The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 8, 1999 - Thursday, March 11, 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 had to be passed out of their house of origin by Thursday, March 11th. Those that were not are dead for the session.

Action will now shift back to House and Senate committees as they begin taking up legislation passed by the opposite house. All bills must be passed out of committee by March 25th.


Monday, March 8th
  • A revised version of Governor Keating's "4x4" school curriculum was approved by the full Senate. Instead of mandating four years of English, Science, Math and Social Studies as proposed by the Governor, SB 800 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would just set "4x4" as a "goal" of the Legislature. It would also require the state to reach the regional average in per pupil education funding before "4x4" could be fully implemented. Opponents argued the measure would unfairly punish students who didn't plan to go on to college by squeezing out vo-tech classes. Supporters contended would rise to the challenge of the new requirements. The measure passed on a 25-20 vote.

  • Senators turned back legislation designed to crack down on small town "speed traps." SB 228 by Sen. Frank Shurden would have required all speeding tickets issued on state highways to go to district court rather than municipal court, thus discouraging cities from using speed traps as a revenue booster. The legislation was defeated 8-35.

  • The Senate approved SB 161, a shell bill for the so-called General Appropriations bill. That legislation, passed during the early weeks of the legislative session, traditionally sets agency budgets at the same level they were the previous fiscal year. By setting a skeleton budget in place early, there is no risk of a government shutdown if lawmakers and the Governor are unable to agree on final budget numbers before the end of the legislative session in May. House and Senate budget writers are currently ironing out details on the GA bill and hope to have an agreement within the week.

  • The House approved one version of the proposed "truth-in-sentencing" legislation. HB 1460 by Rep. Fred Morgan would drastically change the current TIS act, eliminating most of the sentencing grids that were installed to hand out set terms to violent and non-violent offenders. House and Senate lawmakers are currently working behind the scenes, trying to reach a compromise on the controversial legislation. The TIS act of 1997 will go into effect on July 1, 1999, unless lawmakers take action to amend it this session.

  • House members approved the so-called "Child Protection Act" in an effort to crack down on child abusers. HB 1012 would mandate prison terms ranging from 5 years to life for offenders who abuse, maim, torture or sexually assault anyone under the age of 18.

  • The "Brandy Thurmond Act" also received House approval. HB 1013 would add 10 years to the sentence of anyone convicted of using a weapon in an assault. The legislation is named after a Broken Arrow teenager who was shot in the head during an assault.

  • People who litter in Oklahoma will face stiffer fines if legislation approved by the House becomes law. HB 1805 would hike the penalty for road littering from the current maximum of $200 to as much as $1,000. It would also require offenders to perform between 5 and 20 hours of community service in a trash pick up program.

  • The House approved legislation cutting the estate tax. HB 1465 would expand the state's $175,000 estate tax exemption to collateral heirs. If successful, it would mark the third time in three years that the Oklahoma Legislature has cut the estate tax. The bill was also amended to exempt anyone over 65 from state income taxes.

  • State Rep. Don Ross announced that he was amending his "hate crime" legislation to remove a section dealing with sexual orientation. The Tulsa Democrat said it became evident that he could not get enough bipartisan support to pass legislation that protected gay Oklahomans from hate crimes. In its revised form, HB 1211 will increase the penalties for hate crimes against already protected groups.


Tuesday, March 9th
  • The full Senate approved the so-called mental health parity bill. SB 2 would would require insurance companies to cover six biologically-based, treatable mental illnesses. The measure was approved on a 33-15 vote. Similar legislation was vetoed by Governor Keating last year and officials in the Governor's office have threatened another veto this year.

  • Legislation which would require public school students to pass a year-end test to advance to the next grade was approved by the Senate. SB 697 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would mandate the tests for grades 3-12. Students who failed the exams would have to take remedial education or summer school and take the test again to advance to the next grade. The bill passed on a 26-22 vote. Opponents argued the bill would unfairly punish students who might excel throughout the year only to perform poorly on a test. Supporters contended the proposal could be implemented without significant additional costs.

  • Senators approved SB 758 by Sen. Maxine Horner, legislation which would penalize schools that didn't teach required core curriculum in Oklahoma history regarding African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and other ethnic groups. The legislation was approved on a 32-12 vote.

  • The Senate defeated the so-called branch banking bill, voting 19-29 on SB 374 by Sen. Bruce Price. The bill would have reauthorized branch restrictions for state financial institutions. The legislation's demise will mean current restrictions for national banks will be lifted July 1.

  • A measure requiring a person to be available to answer phones at state agencies during their regular business hours was approved by the Senate. SB 19 by Sen. Jim Maddox passed on a 37-8 vote. The proposal is designed to make agencies more user friendly for taxpayers.

  • Senators approved SB 747 by Sen. Penny Williams, the "Academy Schools Act." The measure would establish regulations for the creation of charter or "academy" schools which would be able to operate free from the oversight of the local and state school boards. It passed 25-19.

  • The House approved the education reform program offered by the House leadership. HB 1759 by Speaker Loyd Benson would make a number of changes to the current public school system, adding such things as charter schools, increasing the number of math and science teachers and cutting administrative costs. Another key provision would provide tuition scholarships to cover the costs associated with the first two years of college. The legislation was approved on a 94-5 vote.

  • The House approved legislation designed to crack down on methamphetamine labs. HB 1404 would add the precursor substances used to produce "meth" to the list of controlled dangerous substances.

  • House members passed legislation which would establish a revolving fund for flood mitigation. HB 1841 by Rep. Larry Rice would allow the fund to purchase property that has been or will be affected by flood waters. Supporters the "Oklahoma Flood Hazard Mitigation Program" would tap into existing funds, mostly from the federal government. The legislation was approved 56-41.


Wednesday, March 10th
  • Senators approved a so-called school choice bill. SB 797 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would allow parents to choose any public school for their children to attend, rather than being restricted to the school district in which they lived. A provision which would have required school districts to split the transportation costs of transferring students was stricken from the bill. Opponents argued that without the transportation feature the legislation would not be fair because only those students who could afford to pay the travel costs would be able to take advantage of choice. Others predicted it would hurt the already overburdened, inner-city schools because their best students were encouraged to go elsewhere. Supporters maintained that parents should have the option of choosing the best school for their child. The legislation was approved on a 26-22 vote.

  • The Senate approved its version of truth-in-sentencing legislation in hopes of reaching a compromise on the controversial issue before the session ends. SB 565 and SB 570 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson will ultimately be used to carry compromise language on the subject. A bipartisan group of legislators is currently meeting in an attempt to iron out differences on TIS.

  • A measure which would change the way county judges are elected in Oklahoma was approved by the Senate on a second try. SB 805 by Sen. Brad Henry would provide for retention ballot elections of district and associate district judges, rather than competitive races between two or more candidates. The legislation is modeled after the retention ballot that is used for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and other judges. It was sparked by several heated and controversial county judge races in last year's elections. The bill was defeated on its first effort but passed 28-17 on a reconsideration vote.

  • Senators approved SB 454 by Sen. Frank Shurden which would allow for chemical or surgical castration for some sex offenders, such as first and second degree rapists. Similar legislation was approved by the Senate last year, but died in the House.

  • Senator Angela Monson announced that she would seek an interim study on SB 317, legislation which would have limited ATM fees to $1.00. The Oklahoma City legislator said she didn't have enough information to decide what a reasonable fee limit would be. She will use the interim study to gather that information, including data about ATM operating costs and consumer use, in hopes of addressing the issue next year.

  • The Senate approved legislation designed to serve as a vehicle for several workers compensation reform bills. Among other things, SB 680 by Sen. Brad Henry would pump additional funding into the financially strapped Special Indemnity Fund.

  • The revised version of Rep. Don Ross' "hate crime" legislation was defeated by the House, even though the Tulsa legislator had removed a controversial provision adding sexual orientation of protected groups. The floor substitute for HB 1211 would have boosted penalties for hate crimes. Opponents argued that existing laws were already sufficient to address crimes against all people. Supporters, however, pointed out that some groups were targeted for crime more often than others and should be protected. The legislation failed on a 35-63 vote.

  • House members approved legislation designed to address problems generated by the so-called Y2K computer problem. HB 1325 by Rep. Bob Weaver would protect private industry from class action lawsuits related to Y2K problems.
  • House members defeated legislation which would have changed the way county sheriffs are elected in the state's two largest counties. HB 1388 by Rep. Bill Paulk would have required races in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties to be non-partisan.


Thursday, March 11th
  • After a long week of floor work, the Senate met briefly and then adjourned for the weekend. Committees are preparing to begin work in an effort to beat the next legislative deadline, March 25th, when bills must be passed out of committees in the opposite house.