For the week
of Monday, March 1, 1999 - Thursday, March 4,
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.