Coming on the heels of a long and difficult year, the first session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature brought with it many challenges as Oklahoma Farm Bureau worked to advocate for farmers, ranchers and rural Oklahomans at the state Capitol in the face of limitations from the lingering pandemic. Despite some obstacles, OKFB accomplished a number of wins for Farm Bureau members as it took the organization’s policy priorities to 23rd and Lincoln.
Agricultural Sales Tax Exemption
In the early months of 2021, OKFB heard from numerous members who experienced difficulties in obtaining or renewing a state agricultural sales tax exemption permit. County assessors began requiring producers to present a Schedule F, or Form 1040, to qualify for the permit.
After multiple failed attempts to achieve an agreement with the Oklahoma Tax Commission, OKFB worked alongside a large coalition of agriculture groups to support Senate Bill 422 by Rep. Dell Kerbs and Sen. Frank Simpson. The bill – which passed unanimously – provides agricultural producers four options to prove eligibility for the exemption permit including a federal tax form, such as a Schedule F, Form 4835 or Form 1065; a one-page business description form provided by the Oklahoma Tax Commission; a USDA Farm Service Agency Form 156EZ; or other documents to verify active agriculture production at the discretion of the tax commission. The legislation takes effect beginning July 1, 2021.
Though the legislation will help address some of the challenges Farm Bureau members faced in securing the permit, OKFB will continue to work with the Oklahoma Tax Commission and other state leaders to ensure all agricultural producers who are eligible for the exemption can acquire a permit.
Because farmers and ranchers are disproportionately impacted by ad valorem taxes, preventing increases in property taxes has been a cornerstone OKFB issue for decades. Over the past several years, the state Legislature has increasingly considered new ad valorem tax proposals and 2021 was no different.
For nearly five years, OKFB has participated in discussions on a proposal to allow municipalities to levy a new ad valorem tax to fund police, fire and ambulance services. Farm Bureau this year negotiated with legislators and other interested parties – including leaders from Oklahoma City and Tulsa – to ensure the proposed legislation protected farmers and ranchers from increases in ad valorem taxes. Senate Bill 838 by Sen. Darrell Weaver and Rep. Jadine Nollan passed the state Legislature and was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt with key protections including an exemption for agriculture-zoned land and livestock, a 60% threshold for voter approval and an exemption for implements of husbandry including trailers, tractors, sprayers, tanks and ATVs.
While the passage of SB 838 enshrined into law valuable protections for Oklahoma’s agricultural producers, the bill also provided a chance for Farm Bureau to further develop its relationships with its urban counterparts and create opportunities to work together on shared goals in the future.
Alongside SB 838, Farm Bureau was pleased to see the success of another piece of legislation that would safeguard the use of taxpayer dollars. Senate Bill 825 by Sen. Rob Standridge and Rep. Kevin West prohibits communities that levy a tax approved by a vote of the people for a designated purpose – such as funding public safety – from redirecting those funds to another use without authorization by a vote of the people. The bill should prohibit municipalities from assessing a tax for popular core services and then using those funds for other projects.
Lawmakers also resurfaced legislation first introduced in 2020 that would allow counties to levy a countywide ad valorem tax for the purpose of hazard mitigation. OKFB last year led a coalition that soundly defeated the bill on the House floor. Despite the outcome in the 2020 legislative session, state legislators again pushed the proposals through committees in both the House and the Senate this year. OKFB issued its first action alert of the year to ask members to contact legislators and urge a no vote on the bills. Thanks to the significant pressure applied by our members, neither bill received further consideration on the floor and the issue was resolved for the year. OKFB will watch closely as we progress toward the 2022 legislative session, as the issue is expected to emerge again.
Private Property Rights
This year’s legislative session brought several successes in upholding private property rights. OKFB worked closely with state legislators to revise an initially flawed proposal on trespassing and create legislation to eliminate a loophole that previously allowed entry into a garden, yard, pasture or field without permission. OKFB’s work to amend House Bill 1135 by Rep. Scott Fetgatter and Sen. Zack Taylor essentially eliminates all posting requirements in the state’s trespassing law.
Strides were also made to protect landowners from frivolous or unnecessary nuisance lawsuits while employing normal agricultural production practices. Senate Bill 939 by Sen. Zack Taylor and Rep. John Pfeiffer prevents municipalities from deeming any action by critical infrastructure sectors – including agriculture – a nuisance if the operations are in compliance with all applicable local, state and federal regulations.
Another recent OKFB member concern was successfully addressed in SB 839 by Sen. Nathan Dahm and Rep. Sean Roberts, which prohibits the installation of game or wildlife cameras by game wardens on private property without the permission of the owner or a warrant issued by a court.
One of the state Legislature’s top priorities this year – as required by the state constitution – was redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district lines following the 2020 Census. The new boundaries will be used for elections beginning in 2022 through 2030.
Because of census data delays from the federal government, the state Legislature was forced to use data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015-2019 American Community Survey to meet its constitutional requirement of completing legislative redistricting within 90 legislative days after the state Legislature convenes following the last decennial census.
Both the state Senate and House created redistricting committees to carry out the process of drawing new legislative and congressional district lines, which were chaired by Sen. Lonnie Paxton and Rep. Ryan Martinez. The committees spent months compiling input from constituents at town halls across the state and from each member of the state Legislature. The redistricting committees each released their proposed district maps in April. Though many rural Oklahomans were concerned about population shifts from rural to urban areas over the past 10 years, Farm Bureau was pleased to see rural communities retain significant representation in the newly drawn Senate and House districts.
In May, the new legislative district maps were approved as Senate Bill 1066 and House Bill 1198 by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and Speaker of the House Charles McCall by both the Senate and House before receiving final approval from the governor.
Once the state receives final 2020 Census data in the fall, state lawmakers will convene in a special session to complete Oklahoma’s congressional redistricting process. During the special session, state legislators also will evaluate final census data to determine if the newly drawn legislative districts meet the 5% population deviation standard as set by the redistricting committees.
OKFB members are encouraged to participate in the state Legislature’s congressional redistricting town halls to be held in July.
Despite fears of a tumultuous fiscal year for the state, the overall appropriations and budget process resulted in a net increase of 7% in overall spending, while still depositing $800 million into the state savings fund. The state Legislature also addressed multiple OKFB priorities by investing in critical programs and needs for agriculture for rural Oklahoma.
Noteworthy funding increases included:
- $42 million for a new rural broadband sales tax rebate program
- $2 million for the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service (OSU Extension)
- $1 million for the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station (OSU Ag Research)
- $3 million for the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine
- $300,000 for Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry for additional meat processing facility inspectors