in Oklahoma have a division dedicated to securing child-support payments from noncustodial parents, so he’s pleased to see more attention focused on protecting the visitation rights of noncustodial parents.


“Currently, if a noncustodial parent is late on child support, they can face fines and jail time; our state takes not paying child support very seriously,” Echols said. “But we need to be just as serious about custodial parents obeying court orders and allowing the other parent to see their children. A common problem we see is that noncustodial parents, after having paid all of their child support and other support obligations, usually can’t afford an attorney to fight for their visitation rights.”


SB 1612 allows a noncustodial parent to directly file a claim with the district court, similar to completing a small-claims form. The court will then decide whether an attorney is necessary to restore the visitation rights. The legislation provides a template of the form that noncustodial parents can use.


The governor signed the bill and it goes into effect Nov. 1.




Severing Parental Rights


State statutes pertaining to the termination of a parent’s child-custody rights will be modified by House Bill 2667, which the governor signed into law effective Nov. 1.


The district attorney will be required by HB 2667 to seek termination of parental rights if the parent is convicted of permitting a child to participate in pornography; rape; lewd molestation of a child under the age of 16; child abuse or neglect; causing the death of a child as a result of physical or sexual abuse or chronic abuse or chronic neglect of the child; murder or voluntary manslaughter of the child’s parent; and other crimes.


The new law further requires the DA to file a motion for termination of parental rights within 90 days after implementation of an individualized service plan ordered by the court if the parent has made “no measurable progress” in correcting the conditions that caused the child to be adjudicated deprived. There is no specific time limit under existing law.




Tax Break for Foster Parents


All foster parents will be accorded a $5,000 income-tax exemption as compensation for providing care for foster children, under Senate Bill 1621.


Existing law authorizes a $2,500 deduction for single foster parents and $5,000 for a married foster couple filing jointly. The deduction for married couples filing their income taxes separately will remain at $2,500.


“We need more foster parents in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Pat Ownbey, House sponsor of the measure. “Anything we can do to bolster foster parents is good for Oklahoma’s child welfare system.”

The bill, which was co-authored by Rep. Mike Shelton, coasted through the House and the Senate unopposed and was signed Tuesday by the governor.




DOC Emergency Alert System


The director of the state Corrections Department is empowered by House Bill 2779 to establish, in conjunction with the Information Services Division of the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services, an emergency alert notification system.


The system will notify the public in an emergency such as a prisoner escape or an inmate riot.

According to the department, the cost of the notification system will be minimal, said Rep. James Lockhart, principal author of the legislation.

The governor signed the bill and it goes into effect Nov. 1.




Horse Racing Commission Won’t Be Afoot

House Bill 2531 authorizes the executive director of the state Horse Racing Commission to purchase motor vehicles, uniforms and equipment for agency personnel.

The commission has an investigative team of certified officers whose duties are to monitor state race tracks, Rep. Kay Floyd related. Agency personnel have had to use vehicles from the state motor pool and have had to furnish their own equipment, she said.


The agency probably will buy some surplus vehicles “so their officers can do their jobs without being conspicuous,” said Floyd, principal author of the legislation.


The governor signed the bill Tuesday and it goes into effect Nov. 1.




Rest in Pieces


Crushers – anyone engaged in the business of crushing or shredding motor vehicles or trailers – will be regulated by House Bill 1516, which the governor signed into law effective Nov. 1.


Rep. Mike Jackson, principal author of the measure, said it is intended to deter fly-by-night operators who skirt the rules. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman and Reps. Emily Virgin, Ben Sherrer, Joe Dorman, Seneca Scott, Kevin Matthews and Kay Floyd all signed on as co-authors of the legislation.


The bill mandates that anyone who intends to operate a crusher business in Oklahoma must obtain a license from the Oklahoma Used Motor Vehicle and Parts Commission and post a $25,000 surety bond. Until now, crushers have been unregulated in Oklahoma, Jackson said.


A licensed scrap-metal dealer who crushes vehicles at his business location will be exempt from the licensing requirement, but any crusher who is an independent contractor employed to crush vehicles for a scrap-metal dealer won’t be exempt.


To obtain a crusher license an applicant must “be of good moral character” and have net assets of at least $25,000.


The new law mandates that before a crusher can buy a car or truck or trailer, the seller must provide proof of ownership, such as a certificate of title “that shows no outstanding liens” or a bill of sale from the owner. It will be illegal for a crusher to accept any vehicle from a minor or to buy a vehicle from anyone unable to provide verification of identity.


Within three days of the purchase of any vehicle, a crusher must submit a report to the local law enforcement agency of the town in which the crusher is located or temporarily operating. The report must include:


§ the name, address and telephone number of the crusher;


§ the name, address, race, sex, weight, height, date of birth and identifying number of the seller, as verified by either a state-issued ID card, driver’s license or federal government ID card, or by readable fingerprint of the right or left index finger on the purchase document to be retained in the records of the crusher; and


§ a description of the vehicle, the manufacturer of the vehicle, the vehicle identification number, and the date and time of the purchase of the vehicle.


Furthermore, a crusher will be required to hold a vehicle or trailer “in the state and condition in which it was purchased” for at least three days after submitting that report, before the vehicle or trailer can be crushed or dismantled.


A crusher operating without a license, or disposing of a vehicle “which the person knows to be subject to an outstanding lien,” can be fined up to $1,000 and/or confined in a county jail for up to six months.


Compacting or disassembling a vehicle known to be stolen will constitute a felony crime.


Selling a vehicle or trailer to a crusher by using a fake ID, or making a false declaration of ownership or lien status, will be a felony offense. A violator can be confined in prison for up to five years or locked in a county jail for up to one year, and/or fined as much as $1,000.




Identifying Sources of Campaign Literature

Legislation that repeals a law pertaining to anonymous campaign literature was signed by the governor and goes into effect Dec. 31.


House Bill 2199 deletes from state statutes a law that decrees, “It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, corporation, partnership, organization or association to cause to be broadcast, written, printed, posted or distributed” a political statement, circular, poster or advertisement that is designed to influence voters “unless there appears in a conspicuous place” either the name and address of the person or of the president, chairman or organization that paid for the communication. A violation is deemed to be a misdemeanor offense.


The existing requirement does not pertain to bumper stickers, pins, buttons and other small items “upon which the required information cannot be conveniently printed.” Nor does it apply to skywriting, water towers, or other means of displaying political messages in such a nature that inclusion of the required information would be “impractical.”


The statute will be supplanted by state Ethics Commission rules that go into effect next January.


The “Identification of Funding and Authorizing Sources” rules will require material issued by political parties and candidate committees to identify the sources of those materials. Independent and electioneering communications will be required to include the name, street address and telephone number of the person(s) paying for those messages. Violators will be subject to “substantial” fines, Ethics Commission Executive Director Lee Slater said.




Active Duty Personnel Only


Senate Bill 1624 clarifies that the reduced ($15) registration fee for vehicles owned by members of the armed forces is limited to active duty personnel.


Beneficiaries of the concession include active-duty members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, the Reserve Corps of the Armed Forces, and the Oklahoma National Guard or their spouses assigned to duty in Oklahoma.

SB 1624 spells out that persons ineligible for the lower registration fee include retired members of the armed forces, inactive members of the Reserve Corps, inactive members of the Oklahoma National Guard, “and other members and former members of the armed forces of the United States who are not on active duty.”


The bill was approved Tuesday by the governor.




Child Abuse Investigators Authorized


The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is authorized by Senate Bill 639 to hire up to eight special agents to probe child abuse cases. Currently the agency has one Child Abuse Response Team investigator and a CART forensic interviewer, records reflect.


“We don’t have enough investigators” to probe the “huge amount” of child abuse occurring in Oklahoma, OSBI Public Information Officer Jessica Brown said.


SB 639 outlines the qualifications for the investigators. Each one will be required to:


Ÿ have at least three years of experience as a criminal investigator;

Ÿ be certified by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training as a law enforcement officer;


Ÿ possess a bachelor’s degree;


Ÿ be experienced in conducting forensic interviews of children who have been abused physically or sexually;


Ÿ have experience testifying in child abuse cases; and


Ÿ have completed at least 100 hours of education or training in forensic interviewing of a child.


The OSBI estimates the additional cost of hiring six more agents and providing them with vehicles and other law-enforcement equipment at approximately $596,000. The Legislature appropriated $435,000 to the agency to hire four more CART agents, but the other $161,000 was not allocated, records indicate.


SB 639 passed both the House and the Senate unopposed and was signed Tuesday by the governor.




Justifiable Homicide

House Bill 3510 clarifies the circumstances when homicide is legally permissible.


State law previously authorized an individual to resort to deadly force in self-defense or in defense of “his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant…”


HB 3510 states that deadly force is justifiable when the person exercising it “reasonably believes” it is necessary to prevent “death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to terminate or prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The legislation defines “forcible felony” as any felony crime that involves “the use or threat of physical force or violence against any person.”


The bill went into effect immediately with the governor’s signature on Tuesday.


HB 3510 is identical to House Bill 2539, which was among 15 measures the governor vetoed on April 29.


“Current law is not substantively changed” by HB 2539, the governor wrote in her veto message. “Under current law, the defense of another is currently available to any person using reasonable force in aid or defense of any other person who is about to be injured during the commission of any crime. This bill makes no substantive change to current law and passage of this bill serves no significant interest of the citizens of the State of Oklahoma.”


House Democrats were irked that instead of voting to override the Republican governor’s veto, their GOP colleagues opted to simply copy duplicate language into another bill. In addition, Rep. Kevin Matthews asserted that a Republican majority which consistently embraces right-to-life, anti-abortion legislation conversely supports license-to-kill measure such as HBs 3510/2539.




Money Laundering Penalty Modified


The penalty for money laundering is modified by Senate Bill 1371, which the governor signed.


Under existing law, a violation is charged as a felony, punished by two to 10 years’ imprisonment. SB 1371 establishes the penalty according to the value of the proceeds or the item; it ranges from a misdemeanor if the value is $2,500 or less, to a felony if the violation involves more than $2,500. The maximum prison sentence for a felony is doubled to 20 years.

The potential fiscal impact of the proposal will depend upon the number of convictions, analysts reported. “Every person convicted and sentenced to the custody of the Department of Corrections will cost the state approximately $49 per day for each day of incarceration,” House members were informed.




Insurance ‘Pool’ Dissolved


The state’s high-risk health insurance pool created in 1995 is abolished by House Bill 3282. “It’s no longer needed because of Obamacare,” said Rep. Glen Mulready, principal author of the proposal. “No such coverage will be available with an effective date after July 1, 2014,” the bill decrees.


The measure went into effect immediately with the governor’s signature Tuesday.






House Bill 3293 directs the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to “study and establish a performance evaluation system” that will “effectively link pay and performance while taking into consideration both the relativity of the position to market and the performance of the employee.” The legislation gives the Human Capital Resource Division of OMES authority to set pay structures and determine whether targeted pay-band adjustments are necessary.


The legislation establishes the “State Employee Compensation Program” to “attract, retain and reward quality employees with competitive total compensation based on relevant labor markets.” OMES will be responsible for coordinating the compensation program, which will establish pay structures with a goal of compensating state employees at a level of at least 90% of salaries for comparable private-sector positions.


Rep. Leslie Osborn, the author of HB 3293, said it will take four years to gradually bring all state employees up to that 90% threshold.


In a related matter, the governor also signed Senate Bill 2131, which identifies 7,714 of the state’s lowest-paid state employees who will receive pay increases this year that average $2,592.68 each.




State Officials’ Pay Raise Scuttled


Pay scales for statewide elected officials were severed from judicial salaries by House Joint Resolution 1096, which the governor signed Tuesday.


Under existing state law, the governor is paid the same salary as the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and the paychecks of other elected state officials are pegged to those of other members of the judiciary. Salaries of judges and statewide elected officials alike have not increased since 2006.


Judicial salaries are recommended every two years by the Board on Judicial Compensation and go into effect unless they are rejected by the Legislature. Since judicial salaries have not increased since 2006, the board last September recommended 12% raises for state judges.


Under HJR 1096, the salaries of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the three Corporation Commissioners, the State Treasurer, the State Auditor and Inspector, the State Insurance Commissioner and the state Labor Commissioner were decoupled from the paychecks of state judges.


Gov. Mary Fallin said previously that she wanted to derail a pending pay raise for statewide elected officials.


Instead of 12% pay raises for judges, HJR 1096 allows 6% salary increases effective July 1 for district judges (to $131,835 annually), associate district judges (to $121,596), and special district court judges ($111,356). Pay increases for those jurists will cost approximately $2 million, House Speaker Jeff Hickman said. District attorneys also will receive a 6% wage hike (to $129,198 annually), which will cost about $250,000, Hickman said.


All of those raises will be paid from court funds, the Speaker said.


Appellate judges (Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals) will not receive a pay raise because there isn’t enough money in their court funds, officials said. Members of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission will not get a salary increase, either.