The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 26, 1999 - Thursday, April 29, 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.

Four 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 26th
  • Governor Keating signed 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.

  • The Governor signed legislation designed to give school administrators and teachers greater freedom in disciplining students. HB 1370 would prohibit a school board, administrator or teacher from being held civilly liable for taking disciplinary action authorized by law. Supporters claim many schools are currently afraid to discipline disruptive students for fear of legal action. Keating applauded the legislation, saying it "will allow schools to properly and fairly discipline students through suspension without the fear of lawsuit."

  • Character education may soon be a staple in many school districts, thanks to a bill signed into law by the Governor. HB 1765 authorizes local school boards to implement a comprehensive program for character education in grades kindergarten through 6th. For example, the program may include the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The implementation is to begin in the 1999-2000 school year.

  • The Governor approved legislation designed to discourage inmates from filing frivolous lawsuits. SB 575 will allow courts to fine prison or jail inmates up to $500 if they are convicted of filing a malicious or frivolous lawsuit. Supporters contend inmates abuse the legal system, often filing lawsuits over trivial or non-existent matters.

  • Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Mental Health criticized Governor Keating's plans to downsize Eastern State Hospital and cut almost 300 jobs at the Vinita facility. The Governor wants to privatize a forensic unit for the criminally insane and move other mentally ill patients into community-based treatment. Rep. Don Ross accused the Governor's office of trying to usurp legislative authority by encouraging the state mental health board to take the action without legislative input. The board had scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday night to discuss the proposal, but that meeting was postponed.

  • The Oklahoma Public Employees Association renewed its call for a 4 percent raise for state employees, but also offered legislators a possible alternative for funding the $50 million salary action. OPEA is proposing that the bulk of the funding, some $40 million, come from state employee contributions to their pension system with the remaining $10 million coming from the general revenue fund. OPEA, which represents approximately 10,000 workers, contends Oklahoma state employees are among the lowest paid in the country.

  • 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. 

 

Tuesday, April 27th
  • Senators gave final approval to a bill which would give expanded authority to the State Fire Marshal's division. SB 419 by Sen. Keith Leftwich gives the fire marshall the right to issue citations for code violations. The measure is designed to encourage businesses to be more conscious of fire dangers. The legislation now goes to the Governor.

  • The full Senate approved legislation designed to protect the sanctity of grand jury proceedings. SB 479 by Sen. Brad Henry would prohibit the copying, reproduction and disclosure of content of grand jury transcripts without permission of the court. Violators would be liable to contempt charges.

  • The Senate Government Operations Committee approved the Governor's nomination of Mike Hunter as Secretary of State. Hunter replaced Tom Cole, who left last month to take a position with the Republican National Committee in Washington, DC. Hunter is a former state representative who now serves as one of Governor Keating's top advisers.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved three gubernatorial appointments: Don Kilpatrick's reappointment to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, Troy Higgins reappointment to the Oklahoma Credit Union Board and W. Carlisle Mabrey III to the State Banking Board.

  • Governor Keating appointed James "Jimmie" Harrel of Leedey to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Harrel will fill the seat currently held by Frederick McCann. The action requires Senate confirmation.

  • OU President David Boren and OSU President James Halligan announced their support for a $350 million dollar higher education bond issue. Governor Keating and legislative leaders are currently grappling to agree a funding mechanism for the bond program. One proposal calls for an 11 to 13 cent cigarette tax increase to raise the revenue necessary to retire the bonds.

 

Wednesday, April 28th
  • Published reports indicated that members of the Oklahoma County State Senate delegation oppose the expenditure of any more state funds on a trial for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols. In a letter to Senator Stratton Taylor, members expressed that no additional funds be allocated to a state trial, noting that Nichols is already serving a life term for a federal conviction on bombing charges. The Senators complimented Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy for his work on the Nichols case, but questioned whether it was a wise use of state resources given the state's current budget constraints. Macy has since indicated he can prosecute the case with existing funds and will not ask for additional financial support.

  • House and Senate budget leaders made the formal allocations to the General Conference Committee on Appropriations subcommittees. Lawmakers will have only $52 million in additional money to allocate to state services in the coming weeks, compared to approximately $200 million last year. The bulk of the state budget was allocated when legislators passed the $4.8 billion general appropriations bill earlier this month. The GCCA subcommittee allocations are as follows:

    Education

    $29.5 million

    Natural Resources

    $500,000

    Judiciary/Public Safety

    $10 million

    Health/Human Services

    $12 million

    Transportation/Gen. Gov't

    $700,000


    There is $148 million available for appropriation in the state rainy day fund, but the bulk of that has been committed to the state's ongoing road construction program.

  • Senators passed final legislation cracking down on so-called "identity theft." SB 421 by Sen. Keith Leftwich makes it unlawful for anyone to willfully and fraudulently obtain vital information about a person with the intent to sell it or use it to obtain credit or other services. The measure now goes to the Governor.

  • The Senate approved legislation that could help clear the way for a new veterans center in Lawton. SB 77 by Sen. Sam Helton authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to enter into agreements with public trusts to issue bonds for construction. Last year's bond issue allocated funds for the Lawton project, but that bond package is currently being challenged in the State Supreme Court.

  • The full Senate confirmed the nomination of Secretary of State Mike Hunter (see above). Others appointments receiving Senate confirmation included Jerry Perry of Cleveland to the Grand River Dam Authority, Kenny Monroe of Leflore to the State Election Board, Mary Nichols of Tulsa to the State Board of Education, Stan Clark of Stillwater to the Oklahoma Tourism Commission, Will Jones of Edmond to the Oklahoma Arts Council, Julie Kruger of Tulsa to the Oklahoma Arts Council, Janis Ricks of Edmond to Oklahoma Tourism Commission and W. Carlisle Mabrey III of Okmulgee to the State Banking Board.

  • House members gave final approval to legislation which would encourage more men to get prostate exams. HB 1210 would require health benefit plans to make such screenings available to their customers. Opponents argued that the measure would raise insurance rates, but supporters contended any impact would be negligible. The measure now goes to the Governor.

 

Thursday, April 29th
  • The Senate met briefly on the floor and then adjourned to continue work on budget matters and conference committee reports.

Index