Lawmakers wasted no time getting back to work at 23rd and Lincoln with a major deadline following a three-day break in observation of spring break. Thursday, March 24 was the last day for policy bills to pass off the floor of their chamber of origin, marking the approximate halfway point of the 2022 legislative session. Rough totals indicate the House approved around 380 bills and joint resolutions while the Senate passed just over 300.
Attention now turns back to committee work where legislators will have until April 14 to consider legislation from the opposite chamber. Bills assigned to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will have an extra week for consideration with an approval deadline of April 22.
A major topic this week was not a new discussion for interest groups or legislators. For the past three years, legislators have tried to reach a resolution between telecommunications companies and rural electric cooperatives over utility pole attachment fees and guidelines. Doing so would bring much-needed broadband access to rural Oklahoma. On Thursday, March 24, the House approved HB 3835 by Rep. Ryan Martinez which contains agreed-upon language between telecommunications companies and electric co-ops setting a formula for maximum pole attachment fees. The formula is only required for use if the communications company and the co-op have not otherwise been able to reach an agreement on an attachment rate. Additionally, if a communications company is bringing broadband to an unserved area for the first time and is capable of certain upload and download speeds, the attachment fee will be $1 for four years before changing to an agreed-upon fee or formula rate. The bill will now head to the Senate for consideration by its assigned committee.
SB 192 by Sen. Brent Howard received approval from the Senate this week. If approved by the House and signed by the Governor, SB 192 would strike a section of statute directing county assessors to tax unmanufactured farm products. While some counties have recently begun requesting information on unmanufactured farm products, few to no counties were actually assessing a value on the reported items. Additionally, producers are typically asked to report this information in January from May 31 of the previous year. A combination of the reporting burden, vague definition of the term “unmanufactured farm product,” and the little to no revenue loss resulted in the decision between stakeholders to seek an outright deletion of this section of law. SB 192 now heads to the House for consideration.
Several bills targeting issues related to ad valorem protests received approval from the full House this week. Among them were HB 4413 by Rep. Dick Lowe and HB 3901 by Rep. John Pfeiffer. HB 4413 would remove third-party assessors from protest negotiations. While third-party assessors could still assist the county assessor in determining the initial assessment, the county assessor or their staff would have to handle all protest negotiations and court proceedings.
HB 3901 moves valuation protests from district courts to the Court of Tax Review in order to produce more timely resolutions compared to the five- to seven-year processes we are seeing currently. Both HB 4413 and HB 3901 have their title off, meaning changes are highly probable as they move to the Senate for consideration.
For an update on weekly happenings at the Capitol and an outlook on what is ahead, be sure to tune in to Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s weekly public policy update each Friday at Noon via Zoom.