By Rep. Mike Sanders
Whenever I travel my district and especially when I talk to business owners, I always hear about ways to improve our business climate. Our local economies are vulnerable to disruption and the best thing that legislators can do is to create support for Oklahoma businesses.
This week, Oklahoma House committees have passed several important job bills that I think will improve the business climate of our state.
On Tuesday, the Environmental Law Committee passed a measure that will protect our oil and gas jobs. House Bill 2178 allows local governments to set safety standards, traffic restrictions, and ordinances concerning noise, odors, fencing and caution barriers around oil drilling sites, as well as setback requirements for well sites. However, it restricts the authority to approve specific drilling and excavation practices to the sole domain of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
Last year, a handful of people were able to ban fracking in Denton, Texas, by playing on public emotion and opened the door for patchwork drilling policies across the state. We don’t want that in Oklahoma and this bill will protect us from it.
The Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a second jobs measure Tuesday. House Bill 2177 would open more opportunities to use new and advanced drilling technology in Oklahoma. The legislation allows oil and gas developers to obtain permission from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to join units for drilling extended lateral-horizontal wells across multiple units outside of shale formations. This method is currently limited to the Marmaton Formation in Oklahoma and has proven effective in those shale plays since the adoption of the 2011 Shale Reservoir Development Act.
The Business, Labor and Retirement Laws Committee passed another important bill to protect jobs by offering more support to business owners. House Bill 1001 would make the claims process more efficient and set a dependable new employer unemployment insurance tax rate.
One provision of the bill would allow employers to file documentation for misconduct immediately upon the termination of the employee. In doing this, the employer will be considered to have automatically protested the claim, if and when the former employee files for unemployment insurance benefits. Although I certainly support unemployment benefits, the system should be efficient for businesses.
The legislation would also provide a reliable unemployment insurance tax rate for new businesses in their first two years in operation. New businesses are very vulnerable. The better support we provide for them, the more jobs will be available.
Many states have battled to keep their unemployment insurance trust funds solvent. Oklahoma was one of only 19 states that did not borrow money from the federal government to pay benefits.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee unanimously approved a bill to support rural Oklahoma. House Bill 1747 allows for the creation of 25 Rural Opportunity Zones. For taxable years beginning in 2016, a five-year exemption would be available to anyone who sets up a business in a county projected to see a population loss between the effective date and 2075 per the 2012 Demographic State of the State Report – Oklahoma State and County Population Projections through 2075.
I am the primary co-author of this legislation because it will give the counties I represent a shot in the arm in the area of economic development. Other states like Kansas have done this and they have seen an increase in population due to economic activity in their rural counties.
I will talk to you more about the progress of legislation in next week’s column. My door is open to you at all times. You can reach my legislative office at (405) 557-7407, e-mail email@example.com or stop by Room 205 at 2300 North Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City.