What Became of the Bills StateImpact Was Watching This Legislative Session?

May 29, 2014

The Oklahoma Senate
Credit Becky McCray / Flickr

 

From the start of the legislative session on February 3rd, StateImpact Oklahoma had its eye on what was sure to be a heated issue: the coming expiration of a tax credit for horizontally drilled oil and gas wells. Without action, rates would go from one-percent for the first four years of a well’s life, back to 7 percent.

Democrats like Representative Richard Morrissette argued companies don’t drill for oil and gas because of tax breaks, and it can’t be assumed they have the best interest of Oklahomans at heart.

“The jobs are here, because they’ve got to get the gold out of the ground,” Morrissette said on the House floor. “They’re not doing it because of the love of country and state. They’re doing it for the love of the dollar bill.”

Oil and gas industry representatives lobbied hard, and while it wasn’t everything they wanted, a new incentive setting the rate at two-percent for the first three years was agreed to. Governor Mary Fallin signed the bill on Wednesday.

Another bill awaiting the governor’s signature deals with water reuse.

The City of Norman — like a growing number of communities — would like to dump its wastewater back into its main water source, in this case Lake Thunderbird, to augment supplies. Norman Republican Scott Martin authored a bill that would allow the department of environmental quality to permit such projects, and Representative Jerry McPeak tried to wrap his head around the idea before the measure passed the house.

“So, if you’re going to reuse it, it had to be taken from a source where they were going to use it for drinking water to someplace else. And now you’re going to take it from wherever that is to someplace else. Martin: It would have to meet all safe water standards,” McPeak said.

StateImpact also watched several bills die on the vine. After other lawmakers tried for years, it looked like Representative Charles McCall might finally have enough supportfor a new tax on limestone and sand mining operations in the sensitive Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.

It would’ve allowed counties to levy the tax after county voters approve it.

The idea had the backing of many of the landowners we talked to in Johnston County, like rancher Gary Green, who feel short changed by out-of-state mining companies. He wants the county to have more money to fix roads damaged by trucks loaded with limestone.

“When I first came here, back to the west there were very few lights. It was dark. You could see the stars,” Greed said in February. “Now when I drive in my driveway, back to the west, it looks like a small city from all the lights from the mines.”

The bill would’ve opened the door to a tax increase, which was enough to doom its chances in the House.

The Drought-Proof Communities Act couldn’t get through the House either, though the Senate did pass it. It’ would’ve directed some state money to update water infrastructure systems in small towns. The plan would’ve required funding. It never materialized.

But bills that fail can still have an impact. Take Senate President pro tem Brian Bingman’s attempt to pass a moratorium on wind farm construction in eastern Oklahoma, were they’ve met with stiff opposition from tribes, landowners and conservationists.

The eastern Oklahoma wind farm ban couldn’t get through the House after passing the Senate. But its spirit lives on. Bingman has asked the Corporation Commission to study whether it should start overseeing where new wind farms are located.

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