Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 30,
1998 - Thursday, April 2, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred on
the floors of the respective houses as legislators rushed to beat their next
deadline. That deadline, requiring the 3rd reading of bills in the opposite
house, is April 16th.)
Monday, March 30th
- The Governor signed a supplemental funding bill
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 House approved a committee substitute for
SB 1076 which would outlaw common law marriages in Oklahoma. The new section
was added by Rep. Ray Vaughn who argued the recognition of common law marriage
has led to insurance fraud and numerous divorce disputes. Oklahoma is one
of 16 states which still recognizes common law marriage.
- The Senate approved a bill and a resolution
created the Oklahoma Technology Transfer Act. HB 2863 and HJR 1073 are designed
to advance technology in Oklahoma by making it easier for higher education
to participate in joint ventures with the private sector.
- The Senate approved HB 2828, the so-called "Whitney
Starks Act," which would mandate tougher standards for bunk beds sold in Oklahoma.
The bill is named after a young child killed in Oklahoma after her neck became
entangled in the pace between the guard rail and the bed frame. The bill would
require warnings on bunk beds and set space requirements for the guardrail.
- The Senate approved a series of bills recreating
a number of "sunset" commissions such as the Contingency Review Board, the
Oklahoma Accountancy Board, the Commission on Marginally Producing Oil and
Gas Wells and the Long-term Care Facility Advisory Board. It voted to abolish
the Interdisciplinary Council on the Prevention of Juvenile Sex Offenses and
the Task Force on Perinatal Substance Abuse.
- The House voted to change its rules, limiting
the number of bills each member can introduce and clarifying procedures for
casting votes in the chamber. Under HR 1038, a House member would be restricted
to eight bills each year, unless he or she could demonstrate a need for going
above the limit. The resolution also directed that House members could vote
for another member if he or she was present in the chamber and had indicated
how they wanted to vote. The practice of voting for house members outside
the chamber was the subject of a television news story last week.
- The House approved SB 764 which would give the
Capitol Patrol a pay increase.
Tuesday, March 31st
- An amended bill approved by the Senate would
require the state to hire its own temporary employees, instead of contracting
with private sector companies that specialize in the practice. HB 1822 was
originally designed to execute a comprehensive overhaul of the state purchasing
system, but Senator Lewis Long successfully attached the temporary worker
amendment, arguing the state was wasting millions of dollars paying a "middleman"
to find temps.
- The House approved SB 1310 which would require
accounting majors to take 150 hours of college courses. The increase from
the current requirement of 124 hours to 150 hours would keep Oklahoma in line
with what other states are doing, according to the legislation's authors.
Such a change will reportedly increase the percentage of students who pass
the certified public accounting exam on their first attempt.
- The Senate approved HB 2807 would increase the
penalties for the sale or shipment of beer or alcohol across state lines.
It is designed to crack down on the practice of minors obtaining alcoholic
beverages illegally by ordering them over the internet.
- The House approved SB 1049 which would clarify
the state weapons laws. The measure would allow people to transport loaded
weapons in the cab of their vehicle.
- The Senate approved an amendment which revived
Senator Lewis Long's hopes for a freestanding state university in Tulsa. Long
successfully added the amendment to a bill relating to the State Regents for
- The Senate also approved HB 2361 which would
dissolve the merger that created Rogers University in Tulsa. The measure would
return the higher education system there to the old consortium model and create
a four-year university in Claremore to replace the old Rogers State College.
That bill and others dealing with Rogers are headed to conference committee
where a final decision will be made.
- The Senate also approved HB 2934, the so-called
College Savings Plan Act. The measure would institute a plan for tax deferred
savings accounts for college. The bill directs the State Regents to develop
the program to encourage families to save money for their children's college
- The Senate Finance Committee unanimously recommended
the confirmation of Jim Bowers of Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma Horse Racing
Wednesday, April 1
- The House defeated an amendment to SB 1426 which
would shake up Rogers University in Tulsa, transferring control to OU and
OSU. The proposal by Rep. Dwayne Steidley of Claremore would have reinstated
a provision removed in committee which would create a four-year school in
Claremore. It was defeated on a 73-25 vote after other lawmakers argued another
university would further divide the higher education. The House delayed action
on SB 1426 until Thursday.
- The Senate approved HB 2547 which makes it illegal
for any person to perform body piercing on a child under 18 years of age unless
the parent or legal guardian is present during the procedure.
- The House revived a so-called travel reform
when it approved an amendment to SB 1246. The amendment by Rep. Russ Roach
would require state employees to turn over frequent flyer credits to the state
if they were earned on state business. Roach claims the move would save the
state money, but opponents contend it simply robs state employees of a small
perk. Others have pointed out that not all airlines honor programs that return
frequent flyer miles to government entities.
- The Senate amended HB 2437 to raise the personal
exemptions on state income tax from $1,000 to $2,000. Senator Frank Shurden
said the change would help working families in Oklahoma. The measure also
raises to $2,000 the additional exemptions allotted to blind persons and senior
- The Senate approved HB 3170 which would allow
the State Department of Vo-tech to implement a pilot program to help rural
businesses expand and become eligible for the Quality Jobs act.
- The Senate approved HB 2837 which would establish
a system of maintaining records related to child abuse.
- The House approved a committee substitute for
SB 997 which would allow victims of sexual assault to choose an assumed name
for purposes of privacy. The assumed name would be used in all public files
and records dealing with the offense.
- The Senate confirmed Jim Bowers of Oklahoma
City to a six-year term on the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.
- The House amended SB 1015 to give motorists
an incentive for becoming organ donors. As approved by the House, the proposal
would reduce the cost by a drivers license by $5 for people who agreed to
be organ donors.
Thursday, April 2nd
- The Senate met briefly before adjourning for
the weekend. It will reconvene at 1:30pm Monday.
- According to the Department of Corrections,
it would cost the state $960 million over the next 10 years to implement the
proposed changes in the truth-in-sentencing law recently approved by the Oklahoma
House. The changes would also give Oklahoma the highest incarceration rate
in the country, with 862 people incarcerated per 100,000 citizens. The next
closest state is Mississippi with 772 per 100,000.
An official with DOC also testified that crime may not go down in Oklahoma
even if truth-in-sentencing is implemented, noting that locking up more people
doesn't always result in a lower crime rate. He pointed out that Oklahoma's
crime rate has held fairly steady the past 20 years, even though the state's
prison population has almost doubled during that same time.
- Tulsa is leading the state in economic growth,
according to a new business report from the University of Oklahoma. The OU
general business index showed Tulsa expanding at a rate of 4.2 percent in
1997, compared to 2 percent for Oklahoma City. During that state time, the
state as a whole grew by 2.6 percent. Two years ago, the GBI of the two metro
areas was equal.
Economists say Tulsa has improved in recent months, due in large part to the
Quality Jobs program. Officials estimate that Tulsa has landed the majority
of those jobs.
- The Oklahoma Tourism Commission approved a $10.2
million construction bid for the repair and expansion of Quartz Mountain Lodge.