Less than a month into Oklahoma’s centennial year, House Speaker Lance Cargill and House Republicans took the first step in laying out a new vision for the state’s second century Tuesday.
Speaking at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) — a premiere 60-year-old research facility that is a focal point for a growing bioscience industry in the state — Cargill introduced the first part of the House Republican caucus 2007 legislative agenda.
The Entrepreneurial Society platform will focus on removing barriers to economic growth and opportunity in Oklahoma. Cargill and House leaders will unveil more of the agenda over the next two weeks.
“Its time to create an economic environment that rewards hardworking families and entrepreneurs, not punish them with a burdensome bureaucracy and an unfair tax burden,” said Cargill (R-Harrah). “It’s time to promote a wise fiscal policy and require more accountability from government. It’s time to foster a first-class educational system to create a talented and capable workforce. And we must create a fair and balanced legal system – one that ensures access to our courts for those with legitimate claims, but does not subject our citizens to unfair shakedown lawsuits, forced settlements to avoid bankruptcy and lengthy and costly jackpot justice lawsuits.”
The 2007 House Republican agenda aims to build on landmark reforms passed within the past two years – reforms that have touched nearly every area of state government and are already saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year. Highlights of the six-plank Entrepreneurial Society platform:
Fighting for Taxpayers
Cargill said the House GOP will fight to preserve and continue last year’s tax cut agreement, on track to bring income taxes down to 5.25 percent. And Cargill said the House will pass a childcare tax credit to support stay-at-home moms.
“We are committed to maintaining the level of tax relief that was a part of last year’s bipartisan agreement, and we will stop any efforts to roll it back,” said state Rep. Ken Miller (R-Edmond), vice chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “As we get a more detailed revenue picture before the beginning of the session to come, we will present additional details of our tax cut package.”
Speaker Cargill said one of the first tax relief proposals the House will pass is House Bill 1295 — offering a childcare tax credit for stay-at-home parents as a percentage of the federal child care credit.
Promoting Excellence in Education
“The House GOP will continue to push for higher standards of excellence in our schools, as well as provide more and better educational opportunities for students in low-performing schools,” said Rep. Tad Jones (R-Claremore), chair of the House Education Committee. “We will also reward hardworking teachers by boosting programs like the Academic Achievement Award offering cash bonuses to great teachers.”
Jones said that legislation in the House GOP agenda for education will include House Bill 1593 focused on expanding the Academic Achievement Awards program and House Bill 1589 to encourage the development of charter schools.
Government Efficiency & Accountability
“Oklahomans should see results from the government they pay for,” Cargill said. “We need to ensure that Oklahoma’s state government is more responsive to the needs of its citizens.”
As part of a focus on government efficiency, Cargill and House leaders have already announced plans to eliminate nearly 20 state boards and task forces that have been inactive for years or duplicate other state entities. Additional legislation includes:
House Bill 2100 – Commission on the Accountability and Review of State Agencies Bill (CARSA): Authored by Speaker Cargill, this bill will create a special commission to evaluate the need for each state agency, identify duplication in services and consider changes that will improve the efficiency or service of state government. The 10 member commission will conduct reviews every 12 years. Recommendations will require an up or down vote by lawmakers.
House Bill 1073 – Listing of State Agency Appropriated Funds: Authored by Rep. Randy McDaniel (R-Oklahoma City), this measure will require state agencies to publish on their Web sites an accounting of funds appropriated by the Legislature.
Common Sense in the Courtroom
“We must make Oklahoma’s legal system more reasonable,” said Rep. Rob Johnson (R-Kingfisher), who has authored a comprehensive lawsuit reform bill. “Lawsuits in Oklahoma are out of control, and if we’re going to move our state into the next century of our history, we must make our system more reasonable and fair to everyone involved.” Legislation includes:
House Bill 1620 – Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform: Authored by Rep. Johnson, HB 1620 is a comprehensive lawsuit reform bill with numerous features, including limiting the amount a defendant can be required to pay to secure the right to appeal; making it harder for frivolous lawsuits to make it to trial; limiting unreasonable class-action lawsuits; limiting the plaintiff to only be liable for its proportionate share of damages, excluding criminal cases; limiting non-economic damages in civil suits to a reasonable amount; and protecting school officials from being sued for reasonably punishing unruly students.
House Bill 2106 – Business Courts: Authored by Speaker Cargill, HB 2106 will create a specialized court docket to handle commercial and corporate disputes. The complex nature of these types of cases requires expertise and familiarity with specific areas of business law, creating a significant burden on trial courts. Cargill said a specialized business docket will enhance the consistency, predictability and accuracy of decisions on business law issues. “Having a dedicated forum to efficiently resolve business cases will make Oklahoma more attractive to new businesses,” he said.
House Bill 1475 – Medical Liability: Authored by Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove), this measure lifts the restriction on the medical specialties under which the $300,000 non-economic damages cap applies. Existing language only applies to OB-GYNs as it relates to pregnancy, and medical professionals involved in emergency room care. Wrongful death or negligence are exceptions to the cap.
Research & Economic Development
House Republicans will build on the success of economic development reforms passed over the past two years by continuing to push for small business incentives, reduced regulatory barriers and expansion of high technology research opportunities. Legislation includes:
House Bill 2105 – Second Century Entrepreneurship Center: Authored by Speaker Cargill, HB 2105 will create a “one-stop shopping” location for entrepreneurs. “We should make it as simple as possible for anyone who wishes to start a business to find out what steps need to be completed,” Cargill said.
Housed within the State Department of Commerce, the Second Century Entrepreneurship Center will offer information about local permitting, licenses, state and local codes as well as business forms for applications, tax identification numbers, and any other forms required by the state before business can be conducted.
Protecting Property Rights
The property rights of families have been under attack across the country. Oklahoma’s House GOP will strengthen state law protecting families’ private property.