Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 23,
1998 - Thursday, March 26, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred behind
the scenes in committee as legislators worked to beat their Thursday deadline
for passing bills out of committee. The next deadline, requiring the 3rd reading
of bills in the opposite house, is April 16th.)
Monday, March 23rd
- The House Criminal Justice Committee killed
the so-called castration bill when the legislation failed to receive a "do-pass"
recommendation. The panel voted 7-7 on SB 629 which calls for the asexualization
of certain convicted sex offenders. As amended, the bill would have allowed
a judge to order castration if at least two of eight listed aggravated circumstances
were met. Senator Frank Shurden, the bill's author, argued castration was
the best way to prevent sex offenders from striking again. The measure had
previously been approved by the full Senate.
- The House Criminal Justice Committee approved
a measure which would require law enforcement authorities to notify school
districts whenever they become aware of a charge filed against a school employee.
The bill was spawned by a media report that documented several convicted felons
working in the Tulsa public schools.
- The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public
Safety Committee approved HB 2807 which is designed to stop minors from buying
beer on the internet. An amendment by Senator Jerry Smith added hard liquor
to the ban. The panel also approved HB 2622 which would create a penalty for
people who interfere with firefighters engaged in their official duty.
- The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2361,
another bill which would shake up the higher education system in Tulsa. The
legislation by Rep. Don Ross and Senator Maxine Horner would include specific
protections for Langston University, rename the Tulsa consortium and create
a four-year Rogers University in Claremore. The panel also approved another
bill on the subject, HB 2399 by Rep. Russ Roach. It is a shell bill.
- Meanwhile, the House Appropriations and Budget
Education subcommittee approved a committee substitute for SB 1426, legislation
carrying the State Regents program for Tulsa higher education. Rep. Russ Roach
told the panel that an agreement had been reached to pass all of the Tulsa
higher ed bills to conference committee and resolve differences there.
- The Senate General Government Committee approved
a bill that would place new restrictions on the purchase and use of state
aircraft. HB 3226 was the product of a legislative investigation into the
travel abuses of Governor Keating who used the state airplane for campaign
purposes. The probe also sparked an ethics prosecution of the Governor which
is currently before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The legislation would forbid
the use of the state airplane for partisan events or for speaking engagements
where the public official receives a fee. It would also require the Office
of State Finance to keep a detailed travel log on the use of state or state-leased
- The Senate General Government Committee also
approved HB 2245, allowing a sheriff to hire his own attorney instead of depending
on the district attorney's office.
- The House Rules Committee recommended the passage
of HR 1038 which would limit the number of bills each House member could file.
It would restrict legislators to 8 bills, unless a special need was demonstrated.
The resolution also curtails the practice of House members voting for others
who are not on the floor, requiring that a member be in the chamber to officially
be recorded as voting on a measure.
Tuesday, March 24th
- The Senate Finance Committee approved a series
of tax cut bills. HB 2218, HB 2209 and HJR 1063 are also designed to return
grocery sales tax revenue to citizens, either through an outright tax cut
or a rebate. HB 2218 would cut the tax on groceries over a series of years.
HB 2209 and HJR 1063 would expand the number of citizens who are currently
eligible for a sales tax rebate on their income tax returns.
- The Senate Wildlife Committee moved to protect
the "white deer," approving HB 2619 which would prohibit the hunting of the
animal. Senator Frank Shurden said their are a limited number of white deer
remaining in Oklahoma and they deserve protection.
- The full House approved SB 813 authorizing the
payment of fees collected from trash citations in counties with a population
of more than 450,000 into the sheriff's special services fund to be used for
operating expenses of the sheriff's department.
- The House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources
Committee approved HCR 1077 which would create a multi-state compact similar
to the interstate oil and gas compact to oversee animal waste.
- The House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee
approved SB 793 by Senator Lewis Long. The legislation would cut the unemployment
tax by approximately $60 million while increasing benefits for certain unemployed
- The House Retirement Laws Committee approved
a plan to give the Teachers Retirement System a $50 million boost. It approved
SB 1033 which appropriates $50 million from the state rainy day fund and uses
it to reduce the unfunded liability of the Teachers Retirement System.
- The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development
Committee approved HB 2487 which would boost boll weevil eradication efforts.
- A House committee approved a measure which would
strengthen domestic abuse laws. Among other things, SB 1104 would lower the
age threshold for prosecuting a suspected abuser from 16 to 13, clarify the
legal definition of a "dating relationship," and expand the definition of
family or household members.
Wednesday, March 25th
- The House Appropriations Committee approved
SB 1426 which would shake up Rogers University in Tulsa, transferring control
to OU and OSU. Before approving it, the committee removed sections creating
a four-year school in Claremore and mandating that OU and OSU offer a guaranteed
number of programs in Tulsa. The panel failed to approve another bill which
would have created a Tulsa State University. Senator Lewis Long said he will
attempt to attach his proposal to one of several bills addressing higher education
in Tulsa. On a related note, Governor Keating told a Tulsa audience that he
supported the OU/OSU-Tulsa concept and said the effort would probably have
to include a four-year university in Claremore as well.
- The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved
SB 239 which would make more Oklahomans eligible for sales tax relief on their
annual income tax return. The legislation by Sen. Penny Williams would raise
the maximum allowable income for an individual from $12,000 to $30,000. The
program is designed to give low income Oklahomans a rebate on sales taxes
paid throughout the year. The House committee also approved SB 1167, an omnibus
bill that contains all of Governor Keating's tax cut proposals.
- The House Insurance Committee approved SB 1059
which would require insurance benefits to be provided to people who suffer
from severe mental illness.
- The House Education Committee approved a bill
which would encourage public schools to offer drivers education again. SB
1429 by Sen. Keith Leftwich initially failed to receive the approval of a
House subcommittee last week, but the full educational panel voted to forward
it to the House floor for consideration. The funding mechanism for the measure,
SB 1420, was also approved by the House Appropriations Committee.
- The Senate approved supplemental funding requests
for several agencies: $2.3 million for the vo-tech to administer job training
programs, $67,000 for the Oklahoma Tax Commission for additional tax collectors,
$189,000 for the State Regents to reimburse Onenet for the telemedicine program,
$183,000 for State Agriculture Department to regulate confined animal feeding
operations, $100,000 to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission for repairs to
Fairfax Lake Dam, $1.6 million to the state employees deferred compensation
plan to provide contributions for participants and $808,000 for the State
Board of Education for adjustments to the state aid formula resulting from
a recent settlement with Public Service Company of Oklahoma.
- The Senate Appropriations Committee approved
68 House bills.
Thursday, March 26th
- The Senate Human Resources Committee met to
take up a bill which would ban partial birth abortion in Oklahoma.
- The Senate met briefly before adjourning for
the weekend. It will reconvene at 1:30pm Monday.
- Governor Keating unveiled a state-sponsored
advertising insert which will soon appear in Forbes Magazine. Among other
things, the advertisement will promote Oklahoma's low tax ranking. According
to the Commerce Department, Oklahoma has the ninth lowest taxes in the country.