The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 5, 1999 - Thursday, April 8, 1999
 Legislative work continued on the floors of the House and Senate as lawmakers rushed to beat their next deadline of the session. All bills have to be passed off the floor by Thursday, April 15th or they are dead for the year.


Monday, April 5th
  • Calling it a "good example of compromise that works in the best interest of our citizens," Governor Keating signed the so-called "unmarked car" bill into law. The final version of the HB 1212 was a compromise with officials in law enforcement. As it was originally written, the bill would have banned municipal law enforcement agencies from using unmarked cars in routine traffic enforcement, but the compromise version allows unmarked cars to be used as long a specific combination of lights are displayed on the vehicle with the occupant wearing 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.

  • Governor Keating issued his first veto of the session, striking down SB 323. That legislation related to the state leave sharing system which allows public employees to donate leave to other workers in time of need. The Governor contended existing law already allowed for the transfer of leave and that the latest legislation might open the system up to potential abuses by people who are in the process of leaving state employment.

  • Senators defeated legislation which would have required public schools to drug test students participating in such extra-curricular activities as sports and band. HB 1269 by Sen. Brad Henry fell two votes short of the necessary majority required for passage, 23-24. Two amendments were added to the bill before the final vote. One would grant school personnel immunity from civil lawsuits stemming from drug testing. The other would establish rules and procedures for screening similar to those used in workplace drug testing. Opponents argued the measure would unnecessarily test the "best and brightest" students. Supporters contended screening would help educators and parents identify drug problems before they got out of hand. Sen. Henry kept the measure alive on a motion to reconsider, giving him three days to bring the bill up for another vote.

  • Members of the State House have gone on record in support of abolishing the state sales tax on groceries. House members made the statement by attaching grocery tax repeal amendments to two separate pieces of legislation: SB 1, which would cut car tag fees and excise taxes and SB 573, which would provide a sales tax exemption to rail cars used to transport coal. The amendments' author, Rep. John Sullivan, claimed repeal wouldn't cost the state any money because consumers would use the savings to buy "shoes" and other things that would "go back into the economy." Opponents, however, have argued that outright repeal will hurt tax recipients like the public schools, in addition to crippling cities and towns which rely on grocery tax revenue.

  • Oklahoma motorists would see a reduction in excise taxes and car tag fees if a bill approved by the Senate ultimately becomes law. HB 1734 by Sen. Jim Maddox is one of several proposals designed to reduce the amount of taxes and fees Oklahoma motorists pay on their vehicles. A compromise version is ultimately expected to be worked out in conference committee.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to address problems with wide area calling in the 405 area code. HB 1701 by Sen. Ted Fisher is currently a shell bill which will be used as a vehicle if a solution is ultimately reached.

  • The Senate approved a measure designed to make it easier to train personnel to conduct annual vehicle safety inspections. HB 1117 by Sen. Brad Henry would allow people to take the training at area vocational-technical schools, instead of traveling to Oklahoma City as currently required. The Department of Public Safety requested the bill.

  • The Senate passed a series of shell appropriations bill which will ultimately serve as the vehicles for the state budget.

  • The House approved legislation designed to make state agencies more "user friendly" to the public. SB 19 by Sen. Jim Maddox would require telephones at state agencies to be answered by a human rather than a machine during business hours.


Tuesday, April 6th
  • The Senate approved legislation which would make it tougher on repeat drunk drivers. HB 1082 by Sen. Brad Henry would require charges against repeat DUI offenders to be filed in district court, preventing drunk drivers from hiding their past arrests when they occur in municipalities without courts of record. Approximately 11,000 DUI arrests are handled by such municipalities each year, but they are difficult for authorities to track. Sen. Henry said differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out in conference committee.

  • A measure designed to levy stiffer fines against people who litter Oklahoma highways and byways was approved by the full Senate. HB 1805 by Sen. Rick Littlefield would increase the maximum fine for littering from a vehicle from $200 to $500. The measure would also require offenders to serve between five and 20 hours in a community service program on littering. Supporters contended the increased penalties would help in the ongoing fight against litter, but opponents questioned whether the punishments were too stiff given the nature of the offense.

  • Senators defeated legislation which would have imposed a maximum 55 mph speed limit on county roads, unless a lower limit was already posted. HB 1488 was a request bill from the Department of Public Safety.

  • The Senate voted to recall SB 517 from the Governor's office to clarify portions of the bill. The legislation by Sen. Jim Maddox authorizes the removal of certain persons from the property of an institution of learning and expanded the prohibition period that could be placed on that person to prevent them from returning to the property. The measure is designed to improve safety on college campuses.

  • A measure which would strengthen the penalties for criminals who assault law officers or correctional employees was approved by the Senate. HB 1735 by Sen. Sam Helton would make it a felony to commit assault and battery against a state employee while in state custody.

  • The Senate 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.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to bail out the ailing Special Indemnity Fund. The fund is supposed to provide supplemental financial support to injured workers who have been awarded court settlements, but it is about $26 million behind in payments. HB 1771 by Sen. Brad Henry is headed for conference committee where backers are hoping to find a solution to the problem.

  • The Senate 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 full House approved bills designed to pave the way for a multi-million dollar NASA project at the old Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat. SB 720 by Sen. Gilmer Capps would establish the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. The companion bill, SB 719, would provide income tax credit for investments made in projects related to aviation and aerospace. SJR 25 would call a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment authorizing the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority to have ownership of technology and equity interests in private business.

  • After lengthy and sometimes heated debate, House members approved legislation designed to set guidelines for future state privatization efforts. SB 376 would establish rules that must be followed and criteria that must be met before the privatization of state agency functions can be approved. For example, state employees would be allowed to submit proposals for improving services, in effect giving them the opportunity to prove they can deliver the services more efficiently than a private vendor. The measure would also prohibit any officer who has decision-making power in the awarding of privatization contracts to have worked in the past two years for a business that is under consideration for the contract. Opponents argued the bill would stymie almost any privatization effort, but supporters contended guidelines were needed to prevent the potential abuse of taxpayer dollars through ill-advised privatization efforts. Similar legislation was approved last year, but vetoed by the Governor.

  • Voters in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties may soon get to decide whether they want to raise their property taxes to help fund their county health departments. The House approved SJR 3, a proposed constitutional amendment which would allow additional millage elections in the two metro counties in support of their local health agencies.


Wednesday, April 7th
  • In an effort to keep state government functioning even if a budget impasse develops later this legislative session, the Oklahoma State Senate approved a $4.8 billion general appropriations bill late Wednesday afternoon.

    In effect, the "GA" bill funds state government at the same level as the current fiscal year, allowing lawmakers to allocate any remaining surplus revenue later in the session in separate budget reconciliation bills. By passing the legislation, lawmakers guarantee that state government will continue operating, even if a budget impasse exists when the legislative session adjourns in May.

    Governor Keating and legislative leaders reached a final agreement on the important budget measure just a few hours before the Senate action. The House is expected to pass the GA bill Thursday.

    Some of the key appropriations of SB 161 include:

    - $1.7 billion for common education;
    - $745 million for higher education;
    - $111 million for vo-tech;
    - $228 million for transportation;
    - $352 million for DHS;
    - $125 million for mental health;
    - $322 million for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority; and
    - $327 million for the Department of Corrections.

    Although most agencies received approximately the same amount of money as the current fiscal year, the GA bill included a $12 million increase for higher education and an $18 million increase for DHS. Governor Keating had wanted to cut $15 million from the mental health agency, but it was fully-funded in the legislation.

  • The Senate revived a measure calling for drug testing of some public school students (see above). HB 1269 by Sen. Brad Henry was approved 26-16 on a reconsideration vote. The bill now heads for conference committee.

  • Senators approved another measure aimed at repeat DUI offenders. HB 1088 by Sen. Grover Campbell would require an interlock ignition device to be placed in the vehicle of felony DUI offenders as a condition of receiving a suspended sentence. The device, which would be paid for by the offender, prevents a car from starting if a test determines that the driver's blood alcohol content is .05 or more. The current legal limit is .10. The measure would also allow corrections officials to monitor the movements of DUI offenders with electronic monitoring devices.

  • The Senate approved the so-called Brandy Thurman bill, a measure named after a Broken Arrow teenager who suffered permanent disability after being shot at her home. HB 1013 by Sen. Scott Pruitt would require a minimum 10 year sentence when a weapon is used to commit a violent crime.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to reduce "inattentive driving" on Oklahoma roadways. HB 1286 by Sen. Sam Helton requires that any person operating a vehicle shall devote the necessary attention for safe operation so as not to endanger the safety of others. The bill, requested by the Department of Public Safety, would subject violators to a $10 fine.

  • A measure designed to reward couples who undergo pre-marital counseling was approved by the Senate. HB 1180 by Sen. Glenn Coffee would reduce the marriage license fee from $25 to $5 for eligible couples.

  • The State House passed legislation which would prevent municipalities from suing gun manufacturers. SB 562 by Sen. Frank Shurden was amended to require legislative approval before the State Attorney General could file a suit against any firearms manufacturer. Similar pieces of legislation are currently being considered in several other Southern states to head off an anticipated series of lawsuits against gun makers. Backers of the lawsuits believe gun manufacturers should be held accountable for the health care costs related to assaults and murders committed with firearms.


Thursday, April 8th
  • The Senate continued to work on legislation on the floor. Lawmakers have until Thursday, April 15th to pass all bills out of the opposite house of origin.

  • The State House approved the SB 161, the General Appropriations bill (see above). The measure now goes to Governor Keating, who has indicated he will sign it.


Other News
  • Rep. Larry Adair has apparently wrapped up enough support to become the next speaker of the Oklahoma House. Adair had been competing against Majority Floor Leader Tommy Thomas and Rep. Don Kinnamon for the position. The top post in the House is currently held by Rep. Loyd Benson. Benson's second term will expire after the 2000 legislative session and House rules prohibit him from seeking another.

  • The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will hold a public hearing on a proposed tuition increase on April 16th at Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Enid. Governor Keating and the Regents have proposed a tuition hike to supplement the budget of higher education, but state legislators have yet to indicate whether they will approve such an increase. The current Regents' proposal calls for increases of 9 percent at the state's comprehensive universities, 7 percent at four-year regional universities and 5 percent at two-year colleges.

  • Governor Keating formally unveiled the names of his "negotiating team" on education reform. The group includes Secretary of State Mike Hunter, Education Secretary Floyd Coppedge, Martin Garber of Phillips Petroleum, George Singer of Singer Brothers and Governor's Chief of Staff Ken Lackey. The team will be working with legislative leaders to craft a compromise reform package before the session is over.