The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, March 22, 1999 - Thursday, March 25, 1999
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.

 

Monday, March 22nd
  • 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 members.

  • 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 casualty insurance.

    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 limit.

  • 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.

 

Tuesday, March 23rd
  • 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 amendments.

  • 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 million.

  • 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 year.

  • 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 hours.

  • 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."

 

Wednesday, March 24th
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee worked through a lengthy agenda, passing 54 bills on to the next step of the legislative process.

    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 of religion.

    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 students.

  • 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 session.

Other News

  • 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 California.


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