- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - State lawmakers enter the final week of the 2016 Oklahoma Legislature on Monday with a catalog of unfinished business.

That includes measures to allow Oklahomans to openly carry guns without a license or background checks, a ballot measure to expand beer and wine sales, a proposal to raise teacher salaries, a $125 million bond issue to help repair Oklahoma’s nearly 100-year-old Capitol, and a possible attempt to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill that would essentially ban abortion in the state.

Finalizing the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is the main issue. Faced with a projected $1.3 billion hole due largely to falling energy prices and lower tax collections from oil and natural gas production, lawmakers have developed bills to raise or save hundreds of millions in revenue to prevent deep cuts to schools, highways and public safety.

The Legislature must adjourn by 5 p.m. Friday.

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STATE BUDGET

Since convening Feb. 1, lawmakers have been working to close the budget hole.

The House and Senate have voted on proposals to cap or eliminate tax exemptions, credits and deductions in areas like marginally producing oil wells and items purchased online, to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in recurring revenue.

A proposal to raise Oklahoma’s fuel taxes for roads and bridges was soundly defeated by a House committee. State representatives also rejected a proposed $1.50-per-pack tax on cigarettes to raise about $180 million a year and avoid cuts to the state’s health care system, but that bill may come back for reconsideration. That and other proposals to raise or save revenue were still being negotiated.

OPEN CARRY

Legislation would allow adults over 21 without a felony conviction to openly carry loaded handguns without a license, background check or training. Oklahoma residents currently can carry guns openly or concealed but must obtain a license that includes a fingerprint check and firearms training.

A separate measure supported by the National Rifle Association seeks a statewide public vote on amending the Oklahoma Constitution to make it harder for the Legislature to regulate firearms and to prohibit laws requiring registration or special taxation of firearms or ammunition.

Both bills are opposed by hospitals, colleges and the state’s business community, including the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

ABORTION VETO OVERRIDE

The sponsor of a measure that would have made it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for anyone to perform an abortion, including doctors, says he’s deciding whether to attempt to override Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto.

Fallin, who opposes abortion, said the bill was vague and wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge. State law already makes it a felony for anyone who’s not a doctor to perform an abortion. A veto override would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm said the measure was aimed at ultimately overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

ALCOHOL SALES

Legislation asking voters to decide whether to let grocery and convenience stores sell wine and strong beer is pending in the Senate.

Currently, liquor, wine and strong beer are sold only at licensed package stores, which are strictly regulated and closed on Sundays. Oklahoma allows refrigerated low-point beer to be sold at grocery and convenience stores until 2 a.m. and on Sundays.

Supporters say 42 states allow the sale of strong beer and wine in grocery stores. Other changes are in a proposed constitutional amendment and related legislation, including allowing package liquor stores to sell refrigerated beer and items like corkscrews.

TEACHER SALARIES

Teachers would get raises of up to $10,000 under a proposal that asks voters to approve a slight increase in the state sales tax and apply to certain services.

The tax would rise from 4.5 percent to 4.9 percent and expand to services such as laundry and dry cleaning, automobile repair, satellite and cable TV, computer software delivered electronically, pet grooming and more.

Legislative analysts haven’t said how much revenue that might raise. It would be aimed at giving $5,000 raises to teachers with up to five years of service, $7,500 raises for teachers with 6-10 years and $10,000 for teachers with 11 or more years.

An initiative petition calling for a statewide vote on a separate 1-cent sales tax for education is under review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

CAPITOL BONDS

A measure authorizing a second bond issue to renovate Oklahoma’s state Capitol is pending in the Senate.

Lawmakers approved a $120 million bond issue for repairs two years ago, which helped launch the project. Contractors think it will take a similar amount to complete the work, which includes new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.

Work is scheduled to kick off this summer. Officials say the new $125 million bond issue wouldn’t be phased in until 2018.

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