The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 7th to Thursday, February 10, 2000

Monday, February 7th

The Oklahoma Legislature formally convened its 2000 session, gathering in a joint Senate-House meeting to receive the annual state of the state address. Governor Keating emphasized the goals he has first spelled out last year, adding a few additional budget initiatives. The Governor's goals include:

  • Reach the national average in per capita personal income by the year 2025;
  • Exceed the national average in ACT scores by the year 2005;
  • One out of three Oklahomans will have a college degree by the year 2010;
  • Cut the divorce rate by one-third by the year 2010;
  • Reduce the out-of-wedlock birth rate by one-third by 2010;
  • Cut illegal drug use in half by the year 2010.

    To reach the proposed goals, Governor Keating offered a five-point plan, including:

    1. A $500 million bond issue for higher education, common education school technology and other capital improvement projects;
    2. Workers compensation reform, changing to an administrative rather than judicial system;
    3. Assistance for rural Oklahoma, namely using $42 million in tobacco funds to supplement Medicaid. The payments are designed to help ailing rural hospitals;
    4. Tax cuts, including a one-quarter percent cut in the state income tax and reductions in car tag fees and the estate tax;
    5. Education reform, including a merit teacher pay program and stronger academic requirements.

      In addition, Governor Keating advocated a covenant marriage bill, drug testing in schools and right to work.

The Governor also attacked school administrative costs, claiming an additional $52 million could be raised for teacher pay if districts cut their administrative levels to the national average. Although such reductions could prompt forced consolidation in many rural school districts, Gov. Keating said he was not pushing consolidation

  • Legislative leaders gave the Governor mixed reviews on his address. Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor lauded the Governor's generally upbeat tone, noting that it was a departure from the more partisan comments he has made in recent days. Senator Taylor did question the Governor's support of a teacher pay program, pointing out that the $3,000 pay raise advocated by legislative leaders is 70 percent larger than that proposed by Gov. Keating. House Speaker Loyd Benson described the Governor's annual address as "more negative" than usual, particularly his criticism of Oklahoma. He said he liked the Governor's support of rural Oklahoma, but questioned why it took so long for him to realize the crisis many rural communities are facing. Both legislative leaders questioned whether Gov. Keating would be able to keep all the spending promises he has made at the same he has proposed to cut taxes.

Tuesday, February 8

  • The full Senate approved a resolution honoring former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert. Known as the "Little Giant," Albert died Friday at the age of 91.

  • In testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee, State Transportation Secretary Neal McCaleb said that the state's one-billion dollar highway construction program was moving ahead of schedule, but needed additional funding. McCaleb is currently seeking another $300 million to fund phase two of the road building initiative. Under questioning from committee chairman, Sen. Gene Stipe, McCaleb denied any knowledge of transportation commissioners soliciting funds and candidates to run against incumbent legislators. Stipe also questioned the transportation czar about the possible privatization of highway maintenance, telling McCaleb he wanted his committee kept informed of any such efforts.

  • The Senate Sunset Committee approved a number of technical bills, extending the life of various "sunset" boards and commissions. Receiving extensions were the Board of Examiners for Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence, the Oklahoma State Board of Examiners for Nursing Home Administrators, the Oklahoma Peanut Commission, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, the State Use Committee, the State Capitol Preservation Commission, the Sheep and Wool Commission and the Board of Examiners in Optometry.

  • The House Common Education Subcommittee approved legislation that place a total ban on smoking in Oklahoma public schools. HB 2529 by Carolyn Coleman would outlaw the use of tobacco on school property between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Moore Republican said the state needed to stress the importance of abstaining from smoking, given the costs of smoking-related illnesses.

  • A bill designed to muzzle Gov. Keating's rhetoric about public schools was withdrawn from the House Common Education Subcommittee. HB 1907 by Rep. Mike Mass would have prevented any state official from using data gathered as part of the Oklahoma Educational Indicators Program to be used to embarrass or denigrate a school district. Mass said he decided to withdraw his bill after realizing that "neither Cathy (Keating), nor any legislation, nor the angels in heaven" can control the Governor's rhetoric.

  • The House Common Education Subcommittee approved one of many measures designed to address concerns in last year's education reform bill, HB 1759. HB 2622 by Rep. Jari Askins would grant schools greater flexibility in meeting new curriculum requirements, among other things. The measure would also eliminate the so-called dual diploma mandated by HB 1759. The House subcommittee also approved HB 2544 by Rep. Joan Greenwood. That legislation would declare that testing a student for suicidal tendencies is a form of psychological testing and should require parental notification.

  • Rep. Bill Settle, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, accused Gov. Keating of failing to meet his constitutional duty to present a balanced budget to the Oklahoma Legislature. The Muskogee Democrat noted that the Governor recommended $453 million in new spending when the State Equalization Board had only certified $314 million in new funds for appropriation.

Wednesday, February 9th

  • The Senate met briefly before adjourning so lawmakers could attend the McAlester funeral of former U.S. House Speaker Carl Albert. During their session, Senators approved SCR 64, a resolution clarifying the intent of a bill passed last legislative session. SB 680 requires the State Insurance Fund to provide a rebate to its customers and provides funding to bail out the Special Indemnity Fund for injured workers.

  • The full House approved a $3,000 across the board pay raise for Oklahoma teachers, but not before adding a few amendments. HB 2653 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and House Speaker Loyd Benson passed on a 92-2 vote. House members added an amendment by Rep. Charles Gray that would create a program to aid poor elderly people with the purchase of prescription drugs. Another amendment, authored by Rep. Mike Mass, added a $2,500 state employee pay raise to the bill. The legislation now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Thursday, February 10th

  • The Senate met briefly before adjourning for the weekend. Senate committees continued to meet to discuss pending legislation. Lawmakers are facing a February 24th deadline to pass bills out of committee in their house of origin.

Other News

  • Several school superintendents who were criticized by Gov. Keating in his state of the state address lashed back at the state chief executive, accusing him of exaggerating school administration levels to make a political point. In his address, Keating singled out the Cushing, Edmond, Sweetwater and Dahlonegah school districts for what he claimed were overly high levels of administration. Cushing superintendent Billy Childress, however, claimed the Governor was just "shooting from the hip" and had his numbers wrong. He added that Gov. Keating's comments were "arrogant, pompous and irresponsible."