Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 20,
1998 - Thursday, April 23, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred behind
the scenes in budget meetings or conference committee. House and Senate budget
writers will spend the coming days trying to reach agreement on the funding
allocations to the budget subcommittees. The next deadline is April 29 when
all conference committee reports for non-GCCA bills must be filed.)
Monday, April 20th
- The Senate approved SB 1059 which would require
insurance companies to give some mental illnesses the same coverage benefits
they provide for physical illnesses. Opponents claimed the measure would drive
up insurance costs, hurting small business. Supporters, however, pointed out
that 13 other states have adopted similar laws, including Texas. One Senator
quoted a recent study by the Rand Corporation which indicated the mental illness
provision accounted for just a 97 cent increase in annual insurance premiums,
or about 8 cents a month. The measure now goes to Governor Keating, who vetoed
a similar bill last year.
- A number of legislators and the Governor criticized
a House resolution which would weaken poultry industry regulations recently
adopted by the Agriculture Department. HJR 1105 by Rep. Terry Matlock was
withdrawn from a House committee after the author acquired enough signatures
from committee members to bring it to the floor. Matlock of Garvin said his
action was designed to protect poultry growers in southeastern Oklahoma. Poultry
industry representatives had initially supported the new rules.
- The Senate approved SB 1216, a measure which
would require contractor-operated private prisons to pay for emergency response
provided by state and local law enforcement. A supporter of the legislation
said the measure would be good for both the state and private prison operators,
allowing the state to be compensated for its expenses and allowing private
prisons to have state law enforcement at their disposal in times of need.
- The Senate approved SB 886 which would outline
procedures for correctional officers and others who felt they may have been
exposed to an inmate infected with HIV. The measure is designed to allow for
the testing of such inmates to determine if they are carrying a infectious
Tuesday, April 21th
- The House gave final approval to 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 signed by Governor Keating, it will be the third such tax
reduction in the last four years.
- The House approved Senate amendments to a measure
designed to preserve white deer, sending HB 2619 to the Governor's desk for
his signature. The bill states that no person may possess, hunt, chase, harass,
capture, shoot at, wound or kill a white deer without specific permission
from the director of the Wildlife Commission. Offenders face a fine of up
to $1,000 or up to $30 days in jail. Senator Frank Shurden said the legislation
is needed to preserve the dwindling numbers of white deer, which are normally
- The Senate gave final approval to a bill that
would allow exemptions to courthouse security requirements in Tulsa County.
SB 1072 is designed to prod the Tulsa County Commissioners to develop an identity
card system for regular courthouse employees and visitors so they won't have
to go through the metal detector on every visit. The measure now goes to the
- The Senate approved a plan to amend the state's
Do-Not-Resuscitate Act approved by last session's Legislation. SB 840 by Senator
Brad Henry spells out specific parameters for withholding or providing CPR
in the event of cardiac or respiratory failure in a minor child. The issue
of minor children had not been appropriately addressed in the original DNR
act. The measure now goes to the Governor.
- A bill designed to protect rural hospitals by
placing a one-year moratorium on new ambulatory surgical centers was assigned
to conference committee. HB 1665 was passed by the House on a motion to reconsider
after the Senate amendments were rejected.
- The House approved HB 2978, a measure designed
to crack down on national florist companies which give people the impression
they are local companies. The measure would modify the definition of a deceptive
trade practice, making it illegal to misrepresent the geographic location
of a business.
Wednesday, April 22nd
- Governor Keating vetoed a bill which would have
required insurance companies to cover treatments for severe mental illness.
The Governor claimed SB 1059 would have increased the costs of insurance by
thousands of dollars, but a study by the Rand Corporation indicated such coverage
would only cost an additional dollar per policy per year. Supporters of the
measure point to numerous other states which have adopted similar laws, including
Texas under the guidance of Governor George Bush.
- The Senate sent a second bill to Governor Keating
designed to offset a large health insurance increase for state employees,
retirees and teachers. The measure expresses legislative intent to appropriate
$25 million from the rainy day fund to OSEEGIB. Governor Keating vetoed a
similar bill earlier this session, saying he didn't want to subsidize state
employee health premiums. Attempts to override the veto in the Senate were
unsuccessful. The latest measure does not contain the emergency clause which
means it requires only a two-thirds majority to override, rather than three-fourths.
- House and Senate leaders agreed to set aside
$63.6 million for a state employee pay and teacher benefits program. The details
of the pay package will be worked out by a House-Senate panel. The funding
- $40.0 million for state employee pay raise;
- $ 2.5 million for law enforcement pay increase;
- $14.8 million for increased health insurance benefit for teachers;
- $ 6.3 million to annualize deferred compensation plan.
Uniformed and line officers would receive both the blanket pay hike for state
workers and the additional $2.5 million of law enforcement funding. Cost-of-living
increases for state retirees will be addressed in other legislation.
- Governor Keating vetoed HB 3184, a measure which
would have details specific reasons for the firing of public school administrators.
The Governor claimed the measure would have diminished local control of schools.
- The Senate confirmed Virgil Jurgensmeyer of
Miami to a position on the State Board of Agriculture.
Thursday, April 23rd
- The Senate adjourned for the weekend. It will
reconvene at 1:30 p.m. on Monday.
- The Oklahoma Department of Human Services reported
a significant decline in the number of food stamp recipients. According to
the DHS, recipients have dropped from 378,000 to 295,000 in the last four
years. Of those recipients, 111,000 are children and 21,000 are elderly. Most
of the other recipients are classified as "working poor."
DHS officials are attributing the decline in food stamp recipients to the
steady economic growth Oklahoma has experienced in recent years. The $20 million
a month program is funded by the federal government, except for administrative