The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 1, 1999 - Thursday, February 4, 1999


Monday, February 1st
  • The Oklahoma Legislature formally convened its 1999 session, gathering in a joint Senate-House meeting to receive the annual state of the state address. Governor Keating emphasized the goals first spelled out in his inaugural a few weeks earlier, adding a few additional details on budget proposals. The Governor's goals include:

    -Reach the national average in per capita personal income by the year 2025;
    -Exceed the national average in ACT scores by the year 2005;
    -One out of three Oklahomans will have a college degree by the year 2010;
    -Cut the divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010;
    -Reduce the out-of-wedlock birth rate by one-third by 2010;
    -Cut illegal drug use in half by the year 2010.

    To reach the proposed goals, Governor Keating offered a variety of initiatives, including:

-Right to Work legislation

-"4x4" education reform

-Workers compensation reform

-School choice/charter schools

-Tort Reform

-Bonuses for science/math schools

-Covenant Marriage

-DUI crackdown

-Tuition hike

-Cut 2,000 jobs from state government


The Governor also proposed a major tax reduction. The plan would cut $64 million from the coming fiscal year budget, eventually reaching an annual total of $153 million. Among other things, the Keating program would reduce the personal income tax from 6.75 to 6.5 percent, cut the estate tax and provide tax credits for financial contributions to education.

  • Legislative leaders gave the Governor high marks for the bipartisan nature of his address, but questioned whether the reality of the state budget situation would allow him to keep the many promises he made during the 30 minute speech. Senate leaders pointed out the state is starting the budget year $200 million in the hole because of previous commitments to fund road construction, prison beds, pay raises and other initiatives. Lawmakers, who already facing the prospect of cutting budgets just to make ends meet, questioned their ability to pass a major tax hike during such lean financial times.

  • House and Senate budget leaders continued meeting, trying to iron out their remaining differences in an oil industry relief bill and accompanying budget cut legislation. Lawmakers are trying to wrap up a special session on the oil price crisis which convened two weeks ago. Legislative leaders have agreed to pay a tax cut to help ailing crude producers, but they are still trying to determine which state budgets will have to be cut to pay for the reduction.


Tuesday, February 2, 1999
  • The Senate approved both HB1001x and HB1003x, companion measures which will cut the current fiscal year budget to finance a special tax cut for the ailing oil industry.

    HB 1003X, the oil tax cut, was approved on a 42-6 vote. It's main provisions include:

    1) A "three step" tiered system of gross production tax collection:
    -Greater than $17 per barrel...................7% tax rate (current)
    -$14 to $17 per barrel............................4%
    -Less than $14 per barrel.......................1%

    2) Advance the date of the gross production tax refunds for "at risk" oil leases from July 1 to April 1.

    3) When oil prices reach $14 a barrel, the first $100 million in resulting tax revenues would be deposited into several funds with earmarked purposes: 30% for higher ed capital needs, 30% for tuition assistance, 30% for common ed classroom technology, 5% for county road and bridge improvements and 5% for REAP.

    HB 1001X, the budget cut bill, was approved on a 37-10 margin. The measure cuts approximately 1.2 percent from the current budgets of state agencies.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee took action on a number of bills, giving them a "do pass" recommendation and sending them to the floor for action. SB 479 would make people who release grand jury transcripts to anyone but their attorney liable to contempt charges. SB 803, the "Administrative Hearings Act", would provide for an independent appellate agency to hear people's appeals on decisions from such agencies as the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Department of Transportation. SB 70 would prohibit people under the age of 18 from riding in the back of a pickup.


Wednesday, February 3rd
  • The House approved HB 1001X (97-3) and HB 1003X (87-13), the oil tax cut and budget reduction bills, and sent them to the Governor for his signature.

  • Some members of the Senate Education Committee unveiled their improvement program for Oklahoma's education system. The key components of the 19-point plan included:

    -Creation of a special oversight committee to set standards and demand accountability in the public schools;
    -A scholarship program that rewards high school students who take additional core courses and meet grade point requirements;
    -Replace "social promotion" with "contingent promotion," requiring failing students to improve their skills through tutoring or summer school before they could advance to the next grade;
    -Enhanced school safety;
    -School deregulation and "Academy Schools";
    -Expanded teacher training/development;
    -Improved classroom technology;
    -New satellite math and science schools.

  • The House Common Education Subcommittee approved the House leadership's program for education reform. Among other thing, HB 1759 stresses expanded college scholarship opportunities, alternative education and before and after-school programs.

  • A bill which would require all public school students to take drug tests was introduced in the House Mental Health Committee. HB 1604 would make Oklahoma the first state in the nation to require such drug screenings. Under the legislation, students who tested positive would be suspended from extra-curricular activities and required to attend drug education classes after school. Second-time offenders would be suspended from school. Third offenses could result in criminal charges. The measure is being pushed by the director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, Jerry Regier.

  • A bill proposing county-option right to work was shot down by the House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee. HB 1032 by Rep. Leonard Sullivan would have allowed right to work in any county where a majority of voters approved it in a special election. Opponents argued that the county-option aspect of the bill was unconstitutional.


Thursday, February 4th
  • The Senate met briefly before adjourning for the weekend. Senate committees continued to meet to discuss pending legislation. Lawmakers are facing a February 18th deadline to pass bills out of committee in their house of origin.


Other News
  • Oklahoma posted strong job growth during the month of November, according to the Blue Chip Job Growth Update published by Arizona State University. The state's growth rate was the eighth highest in the country.

  • Despite pleas for clemency, convicted killer Sean Sellers was executed at the State Penitentiary in McAlester.