A cluster of measures focused on the needs of senior citizens, including a property tax freeze pressed by state Rep. David Dank, made it through initial legislative consideration over the last two days.
Rep. Dank celebrated advancement of three of his bills, while Rep. Joe Dorman expressed gratitude for bipartisan support rendered to his proposal to improve emergency power generation at assisted living facilities. Other bills of interest to senior advocates were under consideration as the annual “Senior Citizens Day” nears early next week.
The House Rules Committee advanced two Dank bills on Wednesday, February 23, both focused on property tax relief.
Dank’s H.J.R. 1002 would put in place a freeze on property lax levies for taxpayers over the age of 65, so long as they own their homes. The proposal gained 11-1 agreement. In related debate, the panel gave 10-2 support to Dank’s H.J.R. 1001, which would send to the voters a 3 percent annual cap on future property tax increases.
Before the Rules panel voted, Rep. Dank delivered to members a prepared statement and discussed the two bills.
Focusing on H.J.R. 1002, he said, “Seniors have received no Social Security or pension COLAs in two years now. But prescription drugs, insurance, Medicare premiums and withholding, utilities, groceries and medical costs have continued to rise. And so have property taxes.
“Imagine living on a fixed income, paying more for gasoline and heat and air conditioning and then facing medical issues … and every December, along comes the notice from the county assessor that the taxes on the house you worked your entire life to buy and pay for are going up 5 percent once again.
“Our current ad valorem system is literally forcing many seniors out of their homes – in many cases into nursing homes or assisted living centers that cost the state far more than that extra 5 percent we try to squeeze out of them every December. Let me repeat – this is tax restraint, not a cut.”
After the Rules Committee vote, in an interview with CapitolBeatOK, Dank reflected, “We have 500,000 seniors in Oklahoma, and only 40,000 live in nursing homes or are in the Advantage program. Most of these folks want to stay in their own homes, and we should help them do that.”
While Rep. Dank’s measure to send voters a 2 percent annual cap on future property tax hikes did not relate specifically to senior citizens, Dank made a strong case that his paired proposals made equal sense.
H.J.R. 1001 would reduce from 5 percent to 3 percent the “allowable cap on annual property tax increases,” Dank said. Benchmark for the rates would be the consumer price index.
Dank said, “Let’s be very clear about this: We can allow Oklahomans to vote on this moderate, sensible property tax restraint or we will see even more dramatic proposals like major property tax cuts proposed by law or initiative petition.”
Addressing assertions the measures would hurt public schools, Dank said, “More than 200 Oklahoma school superintendents are paid more than $100,000 a year. Fifty-two of them make more than the state superintendent. One district gave its superintendent a $26,000 raise this year. Last year he got a $29,000 raise. That district has just over 500 total students.”
In his remarks to the committee, Dank asserted, “These two measures simply restrain the future growth of ad valorem taxes — they won’t cut a penny from school or county budgets. There will still be revenue growth, just not as much or as fast.”
Earlier this week, Dank’s House Bill 1282 cleared the Long-Term Care and Senior Services Committee. According to a legislative summary, H.B. 1282 would require “administrators of assisted living and residential care facilities and adult” day cares “to be licensed or certified by the Oklahoma State Board of examines for Long-Term Care Administrators.
Meanwhile, House Bill 1363, a proposal from state Rep. Ron Peters of Tulsa would, a legislative research analysis projects, “require the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to seek an amendment that allows presumption eligibility for persons to receive Advantage Waiver.”
As Dank and others have stressed in their advocacy, most seniors prefer to stay in their own home. Nursing home placement draws a $103.39 per day rate, while home-care services are $33.10 per day. At least one analysis from legislative staff projects savings of $103,662 if the bill is passed and signed into law.
Both H.B 1282 and H.B. 1363 cleared the committee.
In other action taken Tuesday, the committee sent forward a proposal by Rep. Dorman. He expressed pleasure, in an interview with CapitolBeatOK, praising the panel for approving his bill to require larger assisted living facilities to have backup generators for emergency power generation.
A “financial hardship” exemption is possible under Dorman’s H.B. 2002, according to the author. The bill would apply to facilities with 50 or more residents, he said.
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, the Rush Springs Democrat said, “The idea was never to create an inappropriate financial burden on assisted living facilities. That’s why we have specified facilities of a certain size and created an exemption for facilities that could show a financial hardship. We held a legislative study over the interim that showed that about one-third of the 139 facilities in the state do not have a backup generator. I think we can do better, especially with the winter storms we’ve seen in recent years.”
Late last summer, Dorman guided a well-attended interim study on the issue. An investigation by the Oklahoma Department of Health Long Term Care Service found that 89 of 133 facilities studied did have backup generations.
Agency officials have said “onsite sheltering” is preferred to resident transfers to other facilities in times of natural disaster.
Dorman said, “We also learned that moving residents to another facility or shelter in times of disaster is not the best way to look out for their safety. Though we were fortunate to avoid any deaths associated with assisted living facilities during that ice storm, the risk was there in facilities that chose to evacuate their residents. I think this legislation will ensure better protection of the vulnerable residents who stay in these facilities.”
H.B. 2002 passed the Long-Term Care and Senior Services Committee 7-1.
Timing of action on the measures should prove encouraging to organizations like the Oklahoma Alliance on Aging, which is sponsoring the annual Senior Citizens Day at the state Capitol, scheduled for next Monday, February 28.