For the week
of Monday, March 22, 1999 - Thursday, March 25,
Most of the
legislative work continued to take place in House and
Senate committee meetings as lawmakers rushed to beat
their next deadline of the session. All bills had to be
passed out of committee by Thursday, March 25th.
The next deadline is
Thursday, April 15th. It will mark the date that all
bills must be passed out of the opposite house of origin.
- The Senate Education
Committee approved a major education reform bill authored
by House Speaker Loyd Benson, but not before amending it
to add two proposals suggested by Senate President Pro
Tempore Stratton Taylor. Amendments calling for mandatory
all-day kindergarten and a teacher pay raise program were
added to HB 1759 at Sen. Taylor's request. Currently,
schools are required to offer approximately three hours
of kindergarten instruction, but Taylor doesn't believe
that is sufficient preparation for young students. The
pay raise program is designed to boost teacher salaries
to the regional average in the next four years. In
addition to the kindergarten and pay raise proposal, HB
1759 also includes language for a two-year free college
tuition scholarship program and charter schools, among
other things. House committees are currently considering
several school reform bills authored by Senate
- The Senate Business and
Labor Committee approved legislation designed to
establish a competitive rating system for many types of
business insurance policies. HB 1628 by Sen. Kevin Easley
would allow some insurance rates not to be subject to
reapproval by the State Board for Property and Casualty
Rates. A competitive market would be assumed to exist for
a particular line of insurance unless the insurance
commissioner issues an order otherwise. Not included in
the legislation would be reinsurance, accident and health
insurance, marine insurance, title insurance, workers
compensation insurance or personal risk property or
The panel also approved a bill which would revise some of
the regulations governing the practice of veterinary
medicine in Oklahoma. Among other things, HB 1344 by Sen.
Frank Shurden would expand the membership of the State
Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and modify
licensing requirements. It would also add to the list of
grounds for disciplinary action, including abandonment of
certain types of animals. A veterinarian who spoke in
favor of the bill said they needed minimum standards
regarding basic housing and cleanliness requirements.
- Members of the Senate
General Government Committee approved legislation which
would encourage county officers and employees to save
more for their retirement. HB 1774 by Sen. Owen Laughlin
would authorize the establishment of the County Officer
and Employee Deferred Savings Incentive Plans and would
provide for employer contribution to the program.
- Legislation cracking
down on "speed traps" was approved by the House Public
Safety Committee. SB 234 would not allow municipalities
to use traffic enforcement primarily as a revenue raising
measure rather than a public safety tool. "Unreasonable"
traffic enforcement is defined as a municipality which
writes more than 50 percent of its citations for speeding
violations which are for less than 10mph over the posted
- A measure designed to
lure non-stop, coast-to-coast airline service back to
Oklahoma was approved by the House Economic Development
Committee. SB 523 by Sen. Ted Fisher would provide income
tax credits to companies which establish headquarters in
Oklahoma and provide non-stop air transportation from the
state to the East and/or West Coasts. Supporters claim
Oklahomans lack of non-stop air service to major cities
is hurting economic development efforts.
- On a reconsideration
vote, the full Senate approved a compromise version of
the so-called unmarked police car bill. As amended, HB
1212 by Sen. Glenn Coffee would allow unmarked cars to be
used by municipal law enforcement agencies as long a
specific combination of lights were displayed on the
vehicle and the occupant wore a police uniform.
Supporters contended 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 claimed the unmarked
cars have helped reduce aggressive driving and related
accidents. The measure passed 32-14. HB 1212 now goes
back to the House for consideration of Senate
- The House Education
Committee killed Governor Keating's so-called "4x4"
program, defeating SB 800 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson on a
30-10 vote. As amended by the Senate, the measure would
have made it a "goal" for all school districts to mandate
a curriculum of four years of English, Math, Science and
Social Studies. House opponents contended the measure
would have a number of negative impacts on the public
schools, such as driving up the dropout rate, reducing
vo-tech opportunities for students and raising costs in
rural districts. Supporters claimed the requirements
would force students to perform better. Governor Keating
said the House vote did not signal an end to the "4x4"
debate, adding that he planned to use it as a negotiating
tool in discussions with legislative leaders.
The House panel did approve legislation designed to keep
former criminals out of the public schools. The committee
substitute for SB 588 would prohibit felons from working
on school property.
- The Senate Finance
Committee approved legislation designed to make it easier
to get a vehicle inspection sticker in Oklahoma. HB 1268
by Sen. Kevin Easley would chance the inspection fee from
$5 to $10 and require inspections to be conducted every
two years instead of annually. The measure would give
businesses more money for conducting the inspections as
an incentive to offer the service. Many gas stations and
auto service centers have discontinued inspections in
recent years, saying the current $5 fee is not enough to
cover their expenses.
The panel also approved HB 1278 by Sen. Jim Maddox which
would exempt small corporations from the state corporate
franchise tax. The measure would result in a $2.4 million
tax cut. Also approved by committee members was a bill
which would give certain companies tax credits to help
offset their employee training costs. HB 1377 by Sen. Ted
Fisher would result in a tax cut of approximately $2
- The Senate Judiciary
Committee approve legislation designed to protect
officials who try to save the lives of heart attack
victims. HB 1190 by Sen. Lewis Long would provide civil
liability immunity for individuals who use automated
external defibrillators to treat victims in most
situations. The panel also approved HB 1190 by Sen. Frank
Shurden which would require the DHS Adult Protective
Services division to notify local law enforcement
officials and family members when it removes an elderly
person from their home. Also approved by the committee
was HB 1750 by Sen. Ben Brown, a measure which would
reduce the blood alcohol content on DUI's from .10
percent to .08 percent.
- The Senate Veterans,
Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee killed
legislation which would have required the Department of
Public Safety to notify motorists when their drivers
license expired. HB 1108 by Sen. Frank Shurden was
opposed by DPS officials who claimed such notification
would cost $80,000 annually.
- The mental health parity
bill received the approval of the House Insurance
Committee and also received another veto warning from
Governor Keating. SB 2 by Sen. Stratton Taylor would
require businesses to provide insurance coverage for
certain treatable mental illnesses. The measure was
amended to allow a business to opt out on coverage if it
experienced a rate increase of 2 percent after a year.
The previous threshold was 3 percent. The bill would
expire in 2003 until reinstated by the Legislature.
Governor Keating vetoed similar legislation last
- The House Banking and
Finance Committee shot down an effort that would have
limited teenagers' access to credit cards. SB 23 by Sen.
Robert Milacek would have prohibited credit card
companies from issuing credit to Oklahomans under the age
of 21, unless they either had the permission of a parent
or lived independently of their parents. Supporters
claimed teens were unwisely being allowed to run up huge
debts, but the bill received only one vote of support,
sidelining it for the session.
- The House Human Services
Committee approved legislation designed to improve care
in nursing homes. SB 622 would require nursing home aides
to be trained before they are hired to work in a care
facility. Under the legislation, they would be required
to take a specified number of classroom training
- The House Energy,
Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved a
measure designed to deregulate natural gas service in
Oklahoma. SB 418 by Sen. Kevin Easley authorizes the
State Corporation Commission to begin the process of
unbundling natural gas services such as gas supply,
transmission and storage. The committee also approved
legislation designed to crack down on the unauthorized
switching of telephone long distance services. SB 242
would outlaw "slamming."
- The Senate
Appropriations Committee worked through a lengthy agenda,
passing 54 bills on to the next step of the legislative
For example, the definition of rape would be expanded
under legislation approved by committee members. HB 1149
would allow a rape charge to be filed if a victim was
"suffering from severely diminished cognition" caused by
alcohol or other substance. Supporters argued that it was
not unusual for sexual assaults to occur against women
under such circumstances, but opponents feared that such
a law would increase the chance of "retaliatory"
accusations after consensual sex.
The committee shot down an effort that would have allowed
parents to seek "spiritual treatment" for their children
in lieu of medical treatment without violating neglect
laws. HB 1012 by Sen. Mark Snyder was criticized by
opponents who argued that it might endanger children.
Supporters contended that refusing people the right to
use spiritual treatments would infringe on their freedom
The budget committee approved a measure that would set up
a fund for the dispersion of money coming from the
national tobacco settlement. HB 1002 by Sen. Ben Brown
would establish the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Fund,
establish a board of trustees and require legislative
approval of expenditures.
A measure designed to increase literacy in Oklahoma was
given a do-pass recommendation. HB 1592 by Sen. Penny
Williams would establish a statewide literacy referral
services system. It would also require a literacy
awareness program and state participation in the National
Assessment of Adult Literacy program.
The panel also approved a shell bill that may be used for
a tuition adjustment. HB 1296 by Sen. Cal Hobson is being
kept alive in the event that legislators decide to
increase state tuition rates. The State Regents and
Governor Keating have proposed a tuition hike.
- The full House approved
legislation designed to make it easier for consumers to
get information about telemarketers. SB 69 would require
commercial telephone solicitors to provide phone numbers
where consumers can reach them.
- The House Education
Committee approved charter school legislation. SB 747 by
Sen. Penny Williams, the "Academy Schools Act," would
allow citizens or organizations in major school districts
in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to establish charter schools
without the assent of the local school board. Proponents
claim charter schools can operate more efficiently than
public schools because they are unfettered by local
regulations. Others, however, fear they will damage
nearby public schools, "cherrypicking" their best
- The so-called castration
bill died in the House Criminal Justice Committee when
the chairman declined to bring the bill up for a hearing.
SB 454 by Sen. Frank Shurden would have allowed judges to
order the castration of some rapists and other sexual
offenders. Rep. Bill Paulk said he decided not to hear
the legislation because he thought it was
unconstitutional. His committee killed similar
legislation last year.
- The House Judiciary
Committee approved the anti-drunk driving measure known
as "Greg's Law." SB 423 by Sen. Kevin Easley would allow
authorities to seize the vehicle of a second-time DUI
offender. The panel also approved legislation creating a
"hate crimes" unit in the State Attorney General's
office. SB 477 originally addressed discriminatory
language in property convenants, but was amended to
establish the special AG unit. Earlier this session, the
full House killed legislation which would have increased
penalties for "hate crimes."
Thursday, March 25th
- The Senate met briefly
and then adjourned so it could continue work on bills in
committee. Lawmakers must pass all bills out of committee
by the end of business today or they are dead for the
- Lawmakers working on the
controversial truth-in-sentencing bill were instructed
that the state would lose federal funding if the
legislation is not enacted. Officials with the Department
of Corrections estimated as much as $16 million in
federal funds related to TIS programs may have to be
returned to the federal government. The TIS law passed in
1997 is scheduled to go into effect on July 1st, but
lawmakers are expected to make significant changes before
the implementation date.
- Oklahoma oil producers
traveled to Washington DC to officially ask the US
Congress to enact an oil import fee. Industry officials
believe the fee is the only way to boost domestic prices
to a level that will make their businesses profitable.
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a tax
reduction package to help prop up producers who were
hurting from a slump in prices.
- Military base closings
in other states will boost employment in Oklahoma.
Officials announced this week that Tinker Air Force Base
in Oklahoma City would get an additional 1,200 jobs
related to base closings in Texas and