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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- All-day kindergarten;
- Teacher pay raises (until they reach regional
- 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
- 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."
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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.