The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, May 17, 1999 - Thursday, May 21, 1999
Lawmakers worked long hours in an attempt to finish remaining business before the required session adjournment on May 28th. Legislative action moved back and forth from the House and Senate floors to committee meeting rooms as lawmakers tried to put the finishing touches on both the state budget and substantive legislation.

One week remains 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. The legislative session must adjourn by no later than 5pm, Friday, May 28th.

 

Monday, May 17th
  • Senator approved legislation which would offer relief to victims who lost their vehicle in the May 3rd tornado. SB 1 by Sen. Lewis Long would give victims a credit for tag and tax on the destroyed vehicle to apply toward the cost of vehicle excise taxes and tag fees on a new vehicle.

  • The full Senate approved legislation which would allow more students to qualify for an existing college aid program. SB 102 by Sen. Maxine Horner would expand eligibility for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access program, changing an income requirement from $24,000 per family unit to $32,000 per parent.

  • A measure designed to improve school bus safety and standardize law enforcement vehicle lights was approved by Senators. SB 84 by Sen. Dave Herbert would require school buses to turn on their headlights while in use and require certain law enforcement vehicles to have red, blue or combination of red and blue flashing lights.

  • Governor Keating signed SB 452 by Sen. Ted Fisher, the so-called "gray market" cigarette bill. Gray market cigarettes are defined 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.

  • The Governor signed the "Graduated Drivers' License" bill, SB 413 by Sen. Keith Leftwich. The legislation 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.

  • Governor Keating 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.

  • The Governor signed SB 572 by Sen. Ben Robinson. The legislation would provide for sales and use tax exemptions for the rail transportation of coal to coal-fired plants in Oklahoma which generate electric power.

  • Also approved by the Governor was SB 720 by Sen. Gilmer Capps. The bill is designed to pave the way for a multi-million dollar NASA project at the old Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat. It establishes 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.

  • An unlikely supporter announced her support for legislation which would take the Oklahoma Boxing Commission from the authority of the State Department of Labor. Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau announced her support for SB 600 by Sen. Brooks Douglass, saying she felt the State Department of Health was a more appropriate agency to handle regulatory duties. Reneau has been criticized for bungling boxing regulations and driving promotions out of the state. The original version of SB 600 would have created a freestanding boxing commission, but a compromise conference committee measure would simply transfer the responsibilities to the health department.

  • Governor Keating announced he would support a property tax increase to help fund school technology, but only if some items of his own legislative agenda were enacted first. The Governor said he wanted school choice, charter schools and a stronger school curriculum before he would support a proposal to ask voters whether local school districts could considered increase millage levies. Because of opposition from farm groups, Governor Keating said he would exempt agriculture from any property tax increase.

 

Tuesday, May 18th
  • The Senate gave final approval to legislation cutting the cost of Oklahoma vehicle tags. 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 reduce the revenue impact, 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. According to estimates by the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the legislation will result in a $53 million tax and fee cut by the year 2009. Governor Keating has indicated he plans to veto the legislation.

  • The Senate and House approved legislation designed to encourage couples to seek pre-marital counseling before taking their wedding vows. HB 1180 by Sen. Glenn Coffee would reduce the cost of a marriage license from $25 to $5 for couples who receive counseling. The measure now goes to the Governor.

  • The full Senate passed a number of budget bills, including appropriations for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Department of Central Services, the Ethics Commission, the State Election Board and the Commission on Children and Youth.

  • Legislation designed to crack down on repeat drunk driving offenders was approved by the Senate. HB 1088 by Sen. Grover Campbell would require certain multiple DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle. That mechanism can determine whether a motorists is intoxicated and prevent a vehicle from starting.

  • The House approved SB 600 by Sen. Brooks Douglass, legislation which would transfer the state boxing commission from the State Department of Labor to the State Department of Health (see above).

  • The House gave final approval to SB 84 by Sen. Dave Herbert, legislation mandating certain lights on emergency vehicles (see above). The bill now goes to the Governor.

  • The House approved SB 719 by Sen. Gilmer Capps. The bill is one of several pieces of legislation designed to clear the way for a NASA "space port" at the old Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base in Burns Flat. SB 719 would allow income tax credits for investments in projects that would encourage the development of the commercial space industry in Oklahoma.

  • House members defeated the so-called "inattentive driving" bill. HB 1286 would have allowed motorists to be fined for failing to give proper attention to their driving. Supporters claimed the bill would have allowed law enforcement officers to punish careless drivers who cause accidents, but opponents contended current statutes already covered such offenses and any new laws would simply open the door for overzealous enforcement by police officers.

  • Oklahoma public schools could receive a budget increase of $110 million this year under an omnibus education funding program unveiled by the leader of the Oklahoma State Senate today. The plan by Senator Stratton Taylor would leverage existing state funds, money from the tobacco settlement and federal funds.

    • Use federal highway funding to pay off state road construction bonds, freeing up additional state revenue for education. For example, $55 million in state funds currently earmarked for the road program could be redirected to the public schools next fiscal year. Other states such as Arkansas and New Mexico have taken similar actions, allowing them to fund bond projects with federal money and reserve state revenue for other purposes;

    • Allocate an annual percentage of the state tobacco settlement to education. Approximately 45% of the state's annual share would be earmarked for common education, amounting to $30 million next fiscal year alone. Several Senators made a similar proposal three weeks ago in announcing their plan to distribute tobacco money among education, children's, tobacco prevention and public health programs;

    • Devote the bulk of available new money to common education. Of the $29 million in new money already set aside for appropriation to the three branches of education next fiscal year, allocate $25 million to the common schools.

      Under the program, the additional funding could be used for several school initiatives, such as before and after school programs, teacher pay and class size reductions. The share of tobacco money not appropriated to the common schools -approximately 55 percent of the annual take- would be available for use on children's initiatives, public health, smoking cessation and other programs, including a higher education bond issue.

  • The Senate General Government Committee rejected the nomination of Tony Caldwell to the State Corrections Board. Governor Keating had appointed the former Oklahoma City legislator to serve a second term on the prison panel, but committee members defeated the nomination.

 

Wednesday, May 19th
  • Injured workers and business owners will be the main beneficiaries of legislation approved by the State Senate. HB 1771 by Senator Brad Henry will pump much-needed money into the Special Indemnity Fund, the account used to compensate workers for on-the-job injury awards, in addition to returning a $120 million premium rebate to State Insurance Fund customers. Under the provisions of HB 1771, the State Insurance Fund will rebate surplus dollars to its customers in the form of an "extraordinary dividend," totaling approximately $120 million. Because the State of Oklahoma is one of the insurance fund's largest customers, it will receive a rebate of approximately $30 million. That funding, in turn, will be deposited into the Special Indemnity Fund to pay off a backlog of court awards for injury claims for approximately 6,000 injured workers. In an effort to prevent any future backlog of claims, the legislation also eliminates permanent partial disability claims from future Special Indemnity Fund awards. Because of that change, ample money will accrue in the account to cover other injury claims.

  • The Senate approved legislation boosting the education budget by $29 million. Elementary and secondary education would receive $25 million, higher education $1.6 million and vocational-technical education $1.9 million.

  • The Senate approved SB 50 by Sen. Sam Helton requiring the Oklahoma Tax Commission to design license plates for the Oklahoma Military Department.

  • Senator approved legislation designed to make it easier to ticket people who park illegally in handicapped spaces. SB 246 by Sen. Ben Brown modifies the expiration dates and fines for handicapped placards and authorizes civilian handicapped parking violation units.

  • The Senate passed legislation expanding Oklahoma's bogus check laws and legalizing charity raffles. SB 473 by Sen. Frank Shurden would add child support payments, payroll checks and deposits for purchases of motor vehicles and services to the bogus check law. It would also allow non-profit organizations to conduct raffles for charity. Such raffles are technically illegal under current law.

  • Senators approved HB 1284 by Sen. Sam Helton. The legislation requires school districts to hire only licensed or certified teachers for alternative education programs.

 

Thursday, May 20th
  • Governor Keating vetoed HB 1734, the car tag reduction bill. In his veto message, the Governor labeled the legislation a tax increase and questioned whether it was constitutional under State Question 640. Numbers from the Oklahoma Tax Commission, however, indicate the measure is actually a fee and excise decrease.

  • The Senate approved legislation designed to promote the teaching of cultural diversity in the public schools. SB 758 by Sen. Maxine Horner requires the adoption of a social studies curriculum that reflects racial, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of the USA. The bill also requires that US history and Oklahoma history components shall include but not be limited to African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans.

  • Senators passed a number of budget bills, including appropriations for historical preservation agencies, the Oklahoma Historical Society, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, economic development service agencies and law enforcement agencies.

  • The Senate approved legislation, clearing the way for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to purchase a new building. Under SB 270 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson, the building at 6600 N. Harvey will serve as the OSBI headquarters.

  • The House approved legislation authorizing the gradual downsizing of Eastern State Hospital in Vinita. Governor Keating had called for the cutting $1.4 million from the mental health facility, instituting immediate layoffs and privatizing forensic services there, but SB 149 is a compromise measure that would slow the downsizing process and keep the forensic services a state-run operation. Clients would slowly be transitioned into community mental health centers.

  • The Senate approved legislation revising guidelines for post-retirement earnings for public school teachers. SB 504 by Sen. Brad Henry increases the dollar cap on post-retirement earning from $15,000 to $25,000. It also requires teachers to be retired for three years before they would be eligible to come back to work for $25,000.

 

Friday, May 21st
  • The Senate continued to work long hours in an attempt to tie up remaining loose ends on legislation and budget matters. Lawmakers will return on Monday for the final week of the legislative session.



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