The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, May 3, 1999 - Thursday, May 6, 1999
Legislative action continued to take place in committee and meeting rooms 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.

Three 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, May 3rd
  • The House approved legislation cracking down on drug dealers who practice their trade near schools. HB 1203 increases the penalties for transporting with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance to a person within 2,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school. Current law targets drug traffic within 1,000 feet of schools.

  • The Governor signed 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.

  • Governor Keating gave final approval to a bill which would give expanded authority to the State Fire Marshal's division. SB 419 by Sen. Keith Leftwich would allow the fire Marshall to investigate explosions and code and law violations, in addition to arson. It would also allow the state official to issue citations and makes arrests for felony offenses relevant to the office's duties. The legislation was prompted by an Attorney General's opinion which stated that the fire marshal only had "peace officer" authority while investigating arson cases.

  • The Governor signed 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.

  • Governor Keating 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 men over the age of 50. The legislation also provides coverage to men over 40 if they are considered at risk for the disease. Estimates indicate approximately 248,000 men will qualify for the screenings.

 

Tuesday, May 4th
  • The House and Senate met briefly and then adjourned for the day. Members were busy with constituent issues stemming from a series of deadly tornadoes that rocked Oklahoma Monday night (see "Other News").

 

Wednesday, May 5th
  • The full Senate approved legislation designed to outlaw the sale of so-called "gray market" cigarettes in Oklahoma. Supporters of SB 452 define gray market cigarettes as those which are packaged for sale overseas, but are distributed for sale in the United States without a special surcharge on them. The legislation would prohibit such distribution in Oklahoma. Supporters contend out-of-state wholesalers are distributing gray market cigarettes in Oklahoma, costing the state revenue from the missing surcharge fees. Opponents, however, claim the action will drive small tobacco wholesalers out of the market. The measure was approved on a 32-10 vote.

  • Senators passed SB 573, legislation which would exempt railroad cars used to transport coal to Oklahoma energy producers from sales and use taxes. The bill passed unanimously.

  • The House approved legislation designed to allow closer scrutiny of managed care plans. HB 1826 creates the Oklahoma Managed Care External Review Act, allowing insured people the right to an external review by an independent organization whenever their health benefit plan denied reimbursement or coverage of a medical treatment that is normally a covered benefit. The Health Department receives about 150 complaints about HMO's each year, leading it to estimate that approximately 70 reviews will be requested annually at a total cost of $43,000. 

 

Thursday, May 6th
  • The Senate approved the so-called mental health parity bill. SB 2 would require health insurance and health benefit plans to cover treatable mental illnesses, such as major depression, manic depressive illness, schizophrenia, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and shcizoaffective disorder. Opponents contend the legislation would drive up insurance costs and the premiums of ratepayers, but supporters say other states have implemented similar laws without significant cost increases. The measure passed the Senate on a 36-5 vote. It now goes to the House where passage is also expected. Governor Keating has vetoed similar legislation two years in a row.

  • The Senate adjourned floor action for the weekend, but continued work on budget matters and conference committee reports.

 

Other News
  • At least 41 people were killed when a series of tornadoes swept across Oklahoma Monday evening. Hardest hit was the Oklahoma City area, especially the communities of Moore, Del City and Midwest City. At least 1,500 homes were damaged or destroyed. Twisters also touched down in Bridge Creek, Stroud, Tulsa, Dover, Chickasha, Anadarko, Mulhall and half-a-dozen other communities.

  • President Clinton declared 11 Oklahoma counties federal disaster areas and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. The counties included Caddo, Grady, Cleveland, McClain, Oklahoma, Kingfisher, Pottawatomie, Lincoln, Logan, Creek and Tulsa. Federal funds will be provided to local governments to help cover 75 percent of the cost of debris removal and other disaster services. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was on the scene to coordinate federal aid such as grants for temporary housing, minor home repairs and other related expenses. The President is expected to visit Oklahoma on Saturday to survey the damage.

  • Assessments by the State Department of Education indicate a number of schools were damaged in Monday's storms. The hardest hit were Kelly Elementary and Westmoore High School in Moore; Sooner Rose, Traub and Parkview Elementary Schools in Midwest/Del City; and Mulhall-Orlando Elementary School in Mulhall. Assessments are continuing in Mustang, Crutcho, Crescent and Stroud.

  • Former State Treasurer Claudette Henry died after a long illness. She was 52. During her one term, the Oklahoma City Republican was caught up in a scandal involving improper trading fees by employees in her office. Henry was never charged in the case, but she was defeated in her re-election bid in 1994.

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