Pay raise for Oklahoma troopers among first laws scheduled to take effect in 2015

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An across-the-board pay hike for state troopers is among several new state laws that take effect Jan. 1.

Although most new laws took effect on Nov. 1 or shortly after the governor's signature, about a dozen have an effective date that coincides with the calendar year.

TROOPER PAY RAISE:

One new bill will give Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers their first pay raise in seven years. The raises average between 14 and 20 percent and were based on the recommendations of a study conducted last year on state employee compensation. Trooper Keith Barenberg, president of the Oklahoma State Troopers Association, said troopers ranked 25th among state law enforcement agencies in starting salaries before the raises and were losing some of their best troopers to other agencies or the private sector.

A starting trooper who currently makes about $38,000 will see his or her pay boosted to more than $43,000 under the bill, which also removed the trooper salaries from statute and gives the authority for pay raises to the Commissioner of Public Safety. The raise is expected to cost the state about $8.5 million when fully annualized.

"The troopers are very excited," Barenberg said. "The recruiting has picked up greatly, and I think we're going to retain a lot more troopers."

CANDIDATE DEATH:

Under a bill that outlines what happens in the event of a political candidate's death, if a candidate dies after the Friday following a runoff primary, the election shall proceed with the deceased candidate's name still on the ballot.

The bill would have prevented the legal wrangling that occurred after the 81-year-old Democratic nominee in a U.S. House race died two days before the general election. Oklahoma Democratic Party officials considered a lawsuit after election officials certified Republican U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin's victory over Earl Everett in November's election. Everett was critically injured in a car accident and died Nov. 2, two days before Election Day. Democratic Party officials argued state law required the governor to call a special election and had selected an outgoing state senator as its substitute candidate. The Oklahoma Election Board certified Mullin's victory anyway. Democrats decided not to proceed with litigation.

TAX CREDITS:

Because the tax year coincides with the calendar year, many of the new laws that take effect Jan. 1 deal with taxes. One bill makes some corporations eligible for tax credits for contributions made for scholarships or educational improvements. Another creates a new state tax credit to match a similar federal low income housing tax credit for the construction of qualified housing projects. Dubbed the Oklahoma Affordable Housing Act, the state credit applies to projects that begin after July 1 and is capped at $4 million annually.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE:

A few bills relating to campaign finance laws take effect Jan. 1 after officials with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission rewrote the agency's rules. Among other things, the bills specifically outline certain prohibitions on political contributions from corporations and labor unions to political parties, political action committees or candidate committees.

Another bill creates the Local Government Campaign and Financial Disclosure Act, which details reporting requirements for local county, municipal, and school district elections. The bill requires county political committees to file organizing documents and report contributions and expenditures with the county election board.

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