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OKFB Legislative Review 2022

Fri, 17 Jun 2022 09:24:25 CDT

OKFB Legislative Review 2022 After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions, lawmakers were back to business as usual in 2022 during the second regular session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature, running from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May.

With restrictions lifted and long-awaited building renovations complete, the marble floors of the state Capitol played host to a seemingly endless stream of foot traffic from legislators, staff and visitors from around the state.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau and its members had a strong presence at 23rd and Lincoln throughout the 2022 legislative session. In addition to the efforts of OKFB's public policy team, nearly a dozen county Farm Bureaus took time off the farm and made the trek to Oklahoma City to advocate for farmers and ranchers at the state Capitol.

With thousands of bills available for consideration this year, OKFB was proud to walk away with victories in several priority areas for Farm Bureau members.

Medical Marijuana

Oklahoma's medical marijuana industry took the state by storm after the passage of State Question 788 in 2018. With more than 8,000 medical marijuana grows in Oklahoma, the industry has had a significant impact on agriculture and rural Oklahoma. From illegal activity to concerns with herbicide spray drift, Farm Bureau members sought clarity on potential liabilities and improved communications with medical marijuana growers around them.

One of the highlights of the 2022 legislative session was the passage of SB 1737 by Sen. Blake Stephens and Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky, which requires all commercial medical marijuana growers to post signage outside their operation and requires them to register with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry as an environmentally sensitive crop. Signage requirements include listing the official license number and valid contact information for the licensee.

Before the passage of SB 1737, many farmers and ranchers had difficulty determining if a neighboring operation grew marijuana and, if so, finding valid contact information for the operation's ownership to have on hand in case of emergencies or before applying herbicides. This bill will help Farm Bureau members tremendously in the spirit of being good neighbors.

Cracking down on illegal marijuana activity was a high priority for OKFB members coming into the 2022 session. SB 1543 by Sen. Greg Treat and Rep. Jon Echols establishes the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority as a standalone entity, giving the agency greater freedom in both managing legal marijuana activity and investigating and prosecuting illegal activity.

OKFB also worked with lawmakers to pass legislation that creates a tiered fee structure for marijuana grower licenses, increases penalties for illegal activities, revokes medical marijuana licenses in the instance of improper use and establishes a moratorium on issuing new licenses until OMMA completes all pending licenses, inspections and investigations.

OKFB began the 2022 legislative session tracking dozens of medical marijuana bills. While not all were signed into law, OKFB is pleased with those that did and will continue working on behalf of Farm Bureau members as legislation re-emerges in future sessions.

Landowner Advocacy and Private Property Rights

OKFB has long opposed increases to ad valorem taxes and all forms of county zoning authority. Property tax increases are often considered to help increase governmental budgets, but they unfairly affect farmers and ranchers as they often have a great amount of land and capital some of which does not always generate a profit.

Early in the 2022 session, OKFB helped defeat two county zoning bills, including SB 1182 by Sen. Dave Rader and HB 2990 by Rep. Carol Bush. Both bills would have allowed counties to create and enforce regulations, codes or policies so long as a state law on the same topic did not exist. This expansion of county authority could have caused significant uncertainty for farmers and ranchers in rural, unincorporated areas of Oklahoma. HB 2990 failed in committee, and SB 1182 was never considered, due in part to the strong opposition from an OKFB-led coalition.

In 2021, Farm Bureau members expressed concern with ad valorem valuation protests by energy companies and the strain it placed on school budgets. When a taxpayer whether individual or corporation protests their assessed ad valorem taxes, the protested funds go into escrow during the negotiation process. The money tied up in escrow is therefore not available for use by local school districts who often rely on ad valorem revenue for their operating budgets.

OKFB and lawmakers engaged in multiple discussions on ad valorem protests with the desire to speed up lengthy negotiations while preserving a taxpayer's right to reasonably protest ad valorem assessments. HB 3901 by Rep. John Pfeiffer and Sen. John Michael Montgomery and HB 2627 by Rep. Dick Lowe and Sen. John Michael Montgomery will assist in protest negotiations by speeding up the scheduling process and removing third-party assessors from negotiations.

OKFB also saw legislation on personal property taxes emerge during the 2022 session. Current Oklahoma statute directs county assessors to tax unmanufactured farm products like stored hay and grain. SB 192 by Sen. Brent Howard and Rep. John Pfeiffer will remove this section of statute after stakeholders on both sides agreed little revenue would be lost as many counties were not assessing value on the reported items.

Rural Infrastructure

Farm Bureau members strongly support the expansion of high-speed broadband internet and quality mobile phone service in rural areas of the state. As technology advances both at home and on the farm, access to high-speed internet is crucial to continued prosperity in rural Oklahoma.

In many instances, telecommunications companies aiming to expand to rural areas often request the usage of preexisting utility poles owned by rural electric cooperatives, resulting in disagreement and debate between the two entities on usage fees and guidelines. This year, the legislature passed HB 3835 by Rep. Ryan Martinez and Sen. Brent Howard, which sets a formula for maximum pole attachment fees. It also incentivizes communications companies to bring broadband internet to underserved areas by lowering the fee to $1 for the first four years.

Two additional advancements on the rural broadband front include the passage of HB 3363 by Rep. Charles McCall and Sen. Greg Treat to establish the Oklahoma Broadband Office and HB 1123 by Rep. Logan Phillips and Sen. Roger Thompson, which appropriates $2 million from statewide pandemic relief funds to assist in broadband mapping around the state.

For Farm Bureau members, legislative work does not stop with the end of the session. Throughout the summer and fall, OKFB will continue to work hand-in-hand with its grassroots members during the policy development season to ensure farmers and ranchers can continue producing food, fuel and fiber for the world.

CLICK HERE to read Top Legislation Monitored by OKFB.



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