The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 15, 1999 - Thursday, March 18, 1999

Most of the legislative work took place in House and Senate committee meetings as lawmakers rushed to beat their next deadline of the session. All bills must be passed out of committee by March 25th.


Monday, March 15th
  • The Senate Education Committee began preliminary work on a major education reform bill approved by the House. HB 1759 by Speaker Loyd Benson would enact a variety of initiatives ranging from two-years of free college tuition to charter schools. Committee members were instructed to study the bill closely and be prepared to vote on the legislation next Monday. In other action, the panel approved HB 1118 by Sen. Herb Rozell. The bill would allow area school districts to transfer property to local school districts. Committee members also approved SCR 3 by Sen. Keith Leftwich which requests that state higher education institutions include a consumer credit education program as part of new student orientation.

  • The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee went on record in support of action that could loosen restrictions on the use of aluminum or magnesium phosphide in grain storage facilities. The panel approved HJR 1048 by Sen. Robert Milacek asking the US Congress to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to look into that possibility. Milacek said the chemicals can safely treat grain to control insects in grain elevators. The panel also gave a do-pass recommendation to HB 1048 by Sen. Rick Littlefield which would add Adair and Cherokee Counties to the state thistle eradication program.

  • The Senate General Government Committee killed a move to require special elections for vacant district and associate district judge positions. Opponents of HB 1591 argued that it might result in judge positions being vacant for long periods of time. The measure stalled on a 4-4 vote. The committee approved legislation which would streamline the county purchasing process. HB 1434 by Sen. Frank Shurden would increase from $2,500 to $7,500 the amount a county may spend without going through the formal bid process.

  • The House Criminal Justice Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation designed to crack down on people who illegal profit from state university logos. SB 589 by Sen. Jerry Smith would prevent illegal merchandising from taking place by criminalizing certain counterfeiting actions and providing for the seizure of related property. Officials with OU and OSU told committee members that counterfeit school logos and merchandise are costing them funding. The panel also passed legislation designed to protect Oklahomans from "identity theft" and the great financial cost that can go along with it. SB 421 by Sen. Keith Leftwich would prohibit such thefts, making them a felony.

  • The House Public Safety Committee approved legislation which would crack down on people who park illegally in handicapped spaces. SB 246 would set a minimum fine of $50. Currently, there is no minimum fine, just a maximum assessment of $100.


Tuesday, March 16th
  • A measure that would outlaw the use of unmarked police cars in traffic enforcement was given a do-pass recommendation by the Senate Deregulation Committee. HB 1212 by Sen. Glenn Coffee would prohibit any municipal police department from using cars which are not clearly marked as a law enforcement vehicle. Supporters of the legislation contend the unmarked cars cause confusion among motorists who cannot be sure if they are being stopped by an actual law officer or a criminal impersonating an officer. Opponents in law enforcement claim the unmarked cars have helped reduce aggressive driving and related acts of "road rage." The measure passed on a 4-1 vote and goes to the full Senate next.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a total of 19 bills, including HB 1289 a measure which would allow school districts to enact drug testing policies for students who participate in extra-curricular activities or other programs that are not required by the school. Sen. Ben Brown attempted unsuccessfully to amend the bill to require that all students be tested for drugs. The panel also approved HB 1180 by Sen. Glenn Coffee, a measure designed to address Oklahoma's high divorce rate. It would allow couples to receive a marriage license at a reduced cost if they agreed to undergo pre-marital counseling. Also receiving a do-pass recommendation was HB 1147 by Sen. Mike Morgan which would require telemarketers to register with the state.

  • The so-called "Brandy Thurman" bill was approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee. Named after a Tulsa teenager who was injured in a shooting, HB 1013 by Sen. Scott Pruitt would increase the penalty for anyone convicted of using a weapon during a violent criminal offense. The measure would tack on an additional 10-year prison term for offenders. Committee members also approved HB 1037 by Sen. Lewis Long which would raising the property damage amounts required for a traffic accident to be reported from the current $300 to $500.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved 11 bills, including one which would provide a new sales tax exemption for certain aircraft repairs. Sen. Ted Fisher, author of HB 1294, said the exemption would help lure high-paying aircraft maintenance jobs to the state, in addition to encouraging expansion of existing repair facilities. The panel also approved legislation designed to combat the theft of vehicle registration stickers. Currently placed on a vehicle's license plate, HB 1634 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson would move the registration sticker to the inside of the front windshield above the inspection sticker.

  • The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved legislation designed to pave the way for creation of a "space port" at the old Clinton-Sherman air base in Burns Flat. SB 719 by Sen. Gilmer Capps would provide tax credits to certain space-related businesses which invest in Oklahoma. Committee members also approved SB 644 by Sen. Angela Monson which would extend a tax credit to food service establishments that voluntarily pay for Hepatitis A immunizations for their employees.

  • Legislation that would absolve counties of environmental liabilities in certain cases was approved by the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. SB 29 by Sen. Dave Herbert would relieve counties of civil liabilities if it was determined that the environmental problems existed on property before the county obtained it. The committee also approved SB 69 by Sen. Fisher which prohibits the practice of "slamming." Telemarketers sometimes use that ploy to switch a telephone customers service without their written authorization.

  • The House County and Municipal Government Committee approved legislation that could ultimately limit the use of private prisons. SB 76 would require county commissioners to call a special election before they could contract with private prisons for county jail space. If voters didn't approve, no contract could be let.

  • A measure designed to make workers in the DHS Adult Protective Services Division more accountable was approved by the House Human Services Committee. 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.


Wednesday, March 17th
  • The bill banning municipalities from using unmarked police cars in traffic enforcement fell one vote shy of passage in the full Senate. HB 1212 by Sen. Glenn Coffee (see above) received 24 aye votes and 20 nay votes, just one short of the majority needed for approval. Sen. Herb Rozell successfully amended the bill to allow unmarked cars to be used as long a specific combination of lights were displayed on the vehicle and the occupant wore a police uniform. Sen. Coffee kept the bill alive on a motion to reconsider in hopes of passing the bill at a later date.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety killed legislation requested by the Oklahoma Public Employees Association which would have created an eight-member Joint Legislative Committee for Inspection of Correctional Institutions. The OPEA claimed the panel would help oversee the private and public prison industry, but opponents of HB 1137 felt that those oversight responsibilities should remain with the Department of Corrections.

  • In an effort to address encroaching urban growth into rural areas, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory Services approved HJR 1013 on a 4-3 vote. The legislation by Sen. Rick Littlefield is designed to require growing cities to make payments instead of property taxes to help support the infrastructure of the surrounding counties that are affected by their growth. Littlefield indicated the legislation was aimed specifically at Tulsa's acquisition of Lake Eucha and Spavinaw in Delaware and Mayes Counties.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation approved legislation that would require agencies to be better stewards of their state funding. HB 1622 by Sen. Cal Hobson would require agencies to implement program-based budgeting in five-year strategic plans, justifying each dollar they spend.

  • The full House approved legislation designed to ban the sale of so-called "gray market" cigarettes. SB 452 by Sen. Ted Fisher would prohibit the U.S. sale of cigarettes that have not had a surcharge placed on them because they have been packaged for marketing overseas. Backers of the bill say the untaxed cigarettes cost government a great deal of revenue. It was approved on a 98-1 vote.

  • The House Public Health Committee killed SB 535, legislation which have allowed the State Board of Health to levy fines against unlicensed barbers. The fines could have gone as $500 a day for each day an unlicensed barber stayed in business. The panel approved SB 632 by Sen. Frank Shurden which would prohibit the mixing of horsemeat with chicken or turkey that is intended for human consumption. The mixing of horsemeat in other meats is already prohibited by state law.


Thursday, March 18th
  • The Senate met briefly and then adjourned so it could continue work on bills in committee. Lawmakers have until March 25th, next Thursday, to pass all bills out of committee.


Other News
  • Oklahoma dropped another rung on the education funding ladder, falling to 50th lowest in the country, according to a new national report on per pupil expenditures. The latest funding estimates from the National Education Association indicate only Utah spends less on its public school students than Oklahoma. In a comparison of estimated education spending in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Oklahoma ranked 50th in per pupil expenditures. That marks a decline from the last NEA report which ranked Oklahoma 48th in the nation.

  • OU President David Boren announced his support for charter school legislation, saying such schools have worked in other states with "a high level of accountability in performance standards and a minimum number of bureaucratic hurdles to meet." Charters schools allow private citizens or groups to seek local approval to open and operate independent schools. Charter legislation is currently being considered in the Legislature.