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Legislative Update January 15, 2009

Following is a quick review of disability and agency related bills that have been introduced so far in the 2009 Oklahoma Legislature.  Information on added bills will be provided as it becomes available.

Several bills have been introduced to provide health insurance coverage for diagnosis and treatment of autism.  A bill expected to be offered by Republicans calls for educating autism treatment professionals, but does not provide health insurance coverage.  Autism bills introduced so far include:


Autism; health insurance: SB-1 (Gumm) Requiring health insurance coverage of autism.

Autism; health insurance: SB-36 (Anderson) Requiring health insurance coverage of autism.

Autism; health insurance: SB-46 (Easley) Requiring health insurance to cover autism.

A sampling of other legislation:

Blind students; Orientation and Mobility instructors:

HB-1062 (Sherrer) Directing the State Department of Education, when funds are available, to provide an annual bonus of $5,000 to any public school district employee who is an orientation and mobility instructor certified by the Academy for Certification of Visual Rehabilitation and Education Professionals.

Education; children with disabilities:

SB-307 (Wilson) Directing the Attorney General to intervene in legal proceedings relating to education of children with disabilities and represent school districts and employees.

Special education: 

SB-470 (Gumm) Placing the burden of proof on school districts in special education proceedings.

School security; OSB and OSD:

SB-605 (Lamb) Building on school security legislation from last year, this bill directs the state Department of Homeland Security to make grants available, funds permitting, to public and private schools, tech centers and higher education institutions in the state, for the purpose of enhancing school security.  The bill establishes a revolving fund for the grant program and specifies that legislative appropriations can be used to support this grant program.  Since OSB and OSD are neither “public” nor “private” schools, it is unclear whether they would be eligible for the grants under the bill as it was introduced.

Hearing aids; eyeglasses:

SB-312 (Leftwich) Providing a sales tax exemption for hearing aids and related equipment, lenses, eyeglasses and frames that are prescribed by certain licensed practitioners.

Eyeglasses:

HB-1415 (Kern) Providing a sales tax exemption for purchase of eyeglasses by senior citizens.

Aging and disability:

SB-321 (Anderson)

Authorizing the Department of Human Services to establish the Aging and Disability Resource Consortium initiative.

Public transportation:

SB-407 (Branan) Raising from $3 million to $5 million the amount allocated to the Public Transportation Revolving Fund from tax revenue that was set aside for transportation projects (such as the ROADS program) by 2005 legislation.  Under that legislation and its subsequent amendments, hundreds of millions of dollars are provided annually for roads, with a tiny amount allocated for transit and for rail.  Note:  SB-408 by Branan allows for an annual increase in the amount of funds going to the ROADS program, and allows the amount going to ROADS to remain constant even when there is a reduction in revenue available.

DRS appropriation bills:

SB-144, SB-145, HB-1222, HB-1223

Stem cell research and therapy:

SB-17 (Gumm) Providing an appropriation to the State Department of Health to create a public cord blood bank.

Pain management:

SB-260 (Gumm) Creating the Intractable Pain Treatment Act.  Permitting physicians to prescribe controlled dangerous substances for relief of intractable pain, subject to various controls and safeguards, and when no other effective means for treating the pain is available.

Lung disease:

SB-323 (Adelson) Creating the Oklahoma Plan for Comprehensive Treatment of Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease.  This bill puts the Health Department in charge of developing a sustainable plan for decreasing the incidence of COPD in Oklahoma.  (Oklahoma’s incidence of COPD is currently 25% higher than the national average.)  The plan would include, but not be limited to, public and patient education, improved access to care and treatment for COPD, and strategies to prevent COPD.

Medical care; health insurance:

SB-263 (Rice) Creating Steffanie's Law for Clinical Trial Access.  Preventing health insurance plans from denying covered medical services to individuals who are participating in clinical trials.

Medicaid:

SB-284 (Corn) Reinstating the Medicaid medically needy program.

State government:

SB-646 (Coffee) Creating the Accountability, Innovation and Privatization Act.

Livable communities; aging in place:

SB-648 (Sykes) Creating the Oklahoma Certified Retirement City Program Act.  This bill places the state Department of Commerce in charge of a program to assist Oklahoma cities to market themselves as desirable retirement destinations, and to certify them as meeting certain criteria for quality retirement living.  A revolving fund is created to receive funds that can be used to promote cities as retirement options.  Criteria for being designated as a certified retirement city would include availability of health and long-term care facilities, recreation and cultural opportunities, and availability of “roads or buses.”  As introduced, the bill does not address community accessibility or public transportation issues - two key elements in creating livable communities for aging Oklahomans, who have disabilities at a rate of 46%.

Other bills have been introduced to

  • Increase minimum teacher salaries.
  • Increase state employee pay.
  • Increase state employee longevity pay.
  • Make state employees pay a part of their health insurance cost, but give them a reduced cost if they are non-smokers and maintain healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.
  • Increase college tuition, delay tuition increases, and let the Legislature set increases.
  • Provide financial incentives for doctors to practice in rural areas.
  • Establish a state department on aging.
  • Provide a Medicaid funding option for assisted living.
  • Prevent auto injuries by banning cell phone and text messaging while driving.
  • Modifying end-of-instruction test provisions by providing for alternative tests and letting school boards decide when to administer the tests.
  • Put a cap on medical record charges for persons applying for disability benefits.
  • Exempt over-the-counter medicines (also food and beverages) from sales tax.
  • Regulate Therapeutic Recreation Practice.
  • Require health insurance coverage for certain cancer drugs and screenings.
  • Require photo ID or other proof of identity when voting (affecting some non-drivers).
  • Modify handicapped parking signage.
  • Study the state’s future transportation needs, especially for roads and rail.
  • Require wheelchairs on roads to have orange flags or banners.
  • Provide a tax credit to businesses that pay for public transit for employees.
  • Increase the monthly personal needs allowance for nursing home residents.
  • Modifying provisions related to organ procurement and donation.
  • Direct the Health Care Authority to study ways to prevent and treat pressure ulcers for residents of Medicaid facilities (e.g. nursing homes).
  • Require legislative approval of agency rules, failure to approve meaning disapproval.

For a comprehensive list of state bills with potential disability impact, email jjones@okdrs.gov.

Other state legislative news:

On January 6th the Oklahoma Senate adopted its rules for the coming year.  The rules affect Senate operation, committees, and how legislation will be handled.  There are several significant changes in this year’s Senate rules.  The most notable change is that the Senate will now require documentation of fiscal impact, such as an actuarial study, to be provided with any legislation that would expand or mandate health insurance coverage.  Any bills, amendments or conference reports that would require health plans to cover any particular medical conditions or procedures would have to be accompanied by fiscal studies in order for them to be considered.  The new Senate rules also contain a similar provision for bills or amendments that expand state employee health insurance coverage.  Bills that impact tax revenues would also have to come with documentation of fiscal impact.  Bills affecting state government retirement systems will have to be submitted in advance to the legislative actuary for a review of fiscal impact.

The new Senate rules give the Senate President Pro Tempore sole authority to appoint all Senate committee members.  In the past, the minority party could recommend the names of minority members to be on committees, but this is no longer the case under the 2009 rules of the Senate.

The 2009 Senate rules as adopted January 6th also contain a provision adopted last session by the House:  If final action is such as to defeat a bill, an amendment or a resolution, then the defeated provision or measure may not be considered again at any time during the two-year session, unless an exception is made by the President Pro Tempore.  (In the House, the Speaker can make such an exception.)

The new Senate rules will require a significant amount of preliminary work before bills to expand health insurance coverage can be introduced or moved through the legislative process.  As a strategy consideration, it will also be important to remember that any bills or provisions which are voted down in committee or on the floor cannot be brought up again during the two-year session.  This rule can affect decisions about when or whether to introduce legislation.

A date to remember: April 9: Disability Awareness Day at the Capitol