The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
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 Keating.

  • 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.

  • Legislation designed 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 in Oklahoma.

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 settlement.

  • 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 committee.

  • 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 its work.

  • 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.

Thursday, February 24

  • 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

  • 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 funds.