The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 1, 1999 - Thursday, March 4, 1999
Most of the legislative work took place on the House and Senate floors as lawmakers rushed to beat their second deadline of the session. All bills must be passed out of their house of origin by next Thursday, March 11th.


Monday, March 1st
  • Senators voted to end "social promotion" in the public schools, setting up a system of "conditional promotion" instead. SB 762 by Sen. Penny Williams would not allow a deficient student to advance to the next grade, unless he or she agreed to undergo tutoring or attend summer school to correct the deficiency.

  • The full Senate gave approval to Oklahoma's version of the so-called HOPE scholarship program. The initiative would offer college or vocational-technical school scholarships to high school students who take tough core curriculum courses and make good grades. It is modeled after a similar program in Georgia.

  • A measure designed to make workers in the DHS Adult Protective Services Division more accountable was approved by the full Senate. SB 768 by Sen. Frank Shurden would require DHS to notify local law enforcement whenever the division begins an investigation, and in some cases, the family. The entity traditionally investigates charges of abuse and neglect of the elderly. Senator Shurden said he drafted the legislation after receiving several complaints about elderly people being forcibly evicted from their homes. The issue was also the subject of an interim study.

  • Senators approved an amended version of a bill which would give expanded authority to the State Fire Marshal's division. SB 419 by Sen. Keith Leftwich was originally written to give the marshal authority to make arrests, but it was amended to allow the issuing of citations only.

  • Employers who pay to have their food service workers immunized for Hepatitis A will get an income tax credit under legislation approved by the Senate. SB 644 by Sen. Monson is designed to help curtail the disease which is often transmitted through contaminated food products.

  • With dozens of county officers looking down from the gallery, two county home rule bills were killed on the House floor Monday. HB 1009 by Rep. John Bryant would have allowed individual counties to decide which form of local government they wanted, instead of requiring them to use the current county commission form of government. It was defeated on an 18-83 vote.

    HB 1008 by Rep. Russ Roach would have allowed one county to establish a three-year pilot project to study and evaluate new forms of county government. Opponents of the legislation felt the bill was tailored to fit Tulsa County, but Roach insisted any county could participate. It was defeated 16-85. On both bills, most of the aye votes were cast by Tulsa County legislators. County home rule has been a hot issue in the state's second largest metro area where the Tulsa World newspaper has pushed for a change in the current form of county government.

  • The full House approved legislation that would lower the legal limit on drunk driving. HB 1550 by Rep. Larry Ferguson would drop the current blood alcohol content limit from .10 percent to .08 percent. The measure would also make it a felony if a DUI offender registered more than a .15 blood alcohol content.


Tuesday, March 2nd
  • The full Senate approved legislation that would allow authorities to seize the vehicles of second-time DUI offenders. SB 423 by Sen. Kevin Easley was dubbed "Greg's Law" in memory of a Tulsa teenager who was killed by a drunk driver. The measure was approved on a 43-4 vote, despite some concerns that vehicle seizures may inadvertently punish the families of the DUI offender. Sen. Easley said he felt such a seizure wasn't too stiff of a punishment in light of the damage drunk drivers inflict on other families.

  • Senators approved a measure designed to boost funding for an ongoing weather modification program. SB 101 by Sen. Robert Kerr would create a 3 mill levy on each dollar of policy premium for certain types of insurance sold in Oklahoma. Funding for the cloud seeding program has been inconsistent in recent years, leading Sen. Kerr to seek a stable revenue source for the initiative. The measure would also create a division within the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to handle contracts for weather modification.

  • Senators approved a pilot project which will require 12 school districts to put at least 90 percent of their education dollars directly into the classroom. The proposal was offered as an amendment to SB 363. The legislation passed on a 34-12 vote.

  • Oklahoma voters may get to decide whether they want to change the make up of the State Pardon and Parole Board. SJR 26 by Sen. Dave Herbert would require that one of the Governor's appointees to the board be a crime victim. Because the proposal would change the State Constitution, it must be approved in a statewide vote.

  • For a second time, the Senate defeated a measure which would have required motorists to turn on their headlights during rainstorms. SB 328 by Sen. Jerry Smith failed on a motion to reconsider.

  • The full House defeated legislation designed to crack down on motorists who cause accidents because of their careless driving. HB 1268 by Rep. Phil Ostrander would have allowed drivers to be fined for "inattentive driving," but opponents questioned how such an offense would be defined.

  • House members approved legislation designed to guarantee a speedy trial to citizens accused of criminal offense. HB 1343 by Rep. Frank Davis would allow a maximum one-year time limit for the commencement of a trial. The author said the measure was designed to prevent prolonged jail stays without an actual conviction.


Wednesday, March 3rd
  • Charity raffles may soon be given the blessing of legal authorities if a bill approved by the State Senate becomes law. SB 671 by Sen. Frank Shurden would allow non-profit charitable organizations such as churches, veterans groups and youth organizations to conduct raffles. The legislation was prompted by a recent Attorney General's opinion which ruled that such raffles are illegal under Oklahoma law. Some lawmakers raised concerns that by legalizing charity raffles, the state may inadvertently open the door to lotteries and casino gaming by Oklahoma Indian tribes.

  • The Senate approved legislation which would slash both license tag fees and vehicle excise taxes. SB 1 by Sen. Lewis Long was amended in committee to include language of several other bills on the subject. Under Sen. Long's original proposal, the savings on tag and excise fees would vary from vehicle to vehicle, depending on its value and other factors. Ultimately, costs to Oklahoma motorists would be cut by at least one-third in some cases and as much as one-half in others. For example:

    -Someone buying a new car costing $20,000 with a $4,500 trade-in would ultimately save $466 on tags and taxes, a savings of 33%;
    -Someone buying a used car costing $10,000 with a $2,500 trade-in would ultimately save $255 or 42%;

    -A senior citizen buying a car costing $20,000 with a $4,500 trade-in would ultimately save $766 or 54%.

  • Senators turned down SB 706 by Sen. Penny Williams, a proposal which would have given the State Regents the authority to set tuition fees during a four-year pilot period. That power currently resides in the Legislature.

  • The Senate approved legislation cracking down on merchants who sell beer or tobacco to minors. SB 640 by Sen. Ben Brown would increase the penalties for those illegal sales.

  • The House approved the so-called "Patients' Bill of Rights." HB 1681 by Rep. Mark Seikel would require managed care plans to make certain referrals under certain circumstances and authorize nonformulary prescriptions under special circumstances. Some criticized the measure, which was requested by the Oklahoma Nursing Association, saying it was too loosely written and might ultimately allow nurses rather than doctors to be the gatekeepers of medicine. The measure passed on a 71-27 vote.

  • A bill requiring parental notification in abortion cases received House approval. HB 1379 by Rep. Russ Roach would require written notice to be sent to a parent before a minor under their care could receive an abortion. It also provides for "nonjudgmental counseling" for the minor. The legislation is the combination of four different bills on the subject. It passed unanimously.

  • House members approved legislation designed to reduce the threat of lawsuits stemming from any problems that may be created by the so-called Y2K computer threat. HB 1413 by Rep. Fred Perry provides immunity for all state agencies and political subdivisions, including schools, that experience problems related to their computer systems and the year 2000.
Thursday, March 4th
  • The Senate continued to work long hours in floor session in an effort to beat an approaching legislative deadline. Members have until March 11th, next Thursday, to pass bills out of their house of origin.

Other News

  • Secretary of State and gubernatorial adviser Tom Cole announced he was leaving his post to take a position with the Republican National Committee in Washington DC. Cole, who helped lead Frank Keating to two gubernatorial victories, will serve as the RNC's chief of staff. He will also continue to serve as a partner in his Oklahoma City-based political consulting firm, Cole, Hargrave and Snodgrass.

  • A new report from the Oklahoma State Health Department indicates the general health of state residents is in decline when compared to national trends. Oklahoma's death rate exceeds the national average in four of the five leading causes of death, including injury death rate, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke.

  • Oklahoma public school students are apparently improving their reading skills. According to results released by the State Department of Education, Oklahoma fourth and eight-graders scored above the national average on recent reading tests administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Oklahoma students also performed better than their counterparts in a 15-state southern region.

  • Oklahoma is continuing to post solid economic growth, according to a monthly report from Arizona State University. The latest Blue Chip Job Growth Update indicates Oklahoma's job growth outpaced the nation in most categories during the month of December. The state ranked 12th nationally in non-agricultural job growth.