When the 58th Oklahoma Legislature convened shortly after Joe Biden’s inauguration sealed the theft of the 2020 Presidential Election, no one knew whether the legislators would sense the urgency of the moment and finally push through the quagmire of “business as usual” politics.
As it turns out, the 58th Legislature will go down as one of the most staunchly conservative in Oklahoma’s history, with major advances taken to end abortion, protect 1st and 2nd Amendment rights, and stand up to the looming overreach of the Communists now in control of the Federal government.
With the session now in our rearview mirror, it’s a good time to look back and celebrate some of the historic achievements, as well as analyze a couple of head-scratching misses.
Abortion Ban Finally Passes
Perhaps the greatest disappointment in recent years was in 2016 when then-Governor Mary Fallin vetoed the Medical Licensing Bill that would have ended the horrific practice of abortion in the Sooner State, after promising to support it. This year, the Medical Licensing Bill was not only brought back up and passed, but two additional bills were added that will effectively criminalize 99% of all abortions performed in the state.
The Medical Licensing Bill, which reemerged as HB 1102, formally defined performing an abortion as “unprofessional conduct”, which justifies the Oklahoma State Board of Health to suspend the medical license of any medical practitioner who performs an abortion for “not less than 1 year.” The bill even included a much tougher “life of the mother” exception, stating, “an abortion may not be performed based solely on the mental or emotional health of the mother, notwithstanding a claim or diagnosis that the woman may engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death.”
Oklahoma also went after the medical licenses of abortion providers in HB 1904, which requires any physician performing an abortion to be board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. The significance of this bill is that none of the state’s abortion providers currently employ, or have, board certified OBGYNs performing abortions. The bill has strong legal precedent behind it since the State of Mississippi already passed a very similar piece of legislation several years ago which has stood the test in the courts. So even if the other two bills get struck down, this bill will make it impossible for abortion clinics to remain in business.
Lastly, Oklahoma also added its own version of the Heartbeat act (HB 2441), now requires anyone performing an abortion to conduct ultrasounds to detect a fetal heartbeat. If such heartbeat is detected, performing an abortion is now defined as a homicide in Oklahoma.
All three bills are set to become law on November 1st.
The Religious Freedom Acts
HB 2648 and SB 368 took two different approaches to protecting religious liberty in Oklahoma, in response to the unconstitutional restrictions placed on churches during the plandemic. Ignite Liberty interviewed Representative Brian Hill (R-Mustang), the driving force behind both bills along with Senator Bullard, to get a better understanding of the legislature’s strategy for protecting houses of worship throughout the state.
“SB 368 was the foundation, the backstop if you will, or our strategy,” Hill explained. “We had houses of worship that were being told by municipalities like Tulsa that they had to rope off every other pew, force the church staff to wear masks, and limit their capacity to 50%. These weren’t even restrictions that were placed on big box stores, yet they declared churches to be ‘super-spreaders’ and cracked down on them. It was absolutely preposterous! So we started off by declaring all gatherings of faith to be considered ‘essential’. That’s what SB 368 did.”
“But we didn’t stop there,” Hill continued. “We looked around the country and saw what was happening to churches and houses of worship in states like California and Louisiana, where pastors are under threat of arrest and jail just for having church, and knew we needed to do everything possible to make sure it didn’t happen here. So we crafted HB 2648 to declare that political entities in Oklahoma had absolutely no authority over churches whatsoever. Jay Sekulow and the ACLJ were a tremendous help to us in crafting the language of 2648.
“It really just echoed the principles already found in both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. Its a sad commentary on our times that we even had to do that here in Oklahoma, but when we had the City of Tulsa refusing to allow some churches to meet even outside, it was apparent that we as a legislative body had to do something to protect the religious liberty of all Oklahomans.
“If you had told me 5 years ago that we would even need to do that here in Oklahoma, I would have thought you were crazy,” Hill added. “If we lose the 1st Amendment we will lose the rest of them. I think it no small thing that our Founding Fathers placed the principles found in the 1st Amendment first, especially considering the situation they came out of. They knew that those liberties were, and still are, the foundation of all of our God-given liberties. It was incumbent upon us, as the people’s representatives to step up and do our job to defend those liberties. I am proud to have played a part in that effort.”
Hill concluded, “I want to also express my gratitude to the organizations of faith and the various denominations that rallied around this crucial legislation. As a 4th generation preacher myself, this goes to the core of what it means for me to be an Oklahoman. We had so many pastors and groups of faith support it because they understood the importance of what we were fighting for. I also appreciate Gov Stitt and his team coming alongside the House in full agreement. They recognized that administrations change, and if we’re not prepared for what the next thing could be we could be in a much worse place as people of faith and as Christians. Hopefully Oklahoma, as a state, is leading the way to show other states how critical it is that they stand up for our essential rights.”
The Big Misses
Despite the overwhelming successes of this session, no legislative term is ever perfect. There were two bills in particular that caused a great deal of frustration for their failure to pass, or to how they were altered.
The first was the debacle around HB 1236, the State’s Rights Bill. We’ve covered this bill extensively, so we won’t revisit it here. Though a version of it did eventually pass, the perhaps the most astonishing moment of the session occurred when Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), stripped the language out of the original House bill on the grounds that it violated the Separation of Powers clause in the U.S. Constitution.
That particular clause essentially states that the three branches of the Federal Government have to stay in their lane, so to speak. Congress legislates, the Executive Branch enforces, and the Judicial Branch interprets. Treat inexplicably decided to try and apply those principles to the House version of HB 1236 by stating that the State legislature couldn’t just overrule the Federal government, a concept foreign to any understanding of the 10th Amendment.
Speaker Charles McCall correctly argued that it was well within the State’s power to keep the Federal government in check. Ultimately, Treat used the bill to expand government and add an additional bureaucracy onto the Attorney Generals office (the State Reserved Powers Unit) to handle any objections to Federal statutes, rules, or orders. The move infuriated conservatives in Treat’s district, which is comprised of NE Oklahoma County. Unfortunately, because he is termed out, the anger of his constituents had little impact.
The other major debacle was Treat’s refusal to allow SB 2, the Save Women’s Sports Act, to be heard on the Senate floor. The act, supported by every major conservative group in the state, would have banned biological males from competing in organized girls sports in Oklahoma, whether OSSAA or college. Treat’s excuse for stonewalling the bill was that this really wasn’t a problem yet in Oklahoma. Contrast that statement with the proactive approach of Representative Hill above, and you have a crystal clear picture of why Oklahoma’s legislature has been known more for what they haven’t done in recent years than for what they have.
Election Integrity In Focus For 2022
In addition to trying to get the Save Women’s Sports Act passed next year, several conservative groups in the metro area (including Ignite Liberty) have already stated that election integrity bills will be their primary focus going into next legislative session. Part of the reason why it wasn’t addressed this term is that the full analysis of Oklahoma’s elections was not yet complete. Ignite Liberty, along with the Oklahoma County GOP, has been meeting with election integrity experts over recent months to complete that analysis. A full report is expected by the end of the summer.
A large part of the success enjoyed this term was due to the citizens and voters getting actively involved with the legislative process. As has been often said about elections, if we aren’t involved in the process we can’t really complain about the results. We are blessed to have many outstanding legislators in our State House. Senators Rob Standridge, Nathan Dahm, Jake Merrick, and Representatives Denise Crosswhite-Hader, Brian Hill, and many, many others who we won’t name here are the very definition of public servants.
In order for them to serve us effectively, we need to be involved in the process. From our experience this session, they are happy to listen to our input, take our suggestions, and in many cases put them into action. We just have to do our part. After all, that’s what government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is all about.