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Oklahoma governor's two proposals remain alive in Legislature

Both a reduction in the top rate of Oklahoma's personal income tax and overhauling the workers' compensation system get past the first major deadline in this year's session. Gov. Mary Fallin said an income tax reduction, which was thwarted last year, is likely.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Published: March 16, 2013

Two key proposals by Gov. Mary Fallin — reducing the top personal income tax rate down to 5 percent and overhauling Oklahoma's workers' compensation court — remain intact after lawmakers completed the first of three key deadlines.

“I think we'll get a tax cut done this year,” Fallin said. “There seems to be great buy-in from both the (House) speaker and the (Senate) pro tem.”

The House of Representatives last week passed House Bill 2032, which contains Fallin's income tax-cutting proposal to reduce the state's highest personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. It calls for the income tax cut to be paid for out of available revenue and is not dependent on reducing or eliminating any tax credits or exemptions or deductions as most of last year's proposals did.

HB 2032 is one of two bills still alive that call for reducing the top rate; Senate Bill 585 would lower the top personal income tax rate to 4.75 percent by eliminating several tax preferences by 2015, including those for equipment for recycling or waste reduction and for child-care businesses.

The Senate three weeks ago passed Senate Bill 1062, which calls for changing the state's workers' compensation court and replace it with an administrative system.

“We're excited that we may be able to get some more major reform done that will help our businesses while protecting our injured workers and making sure they get the health care that they need through the workers' compensation system,” Fallin said.

On the issue of school safety, Fallin said she wants to see the final version of House Bill 1062 before commenting on it. The measure, passed last week, would allow trained public school teachers to bring handguns to schools. She said she likes the recommendations of the Oklahoma Commission on School Security, which were incorporated into four Senate bills.

The commission headed by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb was formed shortly after the December killings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Recommendations include calling for a new security tip line, mental health training for campus workers and a new state institute to continue training, research and advocacy on the issue.

“We'll just have to wait and see what is included in any type of legislation that might involve arms in schools,” Fallin said. “I'm certainly a huge supporter and proponent of Second Amendment rights, but I also want to make sure that we're wise about our public policy, that we listen to our law enforcement, our school officials, our teachers, our parents.

“The lieutenant governor's got some great recommendations that I'm inclined to support,” she said.

Thursday was the deadline for House and Senate measures to get out of their chambers of origin. The House and Senate have until April 25 to review those measures and send them back. The session is scheduled to end May 31.

Measures that fail to advance by the deadlines are considered dormant. Language still can be inserted in measures that have the similar subject title, and it's not uncommon for some bills to be stripped and replaced with new text in the session's final weeks.

Much success

Fallin, the state's first female governor, had much success in her first year in office in 2011 when her priorities all won approval. They included getting changes in the civil justice system and the workers' compensation system and eliminating the “trial de novo” system that made it hard to fire underperforming teachers. That year marked the first time in state history that Republicans controlled both legislative chambers and the governor's office.

Fallin stumbled last year when lawmakers spurned her income tax-cutting proposal and failed to respond to her challenge to repair the crumbling state Capitol. Her tax proposal, one of five last year, called for cutting the top personal income tax rate almost 2 percent and reducing the number of tax brackets. Lawmakers scrapped all the proposals and tried a couple other ideas before failing to approve legislation by the time the session was required to end in late May.

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