Week In Review
For the week of Monday, May 4, 1998
- Thursday, May 7, 1998
(Most of the work in the Legislature occurred behind
the scenes in budget meetings or conference committee. House and Senate budget
writers are trying to reach agreement on the distribution of funding allocations
to various agencies. Budget leaders are also meeting with members of the Governor's
staff, trying to reach agreements with him. Three weeks remain in the legislative
session. Lawmakers must adjourn by 5pm Friday, May 29th)
Monday, May 4th
- Governor Keating and legislative Republicans
unveiled a counter-proposal to a budget agreement inked by House and Senate
Democrats. The GOP plans calls for increased spending on a variety of government
- $144 million for education;
- $8.6 million for law enforcement pay;
- $31.5 million for OSEEGIB subsidy;
- $6.9 million for water quality management;
- $34.5 million for public safety;
- $40 million for state employee pay;
The Governor's proposal would spend more general revenue than is currently
available for appropriations. He apparently plans to free up more funds
through improved tax collections and a raid on state pension accounts which
he claims are fully funded. Those initiatives were proposed in his executive
In addition to those spending proposals, Governor
Keating said his first priority is tax cuts.
- The Senate overrode Governor Keating's veto
of SB 973, the bill which would head off an expected increase in state health
insurance premiums. The vote split along party lines, with all Democratic
Senators voting for the override. Senator Owen Laughlin was the only Republican
to join them. The bill expresses intent to pump an additional $25 million
into the OSEEGIB reserves. The next stop for the override effort is the House
where Republicans hold a veto-proof minority.
- Govenor Keating signed a bill into law which
will require teenagers to pass an eight-grade reading proficiency test to
get a drivers license. Under HB 2889, the first test for teens is free, but
if they fail, follow-up exams cost $25 each.
- The Senate voted to rejected the conference
committee report from HB 2083, effectively killing the bill would have allowed
advertising on the sides of public school buses. The measure now returns to
- Governor Keating sidestepped the question of
whether the Confederate flag should be flown in the State Capitol flag plaza,
saying the courts will decide the issue. A chapter of the Sons of Confederate
Veterans has filed a lawsuit, seeking to have the flag raised at the Capitol
again. It was removed during the Bellmon administration after complaints from
black legislators and others.
Tuesday, May 5th
- The Senate voted to override Governor Keating's
veto of a bill which would require insurance companies to cover treatable
mental illnesses. The Governor vetoed SB 1059, claiming it would unnecessarily
increase the costs of insurance companies. Supporters, however, cited a recent
Rand Corporation study which indicated costs increased by only one dollar
per insurance policy. The legislation now goes to the House where a veto override
must be executed as well. It is expected to be more difficult to override
the veto there because Governor Keating has urged Republican legislators to
uphold his action. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the House.
- The Oklahoma Supreme Court sided with Governor
Frank Keating in his case against the State Ethics Commission. In a 6-3 decision,
the high court ruled Keating did not violate a state ethics rule which forbids
the use of public property on campaigns when he used state vehicles to travel
to and from fund-raisers during the 1996 elections. A dissenting opinion decried
the ruling, saying it placed the Governor above the laws of the state. Last
week, Governor Keating signed a new law into effect that makes it illegal
for the state chief executive to use the state airplane to transport himself
to partisan political events.
Wednesday, May 6th
- House Republicans successfully blocked the veto
override of a bill which would have offset a large health insurance increase
for state employees, retirees and teachers. SB 973 expressed legislative intent
to appropriate $25 million from the rainy day fund to OSEEGIB, the state health
insurance board. Although two House Republicans Rep. Tony Kouba and Rep. Doug
Miller voted for the override, Democrats came up one vote short. The action
keeps Governor Keating's perfect streak of vetoes upheld alive.
- Following the lead of Governor Keating, House
Speaker Loyd Bensen unveiled a tax cut program that would cost the state an
additional $142 million over the next 5 years. The main components of the
- Reducing the state sales tax on groceries
from 4.5% to 2.25% by Oct 1, 2000.
- Increasing the estate tax exemption from $175,000 to $600,000 over the
next four years;
- Exempting $1,000 of the value of a non-commercial car or truck when calculating
the vehicles's annual registration fee;
- Enacting an Oklahoma College Savings Plan that would exempt from state
income tax interest earned on an account set up to finance a student's expenses
while attending a public or private college in Oklahoma;
- Authorizing a Small Business Administration guaranty fee credit that would
allow small companies to obtain an income-tax credit when they pay a guaranty
fee to acquire an SBA-backed loan.
The tax program is a turnaround for Speaker
Benson, who has previously advocated nothing more than a tax rebate, saying
anything else would be irresponsible. Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton
Taylor labeled the latest initiative "election-year posturing" and questioned
the impact such a program would have on education.
- House members broke off negotiations on truth-in-sentencing,
claiming their Senate counterparts weren't giving their proposals the proper
deliberation they deserved. House Speaker Loyd Bensen has indicated that he
would like to delay the implementation of truth-in-sentencing for at least
another year. It is scheduled to go into effect on July 1st of this year.
- The House approved a measure which would make
all 4-year old children eligible to particpate in an early childhood education
program. Rep. Joe Eddins, author of HB 1657, said the programs are optional
for school districts to offer and optional for children to attend. The measure
now goes to the Senate.
Thursday, May 7th
- The Senate approved HB 1657 (see above).
- The Senate adjourned for the weekend to continue
budget negotiations and conference committee work. It will reconvene at 10:30
a.m. on Monday.
- According to the Oklahoma Department of Human
Services, the number of welfare recipients has fallen to its lowest level
in 16 years. In March, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
caseload dropped to 25,000. Officials are attributing the decline to Oklahoma's
improved economy and the welfare reform initiative enacted by the 1995 Legislature.
- The majority of Oklahoma college and university
graduates are staying in Oklahoma to work and advance their education, according
to a new report from the State Regents. The study indicates approximately
75 percent remain in Oklahoma, despite concerns that Oklahoma has been undergoing
a "brain drain" with masses leaving the state to find opportunities elsewhere.