The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 8, 1999 - Thursday, February 11, 1999

(Most of the legislative work continued to take place in committee as lawmakers rushed to beat their first deadline of the session. All bills must be passed out of committee in their house of origin before Thursday, February 18th or they are dead for the session.)


Monday, February 8th
  • The House Criminal Justice Committee approved legislation designed to crack down on drunk drivers. HB 1750 by Rep. Larry Ferguson would lower the blood alcohol level that constitutes drunk driving from .10 percent to .08 percent. The Oklahoma Restaurant Association lobbied unsuccessfully to have the bill amended so the .08 percent limit would only apply to second-time DUI offenders. The bill's next stop is the House floor. Similar legislation is also pending in the Senate.

  • The House Criminal Justice Committee also approved HB 1783, an anti-drunk driving measure. It would make DUI an automatic felony if the person convicted had previously been convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter in a DUI case in the last 10 years.

  • The same House committee also approved HB 1420 by Rep. Bill Graves, legislation spawned by the so-called "Tin Drum" controversy in Oklahoma City. Under the bill, evidence that a film or book had artistic or literary merit could no longer be used for a defense in child pornography cases. Oklahoma City authorities were criticized last year when they seized the Oscar-winning German film "The Tin Drum" from area video stores, claiming it was obscene and contained child pornography. A federal judge later ruled police violated a federal privacy law when they seized the tape.

  • The House Community and Family Responsibilities Committee approved the so-called "covenant marriage" bill. HB 1001 by Rep. Jim Reese would give couples the option of entering into "covenant" marriages which would be more difficult to enter into and to break. For example, couples would be required to undergo premarital counseling. Reese said the legislation is designed to decrease the divorce rate. Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate.

  • The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development committee approved legislation which would prohibit anyone from selling horse meat for human consumption. SB 632 by Sen. Frank Shurden would call on the State Health Department to enforce the measure. Current law prohibits mixing horse meat with a variety of other meats, but doesn't include chicken or turkey. The legislation would add those two meats to the existing statutes.

  • The Senate Education Committee approved SB 196, modifying the Oklahoma Higher Education Tuition Aid and Grant Act (OTAG) on the recommendation of a special task force on the subject. The measure would remove cap limits on the program, giving the State Regents discretion to set the caps based on availability of funds. Two companion measures on school bond issues were also approved. SB 707 and SJR 22 would give school district voters the option of reducing the current three-fifths supermajority required to approve a local school bond issue, making it a simple majority instead. If approved by the full Legislature, the measure would also have to be approved in a statewide vote. The panel also approved SB 762, a measure which would replace "social promotion" with "contingent promotion," requiring a deficient student to seek tutoring or attend summer school before they could advance to the next grade.


Tuesday, February 9th
  • The full Senate approved SCR 2, a resolution memorializing the US Congress to allow states to receives the full amount of its tobacco settlement funds. There is a concern the federal government may lay claim to a portion of the settlement on grounds that it helped fund the Medicaid program which was instrumental in financing health care related to tobacco-related illnesses.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation putting limits on the ATM fees that financial institutions can charge to users. SB 317 by Sen. Angela Monson would limit the charge for ATM transactions to no more than $1. Currently, many banks and ATM machine owners charge users fees ranging from $1.50 to $4.00.
    The Finance Committee also approved SJR 12 by Sen. Dave Herbert which calls for a statewide vote on an increase in the gasoline and diesel taxes. The measure would boost the gas tax by one-half cent a gallon and diesel by two cents, earmarking the revenue for costs relating to passenger rail service in Oklahoma.

  • The Senate Transportation approved the so-called "Graduated Drivers License" bill, sending it to the full Senate for action. SB 413 by Sen. Keith Leftwich is designed to help teen drivers become better skilled and safer motorists. Under the legislation, teens who have drivers education available in their schools but chose not to take it would receive only a "restricted" license at age 16. The license would have limits on what times of the day a teen could drive, how many passengers could accompany them, etc.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee killed SB 434, another covenant marriage bill. A similar piece of legislation is still alive in the House. The panel approved SB 25, legislation which would amend current eminent domain statutes, prohibiting the construction of highways, turnpikes or other structures through a cemetery. Also approved was SB 69, a bill designed to crack down on telemarketers who offer prizes and attempt to secure credit card numbers over the phones.

  • The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee approved a measure that would require motorists to turn on their headlights during rainstorms. SB 328 is designed to improve visibility and motorist safety during storms. The panel also improved SB 246, modifying fines for illegal parking in handicapped spaces. Instead of the current language stating fines should be "not more than $100," the new language would require fines to be "not less than $50 and not more than $100."

  • The Senate Wildlife Committee approved a proposed increase in hunting and fishing license fees. SB 199 would boost licenses from $11.50 to $14. The fee hike is designed to generate additional revenue for the Oklahoma Wildlife Department.

  • The House Common Education Subcommittee voted down Governor Keating's "4x4" plan. HB 1099 by Rep. John Sullivan would have increased core curriculum requirements for high school students. Committee members who voted against the program questioned whether it could be funded in such a tight budget year. The panel did approve HB 1749, legislation which would require athletic and academic expenditures to be separated in school audits so it could be determined how much is being spent on each.

  • The House Banking and Finance Committee defeated HB 1643, a measure that would have loosened certain restrictions on branch banking in Oklahoma.

  • The House Science and Technology Committee approved legislation which would implement consumer safeguards for internet use. Among other things, the amended HB 1651 would forbid internet service providers from disclosing personal information about their customers to third parties.


Wednesday, February 10th
  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education approved an amended version of Governor Keating's so-called "4x4" program. Instead of mandating that all high school students take four years of English, science, math and social studies, SB 800 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson lists that as the "goal" of the Legislature, making participation voluntary. The panel also approved SB 787 by Sen. Mike Morgan, a free tuition program for college or vocational technical students who take tougher core curriculum courses in high school. The program is modeled after the HOPE scholarship initiative in Georgia. Also approved by the education subcommittee was a vehicle for tuition increases, SB 346, if lawmakers deem such hikes are necessary. Both Governor Keating and the State Regents have requested a tuition hike to boost higher education funding this year.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety approved SB 421, a measure designed to protect consumers from criminals who "steal" identities and run up huge credit bills. The legislation by Sen. Keith Leftwich makes it illegal for any person to willfully obtain the personal identification information of another person with the intent to use the data to obtain credit.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee and then the full Senate approved a number of "shell" bills which will ultimately carry the funding for agency budgets. The bills are being advanced through the legislative process while House and Senate budget writers attempt to reach an agreement on final appropriations numbers.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services killed a proposal to merge the duties of the Oklahoma Liquefied Petroleum Gas Board with the State Corporation Commission. SB 94 by Sen. Grover Campbell was proposed in the Governor's executive budget.

  • The full Senate approved SJR 8 and SJR 23, measures which would put before a vote of the people an option to let voters in a school district approve additional property taxes for a special school technology fund. A third measure by Sen. Brad Henry, SJR 22, failed to gain enough votes for passage and was held over for possible reconsideration. SJR 22 would have called a statewide vote on a proposal to allow school districts to vote to go into debt on just a simple majority, rather than the current three-fifths majority.

  • The House Judiciary Committee approved another measure designed to crack down on DUI offenders. HB 1082 by Rep. Forrest Claunch would require court proceedings for second-time DUI offenders to be moved to courts of record, with third-time offenders facing felony charges.

  • The House Corrections Committee approved HB 1253 by Rep. Jack Bonny, a bill which would allow state inmates to perform voluntary work for private organizations. The work would have to be done for a non-profit entity which would have to pay any costs associated with the project.

  • The House Judiciary and Law Enforcement Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved HB 1002 by Rep. Jari Askins, legislation which would create a special fund for tobacco settlement moneys and create a mechanism for its disbursement.


Thursday, February 11th
  • 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 high school dropout rates declined slightly, remaining below the national average. For the 1997-98 school year, Oklahoma's dropout rate was 5.5 percent, down from 5.6 the previous year. The last reported national dropout rate was 5.7 percent. Oklahoma City's dropout rate fell to 11.8 percent, down from 13.9 percent. Tulsa, the state's largest district, fell to 8.6 percent, down from 9.89 percent.
    State Superintendent Sandy Garrett attributed the overall state decline to an increased emphasis on alternative education and dropout prevention programs.

  • Governor Keating appointed former Miss America Jane Jayroe as new director of the State Tourism Department. Jayroe will replace Ed Cook who was reassigned to other duties with the Oklahoma Centenniel Commission.