The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 14th to Thursday, February 17, 2000

The majority of action took place in House and Senate committees as lawmakers rushed to beat a February 24th deadline for reporting bills out of committee.

Monday, February 14th

  • The full Senate approved legislation authorizing a $3,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise. HB 2653 would deliver the salary increase to all certified education personnel including teachers, principals, supervisors, counselors, librarians and school nurses. As amended by the House, the legislation also contains a $2,500 pay raise for state employees and additional funding for a prescription drug program for the elderly, but the amendments are expected to be removed in conference committee. Senator Frank Shurden argued that the state employee pay amendment should remain in the legislation, noting that state worker salaries rank 50th in the country. Others pushed for a "clean" bill that contained only a teacher pay raise, with the understanding that state employee pay would be addressed in another bill later in the session. A final vote on the teacher pay raise bill is expected Wednesday.

  • The Senate Education Committee approved a number of bills in on its agenda. SB 849 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would allow any person with a child development associate credential and at least five years of experience in related career experience to be certified in early childhood education for state employment purposes. The panel also approved SB 1157 by Senator Brad Henry, legislation that would allow schools to place interest income in the fund from which the investment was made, the general fund, the building fund or the sinking fund. Also given a do-pass recommendation was SB 1313 by Sen. Mike Johnson. The bill deletes the dress code provisions approved in last year's education reform act. The committee also approved a bill designed to give school districts more flexibility in building construction. SB 1532 by Sen. Keith Leftwich was prompted by the failure of a bond issue in the Oklahoma City school district.

  • The Senate Labor Committee approved legislation that would create a new commission to regulate various trades. SB 1234 by Sen. Mark Snyder would establish the Construction Industries Commission to regulate the plumbing, electrical, mechanical and alarm industry, building and construction inspectors and workers who install sprinkler systems. Snyder said the bill would have no fiscal impact because the commission would be supported by licensing fees. The panel passed SB 838 by Sen. Paul Muegge, legislation that would authorize the provision of animal chiropractic diagnosis and treatment. Among other things, the bill would establish standards and training for such chiropractic physicians and require them to carry at least $1 million of additional malpractice insurance.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary approved SB 846 by Sen. Keith Leftwich, a measure strengthening qualifications for the State Fire Marshall and some of his employees. Also approved was SB 1053 by Sen. Keith Leftwich. The bill would increase penalties for littering, raising the maximum community service hours from 20 to 100. SB 1455 by Sen. Frank Shurden would also increase the community service hours for littering, in addition to boosting fines from $200 to $5,000.

Tuesday, February 15

  • The full Senate approved legislation designed to keep some high-paying jobs in Oklahoma. SB 1019 would provide new ad valorem and sales tax exemptions to the General Motors Plant in Oklahoma City if it converts to truck manufacturing as planned. The conversion is expected to cost GM anywhere from $500 million to $800 million. According to Senator Dave Herbert, who handled the legislation on the Senate floor, the legislation will amount to a $42 million tax break over five years.

  • A conference committee reported out a final version of HB 2653, the teacher pay raise bill. The joint panel removed House amendments from the legislation, making it a "clean" $3,000 teacher pay raise.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved several pieces of legislation designed to increase local funding for the public schools. SJR 40 and SB 1386 by Sen. Brad Henry would raise the bonded indebtedness cap for school districts from the current 10 percent level to 15 percent. The proposal would also require approval in a statewide vote. SJR 39 and SB 1387 by Sen. Henry would do away with the current 60 percent super majority required for local school bond issues, switching to a 50 percent simple majority. If it clears the Legislature, the proposal must also be approved in a statewide vote.

  • Legislation that would allow patients to sue HMO's for failure to exercise "ordinary care" was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 1206 by Sen. Brad Henry would hold HMO's liable for any damages that may result from their decision to deny care to members. Senator Henry acknowledged that managed care providers were lobbying heavily against his bill, but said he was simply trying to hold them accountable for their actions.

  • The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee approved legislation designed to encourage more parents and children to use seatbelts. SB 891 by Sen. Ben Brown would require all children from ages 4 to 12 to buckle up. The panel also passed SB 885 by Sen. Jerry Smith, legislation designed to make it easier to spot school buses in adverse weather conditions. The measure would require buses to have flashing white or amber warning lights displayed when weather conditions caused reduced visibility.

  • Another effort to allow county home rule was defeated, this time in the House County and Municipal Government Committee. HB 2591 by Rep. John Bryant would have called for a statewide vote on a statute creating the County Government Reform Act. The legislation was defeated on a committee voice vote.

  • The House Science and Technology Committee approved legislation designed to crack down on sexual predators who use the Internet. HB 2349 by Rep. Scott Adkins would prohibit the use of an electronic device or computer to make lewd proposals to a child.

Wednesday, February 16

  • The House and Senate gave final approval to a $3,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers. HB 2653 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Loyd Benson will provide the salary increase to approximately 46,000 public school teachers and certified personnel such as principals, counselors, librarians and school nurses, 2,000 vo-tech teachers and teachers at the state schools for the blind and the deaf. The measure will cost an estimated $165 million annually. Governor Keating has indicated he will sign the Legislature's pay raise bill, even though he has been advocating a $2,000 merit pay program for teachers.

  • The full Senate approved a supplemental appropriation of $9.3 million to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and a $1.2 million supplemental appropriation to the State Auditor's and Inspector's Office. The OHCA funds will go to the medically needy program, Medicaid coverage for children and pharmaceutical costs. The funding for the State Auditor will be used to upgrade the office's computer system to federal standards.

  • The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved two measures designed to cut the costs of car tags in Oklahoma. HB 2663 by Rep. Ron Kirby is almost identical to a bill passed by the Legislature last year and vetoed by the Governor. It would reduce tags to a flat annual fee and raise excise taxes on car sales to offset the lost revenue. The panel also approved HB 2702 by Rep. Todd Hiett, also a carbon copy of last year's vetoed bill, except that it doesn't alter excise tax rates. Because there is no offset mechanism as in the Kirby bill, the Hiett legislation would ultimately cost the state $130 million in revenue each year.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety failed to pass legislation that would have reduced the legal blood alcohol content on drunk driving. SB 1497 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson would have lowered the DUI threshold from .10 to .08, but the legislation received a deadlocked vote of 3-3 and failed to clear committee. The panel did approve a bill that would create a new category for DUI offenses. SB 1443 by Sen. Ben Brown would charge anyone with a blood alcohol content of .15 or more with an "extreme" DUI. Offenders would face stiffer punishment than a regular DUI offender and would have to undergo substance abuse treatment. Committee members also approved SB 992 by Sen. Mike Morgan. That legislation would provide a salary increase for Department of Public Safety employees. Members also gave a do-pass recommendation to SB 1444 by Sen. Maxine Horner. The bill would prohibit so-called racial profiling in law enforcement traffic stops.

Thursday, February 17

  • 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

  • Senator Penny Williams is recovering from injuries suffered in a fire at her Tulsa home. The Tulsa legislator suffered broken ribs and a broken heel when she jumped from a second floor window to escape the blaze. Officials in the Tulsa Fire Marshal's office are attributing the fire to faulty wiring in a garage apartment furnace.

  • State revenue collections were up in the month of January, according to the Office of State Finance. Collections were $9 million or 2 percent more than the same period last year and $26 million or 5.8 percent higher than the estimate. Collections for the first seven months of the fiscal year are approximately 5 percent higher than the previous year and 2.4 percent above the estimate.

  • Senator Jeff Rabon urged Governor Keating to test his ideas for cutting school administration in a Tulsa pilot project. The Governor has suggested that schools consider sharing superintendents and transportation services to cut costs. In a letter to Gov. Keating, Sen. Rabon indicated that the Tulsa and Tulsa Union Public Schools would be a good pilot project for several reasons: The districts are literally next door to each other in the same city; they have two of the largest budgets in the state, increasing the opportunity for significant cost savings; and Tulsa recently announced its school superintendent was leaving, making it a perfect time to employ a shared superintendent system.

Teacher Pay Raise Facts

HB 2653 - Teacher Pay Bill

  • Provides a $3,000 across the board pay raise for teachers. This is a permanent raise, NOT a one-time;

  • All certified personnel are eligible for the raise, including teachers, principals, supervisors, administrators, counselors, librarians and registered nurses (superintendents not included);

  • Receiving pay raises are approximately 46,000 public school teachers and personnel, approximately 2,000 teachers at state vocational-technical schools, and instructors at the state schools for the blind and deaf;

  • The program will cost approximately $165 million and will be funded by growth revenue produced by the state's growing economy. The total includes funds for FICA and teacher retirement costs;

Evidence Supporting a Teacher Pay Raise:

  • Oklahoma ranks 48th in teacher pay, according to the most recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics;

  • Recent media reports indicate Oklahoma's low salaries have prompted many teachers to leave for more lucrative jobs in Texas, Kansas and other surrounding states. According to state education officials, almost 900 educators have left their Oklahoma teaching positions during the last six months, exacerbating an already existing teacher shortage.

  • The Texas Legislature and Gov. George Bush approved a $3,000 teacher pay hike last year, increasing the salary disparity between Oklahoma and the Lone Star State. On average, a veteran teacher in Texas makes $8,000 more than his or her counterpart in Oklahoma.

  • Because of Oklahoma's reputation for producing good teachers, out-of-state recruiters target Oklahoma, raiding schools with offers of better salaries and signing bonuses.