The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, March 20 to Thursday, March 23, 2000

The focus moved back to House and Senate committees as legislators worked to beat their next procedural deadline. Lawmakers have until Thursday, March 30 to pass all bills from the opposite house out of their respective committee.

Monday, March 20

  • The Senate approved legislation that would extend the life of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. HB 2468 by Sen. Maxine Horner would recreate the panel and create a new committee to help development a memorial for riot victims. The bill elicited lengthy debate on an issue related to the legislation: possible reparations for riot survivors. The measure was amended several times to set deadlines for the commission. One would require it to complete its work by February 28 of 2001, another set a November 1, 2003 deadline for the memorial committee. Senators defeated an amendment that would have required the City of Tulsa rather than the state to pay any reparations that might be proposed by the commission. Some lawmakers questioned why the City of Tulsa was not taking a more active role in the process. HB 2468 was approved 31-15.

  • The Senate Education Committee advanced a number of bills to the floor, but delayed action on legislation designed to address deficiencies in last year's education reform bill. HB 2728 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Loyd Benson will be voted on next week. Among other things, the legislation would get rid of the controversial two-tiered diploma system in HB 1759 and clarify curriculum requirements that have drawn opposition from school officials.

  • Members of the Senate Education Committee approved legislation that would allow local school officials to bestow a special designation on over-achieving students. HB 2128 by Sen. Mike Morgan and Rep. Dale Wells would allow district boards of education to issue a certificate of distinction to students who earn a 3.25 grade point average by their senior year of high school, take four units of math, science, social studies and English and meet other curriculum requirements. The panel also approved legislation designed to combat school violence. HB 2168 by Sen. Ted Fisher and Rep. Barbara Staggs would encourage greater student access to mental health counseling by allowing schools to contract with non-profit agencies that provide such services.

  • The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved legislation clarifying Oklahoma's alcoholic beverage laws regarding the consumption of low point beer. A provision in HB 2188 by Sen. Ben Brown and Rep. Bill Paulk that would have extended the ban on underage drinking to include private property sparked debate. Law enforcement officials had requested the private property clarification, but two Senators argued that it amounted to an intrusion into the private lives of Oklahomans. Despite their arguments, the legislation was given a do-pass recommendation and sent to the full Senate for consideration.

  • Senate legislation expanding the mandatory seatbelt law for Oklahoma children was approved by the House Public Safety Committee. SB 891 by Sen. Ben Brown would require children between ages 5 and 13 to buckle up, either with seatbelts or a child restraint device. Current law requires children under the age of 5 to wear safety restraints. The panel also approved legislation that would change the requirements of Oklahoma's drivers license examinations. SB 1259 by Sen. Frank Shurden would require applicants to be able to interpret highway signs with international symbols. It would also require the Department of Public Safety to provide an alternative method of testing for those who do not speak English. Also approved by the House committee was legislation creating a new category for DUI offenders. SB 1443 by Sen. Ben Brown would classify offenders who have a blood alcohol content of .15 or more as a "severe DUI." The new designation would also carry stiffer penalties.

  • The House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee approved legislation clarifying state alcoholic beverage laws so that they do not hinder home brewers of beer. SB 1174 by Sen. Gene Stipe stipulates that state liquor laws should not be construed to require a person who produces beer for personal use which is not offered for sale to obtain a brewer's license or be subject to related taxation.

  • The House Criminal Justice Committee approved Senate legislation designed to crack down on the production of methamphetamine. SB 878 by Sen. Sam Helton would prohibit the theft or tampering of devices used to produce anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient for meth producers. The panel also approved SB 1240 by Sen. Carol Martin, legislation that would make it unlawful for anyone to transport anhydrous ammonia in an unapproved container. Also approved was legislation that would provide stiffer penalties to those that try and elude police officers. SB 1383 by Sen. Dave Herbert would make such an offense a felony if it were determined that the evasive action taken by an offender endangered other people. The crime would require a minimum prison term of one-year and a fine of at least $1,000. House committee members also gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation that would go after traffickers of "date rape" drugs. SB 1467 by Sen. Sam Helton would add Gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) to the state's list of Schedule One controlled dangerous substances.

Tuesday, March 21

  • Two bills that would cut car tag fees were approved by the Senate Finance Committee. HB 2663 by Sen. Jim Maddox and Rep. Ron Kirby would junk Oklahoma's current fee system and replace it with a flat annual fee ranging from $85 to $15 depending on the age of the vehicle. To protect revenue earmarked for schools, road construction and other services, the legislation would raise the excise tax on vehicle purchases from 3.25 percent to 4.5 percent. The tax would be assessed against the actual sales price of the car minus any trade-in value, instead of the current practice of assessing the tax on the higher sticker price without crediting trade-in value. HB 2663 is expected to result in an $11 million fee reduction for Oklahoma motorists. The panel also approved HB 2189 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Loyd Benson. The measure is a tag reform "shell" bill that will be used as a vehicle for fee reduction legislation if lawmakers cannot reach consensus on the other bill.

  • The Senate Finance Committee also approved legislation authorizing a sales tax "holiday" in Oklahoma. HB 2204 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield and Rep. Danny Hilliard would provide for a state sales tax exemption on clothing and footwear purchases totaling $100 or less during the first weekend of August. The measure is modeled after a similar law in Texas that provides a sales tax "holiday" to shoppers during the "back to school" shopping season. Several other sales tax holiday bills are also be considered by lawmakers. Committee members also gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation designed to facilitate donations to the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. HB 1858 by Sen. Glenn Coffee and Rep. Susan Winchester would create an income tax check-off box on the state income tax form for memorial donations.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee approved three bills designed to address problems at the Multiple Injury Trust Fund, formerly known as the Special Indemnity Fund. Committee chairman Sen. Brad Henry indicated that the bills could be used as vehicles for any solutions agreed upon by the legislative leadership and the Governor's office. The bills are HB 2368 by Sen. Henry and Rep. Mike Ervin, HB 2394 by Sen. Henry and Rep. Chris Hastings and HB 2395 by Sen. Brooks Douglass and Rep. Hastings. Because of a funding shortage, the Multiple Injury Trust Fund has been unable to make payments owed to injured workers.

  • The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety voted to kill legislation that would have allowed a district attorney to take legal action to seize the vehicle of anyone caught driving while their license was suspended or revoked for alcohol or drug use. Opponents of HB 2192 by Sen. Jim Dunlap and Rep. Mike Wilt argued that it would put an unnecessary burden on the family of such an offender, impairing their ability to get to work or school. The bill died on a 3-4 vote.

  • The House Education Committee defeated legislation that would have exempted Oklahoma City and Tulsa school superintendents from certification requirements. SB 1503 by Sen. Charles Ford and Rep. John Bryant was designed to lure non-education personnel into the superintendent's post. Rep. Bryant said the bill was requested by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce in an effort to attract business leaders and others into the education arena. Opponents, however, questioned whether it would simply open the door for unqualified individuals. The panel did approve SB 849 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, legislation that would allow certain individuals to be certified in early childhood education. Under the measure, certification could be granted to someone who possesses child development associate credentials, has at least 5 years of experience in the field and is working in an early childhood program with children 4 years of age and under. The committee also gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation that would give public school districts greater access to surplus computers. SB 1023 by Sen. Frank Shurden would give local schools the opportunity to request computer equipment that state agencies are planning to sell, trade or dispose.

Wednesday, March 22

  • The Senate and House gave final approval to legislation that will allow some 1,800 injured workers suffering from permanent job-related disabilities to receive benefit claims owed to them. The Multiple Injury Trust Fund was about to default on those claims because of a funding shortage, but legislators approved HB 2395 by Sen. Brad Henry and Rep. Chris Hastings. The bill will allow the State Insurance Fund to advance up to $2.6 million to the injury trust fund to pay permanent total disability benefits through June. The State Insurance Fund will recover the loan from workers compensation insurance dividends it paid to state agencies last year. Governor Keating signed the legislation.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee approved 22 bills, including legislation dealing with drunk driving, child molestation and assault and battery. HB 1676 by Sen. Ben Brown and Rep. Wallace Collins would create a new drunk driving offense, charging offenders who register a blood alcohol content of .15 percent or greater with aggravated driving under the influence. Such DUIs would be a felony offense punishable by not less than one year in prison. The legislation also requires that all offenders be tried as adults. A similar Senate bill is currently alive in the House. The panel also approved legislation designed to make it easier to convict sexual offenders who prey on children. HB 1881 by Sen. Mike Morgan and Rep. Mike Wilt would allow the past history of sexual assaults of defendants to be admissible as evidence, regardless of the age of the prior conviction. Also receiving a do-pass recommendation was HB 1885 by Sen. Jim Dunlap and Rep. Mike Wilt. That legislation would attempt to protect medical emergency personnel from attack. The bill would increase the penalties for anyone convicted of assaulting medical personnel during the performance of their duties.

  • The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved 10 pieces of legislation, many of them offering tax incentives to various individuals, businesses and economic development prospects. For example, SB 3 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would offer tax credits to tourism ventures that invest more than $500,000 in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Tourism Development Act is patterned after the Quality Jobs Act, a program that rewards business and industry for creating new jobs. SB 1129 would provide income tax adjustments for certain agricultural products, SB 1211 would provide an income tax exemption for payroll deductions that are earmarked for college savings plan accounts, SB 1224 would exempt leased aircraft from the state sales tax and SB 1324 would provide tax breaks to individuals who start a small business through the Small Business Capital Formation Incentive Act. Committee members did approve one piece of legislation designed to capture possible lost tax revenue. SB 1340 would allow Oklahoma to work cooperatively with other states to recover taxes on Internet sales.

  • The House Common Education Subcommittee killed two pieces of legislation: one dealing with student testing and the other with education services for low-income Oklahomans. SB 875 by Sen. Penny Williams would have changed the starting date for the State Board of Education norm-referenced tests. SB 1567 by Sen. Scott Pruitt would have allowed the Department of Human Services to contract with "faith-based" organizations to provide certain education services to welfare recipients.

  • The House Tourism and Recreation Committee gave its approval to legislation authorizing an investigation of gas prices across Oklahoma. As amended, SCR 67 by Sen. Dave Herbert would allow the House and Senate tourism committees to investigate the wide disparity in gasoline and diesel fuel prices at retail outlets in cities and towns in Oklahoma.

Thursday, March 23

  • The Senate adjourned for the weekend after completing long hours of committee action. Senators are working to beat the next legislative deadline that requires them to pass out of committee all bills of the opposite House. Lawmakers have until Thursday, March 30 to complete the task.

Other News

  • The chairman of the House Administrative Rules Committee threatened to subpoena a number of state elected officials if they did not meet his request to appear voluntarily before his committee. Rep. Charles Gray is examining proposed rules for alternative regulation of the telecommunications industry drafted by the State Corporation Commission. Rep. Gray had requested the three Corporation Commissioners and others to testify before his committee, but none were available to appear. The Oklahoma City Democrat said he would reschedule the meeting and give the officials one more chance to appear before his committee voluntarily.