Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February
16, 1998 - Thursday, February 19, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred
behind the scenes as lawmakers rushed to beat the Thursday, February 19th
deadline for reporting legislation out of committee in its house of origin.
The next deadline, March 12th, requires lawmakers to pass bills out of their
house of origin.)
Monday, February 16th
- Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor
announced he would support advancing Governor Keating's tax cut program to
the next stage of the legislative process. If it can be determined that cutting
one-quarter of the state budget, the total cost of the Keating program, will
not hurt education, roads or prisons, the Senate leader said the tax cut initiatives
may receive favorable consideration.
- Senator Darryl Roberts urged Governor Keating
to back off his plan to tap state pension funds for $44 million, pointing
out that additional revenue would be certified by the State Equalization Board
on Tuesday. The Governor has proposed using money earmarked for state employee
and law enforcement retirement funds to help pay for other initiatives in
the executive budget.
- Representative Opio Toure urged Governor Keating
to appoint more blacks to positions of influence. The Oklahoma City legislator
noted that Governor Keating has appointed no black Oklahomans to judgeships
or the State Board of Education during his term.
- The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved
a proposal which would allow optometrists to perform laser surgery on the
eyes. Optometrists did the surgery from 1988 until last July when an Oklahoma
County district judge ruled they could not perform the procedure under current
law. Opponents argue that optometrists aren't qualified to perform the surgery.
SB 1192 by Senator Mike Morgan was sent to the full Senate for consideration.
- The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved
SB 1243 by Senator Howard Hendrick. That legislation would help relatives
stop assisted suicides of their terminally-ill loved ones. It's already a
felony to assist in a suicide, but the latest legislation would allow relatives
to seek an injunction if they discovered a loved one might be seeking an assisted
- The Senate Education Committee approved two
bills affecting the future of higher education in Tulsa. SB 1426 by Senator
Charles Ford would establish OU/OSU-Tulsa to replace the current Rogers University
structure, if the two comprehensive universities were able to offer 25 degree
programs in Tulsa. The panel also approved a proposal by Senator Lewis Long
which would establish a freestanding, four-year university in Tulsa.
- The Senate Education Committee also approved
SB 1429 by Senator Keith Leftwich, legislation which would encourage public
schools to offer drivers education courses again. Many schools have discontinued
the classes, citing a lack of funding.
- The House Science and Technology Committee approved
HJR 1073 and HB 2863, legislation which would amend the state constitution
to allow a state college or university to own technology in the form of an
idea, process or resulting product. That would allow schools, professors and
students to own patents and equity in private businesses commercializing their
technology, something currently prohibited by the state.
- The House Government Operations and Agency Oversight
Committee voted to extend the life of the Oklahoma Commission on Marginally
Producing Oil and Gas Wells. Governor Keating's energy secretary had recommended
it be phased out.
- A House Committee passed a foster care bill
after removing a controversial provision that would have allowed foster parents
to spank children. The legislation is designed to expand the rights of foster
parents, making the DHS provide more information to parents about foster children.
- The House Criminal Justice Committee voted down
a bill by Rep. Tim Pope which would have made some child abuse offenders eligible
for life imprisonment or the death penalty.
- A bill to license massage therapists was killed
by the House Public Health Committee.
- A bill that would have repealed last year's
law that allows law enforcement officers to stop motorists for not wearing
a seat belt was also defeated in a House committee.
Tuesday, February 17th
- The State Equalization Board certified an additional
$22.2 available for appropriation this legislative session. That is in addition
to the $160 million in growth revenue certified in January. Even with the
new money, commitments to the road program, prisons and other state services
outweigh existing resources.
- The full Senate passed SB 1192, the bill that
would allow optometrists to perform laser surgery.
- The Senate Finance Committee approved SB 1167,
an omnibus tax cut measure which includes all of Governor Keating's proposed
- The Senate Finance Committee approved a proposal
which would hike the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, earmarking all the resulting
revenue for children's programs.
- The House Committee on Commerce, Industry and
Labor approved a bill that would cut the unemployment tax by $136 million
while increasing benefits to laid off workers. A similar bill by Senator Lewis
Long was approved by the Senate Business and Labor Committee last week.
- The House Education Committee voted 16-13 to
put a school choice question to a vote of the people. The proposal would allow
patrons of a school district to determine whether students could transfer
to other districts.
- The House approved a bill giving a marriage
license discount to couples who undergo pre-marital counseling. HB 2448 would
require those who attend counseling to pay a $5 marriage fee; those who didn't
would pay $50. The current cost of a wedding license is $25.
- The House Environment and Natural Resources
Committee passed eight bills dealing with restraints on hogs and chicken farms,
sending all to the House floor for consideration.
- Facing a $4 million shortfall, a revenue failure
was declared in the State Judicial Fund. The courts are running short on cash
fiscal year, in part because state troopers are writing fewer tickets to generate
Wednesday, February 18th
- Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor,
House Speaker Loyd Benson and Governor Frank Keating announced agreement on
a one-year moratorium on new licenses for hog feeding operations. House Resolution
1093 would prohibit the State Agriculture Department from authorizing or processing
licenses for new facilities. The measure does not address poultry producers
because they currently are not licensed by the state. The moratorium is designed
to slow the growth of animal feeding operations, giving legislators time to
consider stricter regulations for both the hog and poultry industries.
- In an effort to keep the state judicial fund
up and running, the Legislature passed a $1.2 million emergency appropriation
for the court system. The legislation should prevent the courts from having
to take any drastic actions, such as furloughing employees.
- The Senate passed legislation that would allow
school districts to contract directly with the federal government to receive
funding for Head Start programs. The action could triple the number of children
currently enrolled in the early education program in Tulsa.
- The House Judiciary Committee approved two truth-in-sentencing
bills, one by Rep. Fred Morgan and one by House Speaker Loyd Benson. Benson's
plan would reportedly cost an additional $160 million over the next 10 years,
ultimately raising the prison population to from 20,000 to 32,000. Morgan's
would cost $255 million, bringing the inmate total to at least 33,000. The
main difference between the two bills is the so-called sentencing matrix that
assigns set prison terms for individual crimes. Morgan's bill junks the matrix,
Benson's retains it. Speaker Benson said only one of the bills would be considered
on the House floor.
- The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved
HB 2218 by Rep. John Sullivan which would reduce the state sales tax on groceries.
The committee also approved a bill by Rep. Russ Roach which would extend the
state sales tax rebate to families with incomes of up to $30,000.
Thursday, February 19th
- The House and Senate met briefly before adjourning
for the weekend.