The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, May 10, 1999 - Thursday, May 13, 1999
Legislative action continued to take place in committee and meeting rooms as lawmakers tried to put the finishing touches on both the state budget and substantive legislation. Agency heads have been appearing before appropriations subcommittees, trying to justify their requests for additional funds.

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

 

Monday, May 10th
  • The Senate approved a cost-of-living adjustment for retired teachers. HB 1005 by Sen. Mike Morgan would authorize a 5.4 percent increase in benefits beginning July 1st. Funding for the increase will come out of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System. Morgan said lawmakers would like to do more for retired teachers, but the condition of OTRS would not allow it. The legislation was approved 40-6 and now goes to the House for consideration.

  • A bill designed to prohibit price gouging during tornado relief efforts was returned to conference committee for some additional fine-tuning. SB 69 by Sen. Ted Fisher will set guidelines for certain disaster-related retail services in an effort to prevent victims from being overcharged for construction supplies and repairs related to storm damage.

  • The Senate approved legislation cracking down on drug dealers who practice their trade near schools. HB 1203 by Sen. Herb Rozell 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 State Senate Education Committee approved the State Regents for Higher Education appointment of Jimmie Harrel of Leedy. Although the vote was unanimous on the nomination, Sen. Maxine Horner did point out that with Harrel's appointment, the State Regents would be composed entirely of white males. Governor Keating named Harrel to replace regent Frederick McCann, the only African-American on the State Regents board.

  • Legislation which would tap the Internet for student tutoring resources was approved by the House. HB 1647 would provide grants for the development of Internet homework tutoring chatrooms, creating a pilot program for on-line tutoring as funding became available. Under the legislation, students who were not at school could receive instructional assistance from teachers by contacting them through the Internet. Rep. Abe Deutschendorf estimated it would cost approximately $25,000 to create an on-line chatroom in a public school.

 

Tuesday, May 11th
  • The full Senate and House approved legislation designed to prevent unscrupulous contractors and retailers from taking advantage of tornado victims. SB 69 by Sen. Ted Fisher outlaws price gouging on goods and services related to disaster recovery. Among other things, it prohibits price increases of 10 percent or more on such goods and services for 30 days after the issuance of a declaration of disaster. The measure does make an exception if the price increase is attributable to factors unrelated to the emergency and does not include any increased profit for the seller. The time limit on price increases is extended to 180 days for home construction and remodeling materials, and for renting and leasing dwelling units and storage space. Violators face up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine, in addition to restitution and other penalties. The proposal applies to all counties included in the disaster declaration and residents in adjacent counties.

  • The full Senate approved a bill designed to pave the way for a multi-million dollar NASA project at the old Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat. SB 720 by Sen. Gilmer Capps would establish the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. Supporters are hoping the feds will designate the Burns Flat base as a landing site for the new space shuttle and are trying to get the state in a position to compete for such a facility. A companion bill, SB 719, would provide income tax credit for investments made in projects related to aviation and aerospace. It remains in conference committee.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to protect counties from liabilities associated with land acquisitions. SB 29 by Sen. Dave Herbert would prevent counties from being held liable for environmental problems which existed on property prior to their purchase or ownership of it.

  • The Senate approved legislation designed to protect the privacy rights of domestic violence and sexual assault victims. SB 457 by Sen. Jim Dunlap would prohibit a court from ordering disclosure of the location of any person seeking or receiving services from a domestic violence or sexual assault program.

  • Oklahoma may soon have a freestanding boxing commission if the Senate gets its way. Senators approved SB 600 by Sen. Brooks Douglass which would establish the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission, separating it from its current home in the State Department of Labor. Supporters contend the labor department has mismanaged regulation of the sports industry, driving boxing promotions out of Oklahoma.

  • The full Senate passed legislation designed to encourage teens to take drivers education and become safer motorists. SB 413 by Sen. Keith Leftwich, the so-called "Graduated Drivers License" bill, would require restricted drivers licenses for 16 year olds who have not completed a drivers education course. The restricted license would allow teens to drive only during daylight hours , except when driving to or from work, school, school activities or church, or if a parent or guardian was accompanying them. The restrictions would only apply to school districts which offer drivers education courses. Sen. Leftwich said his legislation is designed to limit "joyriding" by inexperienced drivers who are at higher risk of an auto accident because of their failure to take drivers ed. Opponents, however, argued the bill would create an enforcement nightmare for law officers. It passed on a 26-16 vote.

  • The Senate approved Governor Keating's appointment of Jimmie Harrel to the Board of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (see above).

  • The House approved the "Oklahoma Agriculture Enhancement and Diversification Act," legislation designed to encourage innovation and experimentation in the production and marketing of agricultural goods. Under the provisions of HB 1197, grants and loans would be allocated to farmers, ranchers and others who provide assistance to projects dealing with new or expanded uses for agriculture products. Project money would come from the State Department of Agriculture through gifts, grants, appropriations and other sources.

 

Wednesday, May 12th
  • The full Senate and House approved legislation which will close a loophole in the state's current farm tag law. HB 1409 by Sen. Bruce Price would prohibit the use of the special $30 tags on sport-utility vehicles or vans. The discounted tags are supposed to be used for farm vehicles like pick-up trucks, but because SUVs and vans are built on a truck frame, they technically qualify for the special farm tag rate. Sen. Price said an estimated 8,000 Oklahomans have obtained a farm tag even though their vehicle is not used for farm work.

  • Senators shot down a proposal which, according to supporters, would have stopped outsiders from harassing students on state college campuses. SB 517 by Sen. Jim Maddox would have authorized the head of such a public institution to eject from campus anyone who loiters and interferes with daily business. Opponents argued the legislation could be abused, allowing people to be kicked off campus simply because someone disagreed with their opinion. Senators declined to adopt the conference committee report, effectively killing the bill for the session.

  • The full Senate confirmed the reappointment of Tax Commissioner Don Kilpatrick of Oklahoma City. The former State Senator was nominated to another six-year term by Governor Keating.

  • The House approved SB 720, legislation which would allow Oklahoma to compete to be a NASA "space port" site (see above).

  • House members approved legislation designed to crack down on annoying telemarketers. HB 1715 would prevent telemarketers from blocking caller ID devices, a technique they currently employ to persuade unsuspecting people to answer the phone rather than ignoring the call.

  • House members approved the "Graduated Drivers License Bill," SB 413 by Sen. Keith Leftwich (see above).

 

Thursday, May 13th
  • Legislation slashing car tag fees was approved by the full House. HB 1734 by Sen. Jim Maddox would base annual tag fees on a flat rate, instead of the current percentage based on the value of the vehicle. Under the legislation, tag fees would be $85 for the first five years of registration, $45 for the next five and $15 for all years after that. In order to make the bill revenue neutral, the legislation raises the vehicle excise tax from 3.25 percent to 4.5 percent. Instead of being based on the sticker price of the vehicle as is the current practice, the tax would be applied to the sale price minus any vehicle trade-in value.

  • Despite vetoing similar legislation two times before, Governor Keating signed 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 schizoaffective disorder. Opponents contend the legislation will drive up insurance costs and the premiums of ratepayers, but supporters say other states have implemented similar laws without significant cost increases. Under the terms of SB 2, if rates do rise significantly over the next three years, the law will phase out.

  • Governor Keating signed SB 69, legislation outlawing price gouging in tornado-damaged areas of Oklahoma (see above).

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

 

Other News

 

  • Governor Keating appointed former State Senator Bill Gustafson of El Reno to the Oklahoma Historical Society Board of Directors. Gustafson served in the Senate from 1991 to '98, holding the position of minority leader during his last two years in office.

  • State revenue collections were up in the month of April, 3.3 percent higher than the previous year and 1.1 percent above the estimate. Collections for the entire fiscal year, however, are running slightly behind projections.

  • Four Senators who are drafting distribution plans for Oklahoma's share of the national tobacco settlement are adding another area to their list: child abuse.

    Just two weeks ago, Senators
    Angela Monson, Ben Brown, Ben Robinson and Bernest Cain unveiled a proposal which would deposit half of the state's tobacco settlement in an interest-earning trust fund and distribute the other half to programs ranging from before and after school programs to expanded health care opportunities for the elderly, the disabled and the uninsured.

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