A handful of new laws take effect Jan. 1 in Oklahoma, including several that will likely mean lower property taxes for some individuals and businesses and one reform for the Department of Human Services that could increase the number of abuse cases reported in the state.
In November, voters approved a new cap on how much property values can increase in a single year in November. Starting Tuesday, property that is used as a primary residence or for agricultural purposes can only increase in value by 3 percent in a single year.
The cap had been set at 5 percent.
That means some people's property taxes will not increase as much as they could have, for an estimated $6.5 million in savings for taxpayers across the state in 2013, said Kenny Chuculate, deputy director of the ad valorem tax division at the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Most state questions take effect immediately after the votes are certified by the state Election Board, but the two state questions dealing with property taxes take effect with the start of the new year.
The state's centrally assessed businesses — namely utility and telecommunications companies — can begin writing off their intangible property from state ad valorem starting Tuesday.
Voters approved the new exemption in the November election, and the Tax Commission estimated before the election that companies like AT&T, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, Co. and American Airlines could write off up to $50 million in taxes collectively in 2013. Examples of intangible property include patents, licenses, land leases and mineral leases.
Also effective with the New Year is a law signed by the governor that will allow more elderly and retired individuals to qualify for a break on property taxes on manufactured homes located on rented land.
“It's a $2,000 reduction in the assessed value of the home,” Chuculate said. “We're probably talking about a tax reduction of $100 to $200 depending on the taxing jurisdiction.”
Previously, the deduction was available to those 62 years or older making no more than $10,000. Senate Bill 1449, signed into law by the governor in May, makes that threshold $22,000 or half of the median income in each county, whichever is greater.
“It hadn't been changed in years and years and years, so the legislature thought it would be more current to actually tie that into a scale,” Chuculate said.
He said the Tax Commission estimates about 200 or 300 people in the entire state will now qualify for the deduction who hadn't before.
Beginning on the first of the year, there will no longer be a difference in how DHS caseworkers investigate, report and handle allegations of abuse and neglect.
Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, said part of the complaint filed in the class-action lawsuit against DHS was that Oklahoma underreported abuse and neglect because the system for investigating alleged abuse in foster homes or state-owned shelters and group homes was less stringent.
Nelson said this change is a major piece of the DHS reform under way as part of the lawsuit settlement, which has come to be known as the Pinnacle Plan.
“It's a critical part of it, which is to have consistency of how you handle any abuse and neglect cases and it's also an accountability issue,” he said.
In 2013, the state is expected to report higher instances of abuse and neglect, Nelson said.
“It's not because all of a sudden there is a new jump in the instances of abuse, but it will be reported differently,” he said.
Nelson said other parts of the Pinnacle Plan will become state law as the process to reform DHS continues this upcoming legislative session in 2013.