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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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.