OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Senate breaks custom and closes doors to session, removes reporters, observers
At the start of a week set aside for promoting openness in government, the Oklahoma Senate cleared its gallery of news reporters and observers in order to hold a secret meeting.
Oklahoma legislators are exempt from the state's Open Meetings Law, and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he requested the closed-door meeting on Monday to discuss "Senate decorum." Senate Democratic leader Sean Burrage agreed to the motion.
The Senate sergeants cleared those in attendance from the gallery, including reporters who were covering the Senate from the press gallery.
Both Burrage and Bingman declined to elaborate on the secret session after it ended about 30 minutes later.
This week is national Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to promoting openness in state government.
Oklahoma among 6 states to receive 'D' grade from national group on legislative transparency
Despite recent upgrades in technology by the Oklahoma Legislature, a national group has given the state a grade of "D'' for how well legislative information is made available to the public.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit group Sunlight Foundation released transparency report cards on Monday for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The group analyzed legislative websites to determine how readily legislative information is publicly available. Factors included completeness, timeliness, ease of electronic access, machine readability, use of commonly owned standards and permanence.
Eight states received an "A'' grade, while six states received an "F."
Legislative Report Cards: http://openstates.org/reportcard/
Okla. Senate approves plan to slash personal income tax, offset lost revenue with code changes
The Oklahoma Senate has approved a plan to reduce the state's top personal income tax rate by one-half of 1 percent and offset most of the lost revenue by eliminating or changing dozens of exemptions in the tax code.
The Senate voted 33-13 on Monday for the bill by Tulsa Republican Sen. Mike Mazzei. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Republicans favoring the measure.
Mazzei's bill would slash the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.75 percent, beginning Jan. 1, 2015. The bill also eliminates more than two dozen tax exemptions for businesses and individuals. The overall fiscal impact of the bill is estimated to be about $109 million less for the state when fully implemented.
Senate Bill 585: http://bit.ly/15Iqlo8
Oklahoma House approves bill establishing rules for future tax credits and making them public
The Oklahoma House has approved a proposal to sharply limit the tax credits the state government can approve.
Republican Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City authored the bill and says it is the result of years of bipartisan work. The House approved the bill without opposition and sent it to the state Senate for consideration.
The bill says the public can find out who benefits from every tax cut. It would also require any proposals for new tax credits to show how much they'll cost and how they'll help Oklahoma's economy.
Dank says his proposal is trying to get a handle on the millions of dollars the state "is passing out every year" in tax credits and incentives.
The Oklahoma House has approved a bill to cancel an earlier requirement that schools offer full-day kindergarten programs.
The House passed the bill by freshman Republican Rep. Jason Smalley of Stroud on an 85-9 vote Monday. It would make all-day kindergarten programs optional and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
If it doesn't pass, school districts would be required to operate full-day kindergarten starting next academic year.
Some Democratic representatives say the bill would hurt the early education of a state already struggling with its educational ranking.
Smalley and other supporters, including some Democrats, say making kindergarten optional instead of requiring it would let school districts access federal funding to pay the kindergarten teachers.
As spring tornado season draws nearer, Oklahoma lawmakers are advancing legislation to create a disaster recovery information website.
The state House approved the legislation last week and sent it to the Oklahoma Senate for consideration.
The bill's author, Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs, says the website would be a critical resource for disaster recovery efforts. It would make information more accessible and allow multiple contributors including citizens wanting to document local damage.
Dorman says the website would have a state map allowing individuals to click on their county to receive more local information from multiple sources.
Dorman says he came up with the idea for a mobile-friendly website while responding to ice storms in his House district three years ago.
House Bill 2231: http://bit.ly/YhMRhn