Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 13,
1998 - Thursday, April 16, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred on
the floors of the respective houses as legislators rushed to beat their April
16th deadline for passing bills out of the opposite chamber. The next deadline
is April 29 when all conference committee reports for non-GCCA bills must be
Monday, April 13th
- Governor Keating signed a bill into law designed
to protect organ transplant recipients in Oklahoma. SB 1087 by Sen. Angela
Monson calls for Oklahoma patients to get the first chance to take advantage
of organs donated in this state. The legislation was drafted in response to
movement within the federal government to create a national network which
would immediately make all organs available nationwide. Oklahoma doctors and
organ transplant specialists say that would cater more to the large transplant
centers in other states, leaving Oklahoma patients stranded on long waiting
- The House approved HB 2547, the so-called body-piercing
bill. The measure would require parental consent before a child under the
age of 18 could get body piercing. The bill goes to the Governor for his signature.
- The Senate approved the proposed elimination
of the state sales tax on groceries, sending the legislation to conference
committee where a final decision will be made. HB 2218 by Sen. Jim Williamson
is one of several tax cut proposals which will be debated as the final budget
is drafted in the weeks to come.
- The Senate approved legislation designed to
give senior citizens an early jump on deer hunting season in Oklahoma. HB
2404 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would allow the designation of two days before and
after deer hunting season for senior citizens only.
- The Senate approved an amended version of HB
2947, the revised truth-in-sentencing proposal authored by House Speaker Loyd
Benson. The action will send the measure to conference committee where its
fate will be decided. Questions have been raised about the cost of the House
proposal and its expected impact on education and highway funding.
- The Senate approved HB 3217, a measure designed
to crack down on welfare recipients who are taking advantage of the benefits
system. The proposal would direct the establishment of an identity verification
system utilizing finger imaging for the purpose of preventing duplicate participation
in public assistance programs.
- The Senate approved HJR 1084 by Sen. Penny Williams
calling for a statewide vote on a proposed constitutional amendment creating
the Hope Scholarship Program.
- A bill which would expedite HIV tests of suspected
rapists was sent to Governor Keating for his signature. HB 2570 by Sen. Jerry
Smith would allow a judge to order the HIV test at the initial hearing instead
of waiting until arraignment.
Tuesday, April 14th
- The Senate approved a proposed cut in the unemployment
tax that would also increase benefits for displaced workers. HB 2792 would
cut the business tax by $136 million over the next five years while increasing
benefits by $156 million. Oklahoma's growing economy has created large surpluses
in the state unemployment fund, making the tax cut possible. If approved,
it will be the third such tax reduction in the last four years.
- The House leadership unveiled a pay program
for state workers. The proposal would include:
- A $900 across-the-board pay increase for
active state workers, effective Oct.1 and costing $23.2 million;
- Cover half of the cost of dependent health
insurance coverage for state employees, costing $12.8 million;
- Hazardous duty pay hikes for 600 state troopers
and 2,800 correctional officers;
- Cost-of-living increases for members of the
state retirement systems to be funded by the systems.
- The OPEA released its proposed plan that it
had been negotiating with Senate leaders;
- $1250 or 5% pay increase, whichever is greater
effective Jan. 1, 1999 and costing $24.5 million;
- New health insurance options: $39.53 per
month or 50% of dependent coverage of lowest cost plan, costing $18.1 million;
- Deferred comp incentive plan fully funded,
costing $24.5 million;
- Total cost of plan during FY-'99 is $49.5
- House Democrats re-elected Loyd Benson for another
two-year term as their Speaker.
- The House approved SB 991 by Sen. Frank Shurden,
a measure designed to address the problems of the hog industry in Oklahoma.
The bill prohibits retention structures from discharging pollution into the
waters of the state, among other things. Two other bills designed to regulate
the hog and chicken industries, SB 1170 and SB 1175, are already in conference
- Conferees were assigned for the so-called hog
and chicken bills.
SB 1175 (hogs)
SB 1170 (chickens)
- The House approved SB 1228, a measure designed
to raise the cut-off age for children's Medicaid coverage. The bill raises
the age to 18.
Wednesday, April 15th
- Senator Paul Muegge revealed a proposed plan
which would require the hog and chicken industries to foot the bills for their
regulation. The Tonkawa legislator is proposing a fee schedule which would
require hog and chicken producers to pay fees based on the size of their operation.
He plans to add the proposals to SB 1170 and SB 1175 in conference committee.
- The Senate approved the OPEA pay program, HB
2928, and sent it to the House for consideration (see details above).
- The House defeated Senate amendments to HB 1665
which would have placed a one-year moratorium on the licensing of new ambulatory
surgical centers while a study of rural health care was initiated. The measure
was intended to stop the practice of surgical centers "cherry picking" patients
from rural hospitals.
- The Senate approved HB 3297 creating a blue
ribbon task force to study Oklahoma's system of taxation.
- The House approved a measure clearing the way
for the construction of a so-called "geriatric" prison for aging inmates.
The committee substitute for SB 1126 gives the Department of Corrections the
authority to construct such a facility if funding is made available to it.
- The Senate defeated the so-called "Workplace
Protection Act." Opponents of HB 1017 argued it would actually take away the
rights of employees.
- The Senate deadlocked on HB 3215, a measure
which would have placed a moratorium on corporate owned farming operations
in Oklahoma. After the 23-23 vote, Senate author Frank Shurden kept the bill
alive on a motion to reconsider.
- Governor Keating signed the bill banning partial
birth abortions in Oklahoma. The Governor also approved HB 2547 which requires
parents of children under the age of 18 to be present if their child has body
Thursday, April 16th
- The Senate approved an amended HB 3215 on a
motion to reconsider. The proposed moratorium on corporate farming now goes
to conference committee.
- The Senate adjourned for the weekend. It will
reconvene at 1:30 p.m. on Monday.
- The Oklahoma Community Sentencing Council called
for the defeat of House Speaker Loyd Benson's revised version of truth-in-sentencing.
The grass roots organization claims the latest proposal would gut the intent
of the original truth-in-sentencing act, taking large amounts of funding from
other state services such as education. HB 2927 added numerous additional
crimes to the truth-in-sentencing matrix approved by lawmakers last year,
greatly inflating its cost.
- Oklahoma's violent crime rate dropped for the
second year in the row, according to the OSBI. In 1997, the rate declined
by 2.5 percent. Rapes decreased by 2%, aggravated assaults were down by 7
percent, and robbery decreased by approximately 2 percent. In non-violent
crime categories, auto theft was down by 8 percent and burglaries decreased
by 3.5 percent.
- Revenue collections increased during the first
three-quarters of the fiscal year, according to the Office of State Finance.
The totals were 3.5 percent higher than last year and 1.3 percent above the
estimate. OSF officials say if the trend continues, Oklahoma will make another
deposit in the rainy day fund at the end of the fiscal year.