The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 12, 1999 - Thursday, April 15, 1999
The bulk of legislative work continued to take place on the floors of the House and Senate. Lawmakers worked to meet the Thursday, April 15th deadline for passing bills out of the opposite House of origin.


Monday, April 12th
  • Oklahoma's bid to bring passenger rail service back to the state received another shot in the arm when Governor Keating signed SB 383 into law. The legislation by Senator Dave Herbert would clear the way for Oklahoma to form an alliance with other states like Kansas and Texas, thus strengthening the region's chance of landing an Amtrak line. SB 383, known as the "Interstate Midwest Regional Rail Compact," will establish an Oklahoma commission charged with seeking and forging alliances with other states interested in Amtrak service. Perhaps most importantly, the compact status will allow Oklahoma and any other participating states to leverage federal funding for related passenger rail costs.

  • Senators voted to add some additional regulations on abortion clinics, amending legislation originally designed to increase the penalty for manufacturing methamphetamine. HB 1404 by Sen. Mark Snyder would make it a felony to possess certain substances used in the production of methamphetamine. The bill was amended by Sen. Carol Martin to mandate several new requirements for facilities that perform abortions. Those restrictions include:

    - Anyone who performs an abortion on a minor without parental consent or knowledge shall be liable for the cost of any subsequent medical treatment such minor might require because of the procedure;
    - No one shall administer anesthesia during an abortion except for a licensed anesthesiologist;
    - Abortion clinics shall be required to maintain an advance transfer agreement with the emergency room of the hospital closest to such a facility;
    - Abortion facilities shall compile data ranking physicians which perform abortions and will provide that information to women who request it.

    The amended bill was approved on a 41-4 vote.

  • A parental notification measure was revived by the State House when members amended SB 625, legislation which amends statutes relating to public health and safety. Rep. John Sullivan authored the amendment which would require a parent to be notified before a minor could receive an abortion. The amended measure was approved unanimously, but the title was stricken, meaning the bill will eventually end up in conference committee.

  • Another piece of legislation regulating telephone solicitors was approved by the Senate. HB 1269 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would require solicitors for charitable organizations to provide their telephone number and address to the people they call. The bill was amended by Sen. Rabon to require callers to also provide the net receipts that go to the charity and the telemarketing firm if that information is requested. HB 1269 is one of several bills currently pending in the Legislature designed to protect consumers in telemarketing transactions.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to prevent high-risk inmates from being placed in private prisons. HB 1053 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson would prohibit prisoners with a history of escape attempts or rioting from being assigned to private correctional facilities. Sen. Wilkerson also amended the bill to transfer some responsibilities of the Board of Corrections to the director of the Department of Corrections.

  • The House went on record in support of repealing the excise tax on vehicles, amending legislation relating to rules regulating the inspection of rebuilt vehicles. An amendment to SB 319 would repeal the state's vehicle excise tax, using money from the state general fund to supplement agencies which would lose funding under such an action. The amendment's author, Rep. Chris Hastings, could not explain whether the state could afford such a tax reduction, saying only that the details could be worked out later.

  • Legislation designed to make it easier to get a handgun license under the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act was approved by the House. SB 601 would reduce the renewal fee on handgun licenses and allow applicants to pay with a credit card. The measure is headed for conference committee.


Tuesday, April 13th
  • The Senate gave unanimous approval to a sweeping education reform bill, but any final decision on HB 1759 and other school reform bills will ultimately be made in conference committee where lawmakers will try to reconcile differences among the various school proposals made by the House, the Senate and the Governor. The legislation by House Speaker Loyd Benson and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor contains numerous reforms, but no funding mechanism to pay for them. Lawmakers will decide which proposals are feasible as they hammer out the budget in the final weeks of session. Some of the HB 1759 reforms include:

    - All-day kindergarten;
    - Teacher pay raises (until they reach regional average);
    - Expanded scholarship programs;
    - Bonuses for math and science teachers (to address current shortage of instructors in these areas);
    - Enhanced school safety;
    - New restrictions on school administration costs;
    - Open transfer or school "choice";
    - Charter schools.

    The measure was amended to add another charter school proposal similar to the one offered by Governor Keating. The Governor's so-called "4x4" program was also added to the legislation, but with the stipulation that it couldn't be implemented until Oklahoma reached the regional average in per pupil funding. Sen. Mike Johnson successfully attached an amendment which would provide a $23 million pay raise to Oklahoma's veteran teachers.

  • The Senate approved legislation designed to give small businesses a greater voice in the state regulatory process. HB 1816 by Sen. Jim Maddox would establish a new 13-member commission in charge of looking out for the interests of small business. The Oklahoma Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act would also allow some fines and penalties issued by state agencies to be waived if it was determined the violations were committed accidentally. Supporters argued the bill would provide much-needed protections to small business, but opponents contended it would open the door for preferential treatment and unnecessary "agency bashing".

  • Senators approved legislation which would revamp Oklahoma system for testing public school students. HB 1599 would replace the current system of criterion-referenced tests with "end-of-instruction" examinations, beginning with the 2000-2001 school year. The bill was amended to move testing oversight from the State Board of Education to the Education Oversight Board.

  • The Legislature would ultimately have final approval over all state highway projects if the Senate gets its way. In routine discussion of HB 1455, legislation renaming a portion of SH-51 as the Broken Arrow Expressway, Sen. Jeff Rabon added an amendment stripping the Oklahoma Transportation Commission of its authority over highway projects and transferring it to the Legislature. Sen. Rabon said he had a problem with the "unelected people" on the highway commission deciding where state highway dollars should be spent.

  • Senator Gene Stipe took personal privilege on the Senate floor to demand an apology from Governor Keating, citing disparaging remarks the Governor recently made about the people of southeastern Oklahoma. In a speech last week, the Governor recounted an alleged conversation with a business leader from the area who said, according to Keating, that the local work force was unqualified "because they're either on dope or they have had inadequate instruction." Senator Stipe called the remark "irresponsible," noting that it will not help the area's ongoing economic developments.

    A spokesman for the Governor indicated there were no plans to issue an apology or a retraction. He claimed Keating's remarks were misinterpreted.

  • The House approved legislation designed to clean up some school safety record-tracking problems in the public education system. SB 65 would make it easier for school districts to obtain the disciplinary records of new students. It requires the old school district to forward the records upon request "within three business days."


Wednesday, April 14th
  • The Senate worked through a short agenda of floor bills then moved to the committee rooms to continue work on budget issues. During floor action, Senators voted to accept House amendments to SB 9 by Sen. Charles Ford. The legislation expands the membership of the Oklahoma Capitol Complex and Centennial Commission and creates a revolving fund. The Senate also approved several shell appropriations bills that will be used to write the final budget in the coming weeks.

  • Senator Jeff Rabon took personal privilege to dispute Governor Keating's disparaging remarks about workers in southeastern Oklahoma (see above). The Hugo legislator demanded an apology from Keating for his remarks implying that workers in the area were uneducated and on drugs. Sen. Rabon also asked the "phantom CEO" to whom Keating attributed the comments to step forward and qualify his statement. He added that the Governor's remarks were damaging to his area, noting that it has been struggling with double-digit employment and low per-capita income.

  • A proposal that would allow patients to file malpractice suits against their HMO's was revived in the House as an amendment. Rep. Russ Roach successfully attached it to SB 290, legislation which would create a revolving fund for trauma care. The Roach amendment states that a managed care entity is liable for damages to its enrollees caused by its failure to exercise "ordinary care" in health decisions. Under existing law, HMO's are immune from lawsuits because they are not defined to be practicing medicine. Another amendment to SB 290 would require corrections officials to notify physicians if they are treating an inmate with AIDS or other communicable diseases.

  • The House approved anti-drunk driving legislation dubbed "Greg's Law." SB 423 by Sen. Kevin Easley would allow authorities to seize the vehicles of second-time DUI offenders if either of their offenses resulted in the bodily injury of someone else. The bill does allow exceptions if it can be proved that vehicle seizure will cause severe financial hardship for the offender's family.

  • Legislation designed to overhaul child support guidelines for the first time in 10 years was itself revised during action on the House floor. SB 689 would have made a number of modifications to child support rules, including raising support contributions from both parents by 11 to 28 percent. House author, Rep. Ray Vaughn, indicated the bill was the product of two years of work and had the endorsement of a number of organizations such as the League of Women Voters, but a good deal of the new language was stripped from the bill by amendments. Amendment supporters indicated that the issue deserved greater study before such changes could be made.

  • The House passed the Senate Education Committee's version of charter school legislation, but it was amended several times. SB 747, the Academy Schools Act, was amended to limit the establishment of charter schools to Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Broken Arrow. Another amendment would make the local school board the only possible sponsor of a charter school.


Thursday, April 15th
  • The Senate adjourned after brief action on the floor to continue work behind the scenes in legislative committee rooms. It will reconvene at 1:30 pm Monday.


Other News
  • Amtrak service between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas will officially resume on June 14th. Transportation officials made the announcement Wednesday, officially marking the end of a 20-year absence of passenger rail service in Oklahoma. The OKC-Ft. Worth line will run daily, 365 days a year. The train will leave Oklahoma City at 8:00 am and arrive in Ft. Worth at 1:30 pm. The return train will leave Ft. Worth at 4:00 pm and reach OKC at 8:00 pm. Officials estimate one-way tickets will cost approximately $30. Sen. Dave Herbert, who has worked for the restoration of rail service, ultimately wants the line to connect to Tulsa, Kansas City and Chicago.

  • Oklahoma ranked 7th in the nation in job growth last year, according to an annual report by Arizona State University and Bank One. The top ten ranking marked an improvement over the previous year when the state ranked 16th in job growth. More than 60 percent of the new employment was in high-paying manufacturing jobs. Economists attributed Oklahoma's improvement to the strong national economy and the state's Quality Jobs Act.

    The Top 10 Job Growth States from 1997 to 1998 (growth percentage)

    1. Arizona (4.7)
    2. Florida (4.1)
    3. South Carolina (3.9)
    4. Texas (3.9)
    5. Nevada (3.8)
    6. Colorado (3.6)
    7. Oklahoma (3.5)
    8. Georgia (3.5)
    9. Kansas (3.5)
    10. California (3.5)

  • State revenue collections were on target for the first nine months of the fiscal year, according to the State Office of Finance. Collected taxes were 5.4 percent above the previous year, but approximately one-half percent or $13.7 million below the estimate. Officials claim declines in energy taxes have been offset by growth in other areas, particularly income taxes.