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State Senate to meet on education funding

Members of the Oklahoma Senate said they will meet today to consider House bills associated with revenues needed to enhance funding for education.

President Pro Tempore Mike Schultz, R-Altus, indicated the Senate will meet in special session at 8:30 a.m. to consider House Bill 1019xx, which supporters have dubbed the "Amazon" bill, and House Bill 1012xx, which would repeal the $5 hotel/motel tax that had been part of the educational funding package passed and signed into law last week. House members overwhelmingly passed HB 1019xx late Wednesday after passing HB 1012xx late last week almost immediately after they had passed a $447 million education funding package, a move that drew fire from many educators and educational support groups.

In addition, the Senate's agenda for Friday's regular session is expected to include HB 3375, dubbed the "ball and dice" bill that will allow additional gaming to be included under tribal compacts, with the additional revenues generated by those games dedicated to education.

The bills are passing through the Legislature even as Oklahoma teachers continue plans for a fifth day of rallies at the State Capitol, and satellite demonstrations in communities across the state, including Lawton (educators and supporters have been rallying each day beginning at 10 a.m. at the McDonald's in the 3100 block of Cache Road). Like many school districts across the state, Lawton will be participating in the teacher walk-out for a fifth day.

Area legislators did returned telephone calls by 6 p.m. seeking comment on the issue.

House Bill 1019xx, passed by the House during the special session that is running concurrently with the 2018 regular session, would require retailers, such as those who use Amazon to sell their products, to collect and remit sales tax from those sales, or follow Oklahoma Tax Commission requirements to notify customers each year about how much state sales tax they owe. The regulation would apply to sales of $10,000 or more.

State officials said while Amazon already has agreed to collect sales tax and remit it to the state, under an agreement that went into effect in March 2017, HB1019xx would expand that requirement to third parties.

Under the terms of the bill, most of the projected revenue (an estimated $19.6 million in Fiscal Year 2019) would be dedicated to education. The entire amount, an estimated $20.5 million annually, would be dedicated to education thereafter.

House members drew immediate fire for another bill that the Senate will consider today, HB1012xx. That bill deletes a $5 per night charge on hotel rooms in the state, a proposal included in the funding package passed last week to fund pay raises and additional money for education. The hotel occupancy tax had been projected to generate $50.4 million for common education, but critics said the fee was so high it would discourage tourists and those participating in conventions from staying in Oklahoma hotels and motels.

But Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest and others criticized the House vote, saying it was another illustration of the Legislature's unwillingness to fully consider funding for education.

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