Monday, February 21 to Thursday,
February 24, 2000
The majority of action took
place in House and Senate committees as lawmakers rushed to beat the
February 24th deadline for reporting bills out of committee. The next
deadline is March 16th when all bills must be reported out of their
house of origin.
Monday, February 21
The Senate Appropriations
Subcommittee on Education approved legislation refining HB 1759,
the education reform act approved by last year's Legislature. SB
788 by Sen. Ted Fisher would amend the dual diploma portion of law,
allowing students to be eligible for special scholarships upon receiving
a standard diploma. Under HB 1759, students had to seek a more rigorous
"diploma of honor" to qualify for a special scholarship
program. The panel also approved SB 1545 by Sen. Jim Williamson,
legislation that creates the Reading Accountability Act. Under the
goal of the bill, 90 percent or more of all public school third
graders will read at or above their grade level by the year 2006.
Among other things, the legislation will require classroom assessments
in kindergarten, first and second grades to evaluate the reading
of students and recommend remediation if necessary. Committee members
defeated SB 1499 by Sen. Charles Ford, the so-called LearnPower
2000 Act. The measure contained several proposals suggested by Governor
The Senate Education
Committee also approved several pieces of legislation that would
revise and refine portions of HB 1759. SB 1020 by Sen. Keith Leftwich
would expand the courses that could count toward high school graduation,
allowing economics to be considered as a mathematics elective. SB
1047 by Sen. Frank Shurden would delete the new core curriculum
requirements mandated in the education reform act and stipulate
that Oklahoma history must be among the required courses for students.
SB 1067 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would also modify curriculum requires
and delete provisions related to the Open Transfer Act provision
of last year's legislation. SB 1139 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield
would do away with the so-called diploma of honor in HB 1759 and
amend curriculum standards to include technology and arts requirements.
SB 1319 by Sen. Mike Johnson would also address the diploma question,
requiring school boards to issue a standard diploma to all students
who complete the course requirements for a diploma of honor, but
do not maintain the necessary grade point average.
to preserve the viability of Oklahoma's agriculture industry through
land conservation received a do-pass recommendation from the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Regulatory
Services. SB 1253 by Sen. Paul Muegge would create the Oklahoma
Heritage Trust Commission to approve the acquisition of land in
an effort to preserve Oklahoma's rural landscapes.
The Senate General Government
Committee approved legislation designed to give county government
more flexibility in dealing with nuisance problems. SB 876 by Sen.
Jim Maddox would authorize counties to determine what constitutes
a nuisance and give them the power to abate it after notifying and
hearing from the owner.
The Senate Business
and Labor Committee defeated a measure that would have called a
statewide vote on so-called "right to work." SJR 35 by
Sen. Mark Snyder would have amended the State Constitution to include
the following language: "No person shall be required to be
a member or become a member of a labor union or to pay any dues,
fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor
union, in order to be hire or remained employed by any employer."
The proposed constitutional amendment was defeated on a 5-7 vote.
Committee chairman Senator Lewis Long suggested that Governor Keating
and other right to work supporters consider an initiative petition
on the issue, but the Governor claimed it was "too late"
to launch one this year.
The House Criminal Justice
Committee defeated legislation that would have limited the sale
of tobacco products to "tobacco only" stores by the year
2025. Under HB 2097 by Rep. Ray Vaughn, the tobacco stores would
have been modeled after liquor stores, but opponents argued that
such a designation would devastate the convenience store industry.
The committee approved legislation that would switch the legal DUI
limit from a blood alcohol content of .10 to .08. HB 1676 by Rep.
Wallace Collins would also establish the crime of "aggravated"
DUI for those who register .15 or more.
The House Public Safety
Committee also approved legislation that would make it easier to
charge motorists with DUI. HB 2164 by Rep. Larry Ferguson would
change the legal DUI limit from .10 to .08. Ferguson indicated the
bill had the support of the American Automobile Association.
The full House approved
amended legislation that would establish a sales tax holiday in
Oklahoma. HB 1870 by Rep. Randall Erwin would expand the sales tax
exemption for children's homes, but Rep. John Sullivan amended the
bill to include a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers
Tuesday, February 22
The full Senate approved
legislation that would help an Oklahoma vehicle manufacturer in
Burns Flat. SB 1557 by Sen. Gilmer Capps would provide guidelines
for registration and titling of "remanufactured" vehicles.
Adventure Vehicles, Inc. converts Army jeeps into recreational vehicles.
Senators also approved two resolutions by Sen. Sam Helton, honoring
Oklahoma veterans. Veterans rallied at the State Capitol on Tuesday
to protest budget cuts proposed by Governor Keating.
An effort to overhaul
Oklahoma's current workers compensation system received a do-pass
recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 1606 by Sen.
Scott Pruitt would change the workers comp system from a judicial
process to an administrative one. Proponents claim the change will
reduce costs to Oklahoma businesses, but opponents contend the legislation
will diminish an injured worker's chance of getting an equitable
Oklahoma shoppers may
soon be rewarded with a sales tax holiday if the Senate Finance
Committee gets its way. The panel approved three so-called sales
tax holiday bills, SB 810 by Sen. Jeff Rabon, SB 815 by Sen. Sam
Helton and SB 1376 by Sen. Ben Robinson. Aimed at before school
purchases, SB 810 and 815 would place a sales tax exemption on clothing
and footwear from the first Friday in August to Sunday. SB 1376
would allow sales tax exemptions on the first Saturday in the months
of September, October, November and December. Committee members
also approved legislation designed to beef up a state loan program
for farmers. SB 852 by Sen. Robert Kerr would increase appropriations
to the State AgLink Deposit program.
The Senate Veterans,
Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee approved legislation
that would alter Oklahoma's drivers license exam. SB 1259 by Sen.
Frank Shurden would require applicants to be able to interpret international
symbols on highway signs. It would also require an alternative test
for people who either cannot read or have a language barrier. The
panel also gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation aimed at
vehicles that are playing unusually loud music. SB 1427 by Sen.
Sam Helton would prohibit any such vehicle from emitting music or
noise that can be heard from 50 feet or more away.
The full House approved
legislation designed to reduce the cost of car tags in Oklahoma.
HB 2663 by Rep. Ron Kirby is almost identical to a bill vetoed by
Governor Keating last year. Tag costs are currently calculated as
a percentage of a vehicle's value, but the legislation would switch
to a flat annual fee. To offset the loss of revenue caused by reduction
in tag fees, the bill would change the excise tax on car purchases
from 3.25% to 4.5%. Even with the excise tax adjustment, Rep. Kirby
said the bill would still result in an overall fee reduction of
$11 million. House Republicans, who opposed last year's car tag
bill, also voted against the latest measure, claiming it didn't
deliver a big enough tax cut. The House also approved legislation
that would pump more money into child abuse investigations. HB 2007
by Rep. Mike Thornbrugh would authorize a $10 increase on various
court fees and earmark the proceeds for Child Abuse Multidisciplinary
Accounts (CAMA). CAMA teams, which consist of mental health officials,
law enforcement professionals and others familiar with child abuse
issues, help investigate abuse cases. A number of CAMAs have been
created since the Legislature first authorized them in 1991, but
funding problems have caused some to disband.
The House Education
Committee approved legislation that would overhaul HB 1759, the
education reform act approved last year. HB 2728 by Rep. Loyd Benson
and Sen. Stratton Taylor would address a number of problem areas
in the new law, ranging from the controversial dual diploma to curriculum
standards for graduation. The panel defeated legislation that would
have increased the authority of the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee.
The committee substitute for HB 1876 by Rep. Jim Reese would have
allowed the panel to provide a single, group-approved summary of
each approved textbook. Rep. Reese's original bill would have allowed
the committee to require disclaimers be attached to some books.
The state panel came under heavy fire earlier this year when it
ordered that disclaimers about the theory of evolution be placed
in state science textbooks. The Attorney General later ruled that
the textbook committee had overstepped its authority.
Governor Keating's LearnPower
program suffered another setback when the House Appropriations Committee
decided not to hear the legislation. The Governor expressed dismay
at the decision, saying the bills should have been heard given the
fact that he had agreed to sign a teacher pay raise bill.
Legislation that would
have allowed a "free day" on Oklahoma turnpikes was killed
in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety. HB 1971
by Rep. John Wright would have removed tolls one day each week on
turnpikes opened before 1965. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority argued
against the bill, citing the potential revenue loss.
Wednesday, February 23
The Senate Appropriations
Committee cleared its agenda, passing 83 bills on to the next stage
of the legislative process. Among those approved as SB 1444 by Sen.
Maxine Horner, legislation which would prohibit law enforcement
officers from using "racial profiling" in traffic stops.
The Tulsa legislator said statistics show that a disproportionate
number of minorities are stopped by police officers simply because
of the color of their skin. The panel approved SB 824 by Sen. Jim
Maddox, a bill that would require state agency telephones to be
answered by a person rather than an answering machine during business
hours, with some exceptions. Committee members passed legislation
that would crack down on students who attack teachers or other school
personnel. SB 520 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would make it a felony
to commit assault and battery on a public school employee. Also
approved was SB 1022 by Sen. Glenn Coffee. That legislation would
allow home schooled children to attend up to one-half day of class
in their local school. The panel also passed legislation dealing
with the state's tobacco settlement. SB 1404 by Sen. Stratton Taylor
would establish a special trust fund for the tobacco money, outlining
a process for selecting an oversight board and setting responsibilities.
The Senate Judiciary
Committee failed to approve that would have revamped the way Oklahomans
elect judges in the state's largest counties. SB 1452 by Sen. Brad
Henry would have placed district judges and associate district judges
in Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties on a retention ballot, rather than
having competing candidates running for a single post. Contentious
judicial races of recent years have prompted calls for reform of
the election system, but a 4-4 vote stalled the Henry proposal in
The full House approved
legislation that would give law enforcement authorities greater
authority to seize the vehicles of certain law breakers. HB 2192
by Rep. Mike Wilt would allow an individual's car to be seized if
the person was caught driving without a license or if his or her
license had been revoked by a drunk driving conviction. Opponents
argued that the legislation went too far, allowing too much latitude
in the seizure of vehicles, but it drew enough support to pass on
a 54-42 vote. House members also approved HB 2425 by Rep. Larry
Rice, legislation which would prevent a license reinstatement fee
from being charged twice for the same offense.
The House Appropriations
Committee approved legislation designed to crack down on certain
drug offenders. HB 1860 by Rep. Kenneth Corn would require persons
convicted of drug manufacturing to serve at least 85 percent of
their sentence. It would also prohibit probation for minors convicted
of the offense. The panel also approved HB 2415 by Rep. Mike Wilt,
legislation that would allow the termination of parental rights
if a parent was convicted of manufacturing a controlled dangerous
substance. Also approved by the committee was HB 2468 by Rep. Don
Ross. That bill will allow the Tulsa Race Riot Commission to continue
The House Revenue and
Taxation Committee approved a resolution that would give local patrons
the option of doing away with school millage elections. HJR 1019
by Rep. Barbara Staggs would first put the question to a statewide
vote and then allow local citizens to decide the issue on a district
by district basis. Proponents say school districts needlessly spend
thousands of dollars on the elections each year, even though the
votes make no changes in the millage rates. The panel also approved
legislation designed to retain more than 1,500 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. The legislation
will amount to a $42 million tax break over five years.
The House Education
Committee defeated legislation that would have rewritten Oklahoma's
open transfer laws. HB 2027 by Rep. Dale Turner would have allowed
schools to withdraw the approval of a transfer if they later found
that they could not accommodate the new student.
Oklahoma veterans rallied
at the State Capitol Tuesday to protest Governor Keating's proposed
executive budget. The Governor wants to cut veterans programs by
$1.65 million or 8 percent, one of the largest cuts suggested for
any state agency. The Department of Veterans Affairs, however, had
requested a $2.8 million budget increase to help meet staffing shortages
in Oklahoma's six veteran centers.
The State Equalization
Board certified an additional $39 million for appropriation during
the coming fiscal year. That means lawmakers will have approximately
$353 million in growth revenue to allocate to state needs. Included
in that total are approximately $56 million in tobacco settlement