The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 19, 1999 - Thursday, April 22, 1999
Legislative action shifted from the floor to the committee room again as lawmakers began the final process of drafting the state budget for next fiscal year. Agency heads are appearing before appropriations subcommittees, trying to justify their requests for additional funds.

Five weeks remain in the 1999 legislative session. Lawmakers will spend the final weeks tying up loose budget ends and attempting to resolve differences over substantive legislation in conference committee.


Monday, April 19th
  • The Senate approved legislation which would make it easier for law enforcement officers to obtain a "no knock" search warrant. SB 580 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson would expand the circumstances under which such a warrant could be issued. For example, the bill would allow "no knock" warrants when:

    - Such warning would allow destruction of evidence;
    - Such warning would increase the likelihood of resistance or escape;
    - Such warning would inhibit the effective investigation of a crime;
    - Such warning would be a futile or useless gesture.

    Current law allows "no knock" warrants to be issued only when there is reasonable cause to believe that such a warning would pose a significant danger to human life. Opponents argued the legislation simply gave law enforcement officers another tool to infringe on the rights of property owners, but supporters countered that the decision to issue a "no knock" warrant would be made by the courts, not law officers. Senators approved SB 580 on a 28-16 vote.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to keep others from outlawing the use of multiple fishing poles on Oklahoma lakes and streams. SB 447 by Sen. Jim Maddox would prohibit the promulgation of rules restricting a person to using less than seven fishing rods. The measure also allows motorized boats on the upper Illinois River.

  • The Senate confirmed Christy Everest of Oklahoma City to the OU Board of Regents. She will serve a seven-year term. Senators also approved the appointment of Fred Harlan of Okmulgee to the Board of Regents for the A&M colleges. Harlan will serve an eight-year term.

  • Legislation designed to prevent students from filing discipline-related lawsuits against school districts was approved by the House. HB 1370 would prevent school boards, administrators and teachers from being held liable for disciplinary action taken against students. Supporters claimed many schools are currently afraid to discipline disruptive students for fear of legal action.

  • House members approved legislation requiring district school boards to develop and make available character education programs. HB 1765 would require the programs to be developed for grades K-6, with an emphasis on students' development of character traits. For example, the program may include the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.


Tuesday, April 20th
  • Senators approved legislation which would exempt the transportation of household goods and property from rules and regulations relating to the wrecker and towing services. SB 533 by Sen. Jeff Rabon is designed to make it easier to move such goods without having to adhere to rules crafted for professional towing operations. The legislation now goes to the Governor.

  • The Senate passed SB 505 by Sen. Penny Williams, legislation which would allow state employees and officers to have their travel reimbursements directly deposited to their bank accounts.

  • House members approved legislation designed to make it easier to convert funeral benefits. HB 1663 by Rep. Danny Hilliard would allow member organizations of the Oklahoma Prepaid Funeral Benefit Trust Fund to convert trust-funded prepaid funeral benefits to insurance-funded funeral benefits. The conversions would also have to be approved by the State Insurance Commissioner.

  • The House approved legislation revising the permitting process of the Oklahoma Clean Air Act. HB 1781 by Rep. Larry Rice, a request bill from the Department of Environmental Quality, would eliminate a current 180-day on DEQ investigations, allowing the agency five years to examine the record of a permit application. Supporters claimed the current limit is too restrictive because DEQ loses jurisdiction if action isn't taken within 180 days. The measure would also allow the DEQ to issue minor permits without requiring annual renewal.


Wednesday, April 21st
  • The Senate made an unsuccessful attempt to override Governor Keating's veto of legislation expanding the state employee leave-sharing program. SB 323 by Sen. Paul Muegge would have allowed departing state employees to donate their remaining annual or sick leave to qualified employees under the state's leaving sharing program. The program currently allows only active state employees to donate leave time to eligible employees. To be eligible to receive donated leave, an employee must have exhausted his/her leave time and be suffering or have a family member suffering from a severe illness or injury which could cause the employee to take unpaid leave or quit their job. According to Sen. Muegge and other supporters, expanding such a program to include departing state employees would have provided much-needed assistance to a number of their colleagues. In his veto message, however, Governor Keating claimed SB 323 would create "a potential for abuses by persons leaving state service." Sen. Muegge disagreed, pointing out that leave time could only be donated if a need existed at the time an employee was leaving state service. The veto override attempt failed on a 31-14 vote, with all Republicans voting to sustain the veto and all Democrats voting to override it. The Governor vetoed similar legislation last session.

  • The Senate approved legislation which would require health insurers to provide coverage for audiological services and hearing aids for children up to 13 years of age. Based on his discussions with the state insurance commissioner and insurance providers, Sen. Bernest Cain, author of SB 685, estimated the coverage could result in a premium increase ranging from 60 cents a year to an overall 1 percent increase. The measure was approved on a 29-16 vote.

  • Senators voted to recall SB 441 from the Governor's office. The legislation by Sen. Ben Robinson addresses state employee benefits, increasing basic term life insurance offered by the State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board.

  • The House approved legislation designed to protect people who are trying to save the lives of heart attack victims. HB 1190 would provide immunity from civil liability to those who use a defibrillator in an attempt to save a person's life. To qualify for immunity, the legislation specifies that a person be "qualified... and, who in good faith and without expectation of compensation, renders emergency care or treatment outside a medical facility by the use of an automated external defibrillator..." A defibrillator is a device that delivers an electrical impulse to the heart. Medical experts contend it can increase a heart attack victim's survival rate by two or three times.

  • Area legislators, mental health workers and the Oklahoma Public Employees Association held a news conference to protest Governor Keating's proposed downsizing of mental health facilities like Eastern State Hospital in Vinita and Griffin Memorial Hospital in Norman. They argued that Keating's proposal would severely damage Oklahoma's mental health programs and their clients, in addition to putting state employees out of work. OPEA urged Governor Keating to study a similar action in Kansas which resulted in an increase in homelessness and other negative impacts on the mentally ill. Four legislators joined OPEA at the news conference, including Sen. Rick Littlefield, D-Grove, Sen. Jim Dunlap, R-Bartlesville, Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, and Rep. Joe Eddins, D-Vinita.


Thursday, April 22nd
  • The House and Senate approved legislation appropriating additional to the State Department of Corrections for medical services. The $7.2 million is designed to head off one aspect of an ongoing lawsuit against the DOC. Among other things, the lawsuit accuses state prison officials of offering inadequate medical services to its inmates.

  • The Senate Tourism Committee approved the appointment of Jane Jayroe as Secretary of Tourism and Recreation. Governor Keating appointed the former Miss America to the position earlier this year. She replaced Ed Cook.


Other News
  • Oklahoma economists are predicting even better economic growth than expected in 1999. Robert Dauffenbach of the OU Center for Economic and Management Research said re-evaluation of recent employment numbers shows that job growth was underestimated in 1998, leading him to believe that '99 growth was also underestimated. The state's general business index has also registered an increase.

  • Personal bankruptcies are on the decline in Oklahoma's western district, dropping 10.5 percent in the year's first quarter. Statewide, bankruptcy petitions fell by approximately six percent. Despite the decline in Oklahoma, analysts believe bankruptcies will continue to grow nationally in the next few years. Many attribute the national growth to the wide availability of consumer credit, namely credit cards.

  • Published reports indicated that Governor Keating and legislative leaders are considering a $350 million higher education bond issue. The Governor and lawmakers are reportedly pondering an 11 cent increase in the state cigarette tax to finance the bond issue.

  • State Boxing Commissioner Jim Gasso announced his resignation after a rocky two- year stint on the job. A number of legislators had been critical of Gasso's administration, claiming he had made it impossible for promoters to stage professional boxing events in Oklahoma. His resignation came at a time when lawmakers were still deliberating legislation which would remove the boxing commission from the State Labor Department and create an independent agency. SB 600 is now in conference committee.