The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, March 27 to Thursday, March 30, 2000

The focus remained on House and Senate committees as legislators worked to beat their next procedural deadline. Lawmakers had until Thursday, March 30 to pass all bills from the opposite house out of their respective committee. The next legislative deadline is April 20th when all legislation must be passed out of the opposite house of origin.

Monday, March 27

  • The Senate Education Committee approved legislation designed to address deficiencies in last year's education reform bill. Among other things, HB 2728 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Loyd Benson would get rid of the controversial two-tiered diploma system in HB 1759, adjust certification requirements for math teachers and clarify curriculum requirements that have drawn opposition from school officials. The bill was amended to require all state public schools, vo-techs and universities to schedule their respective spring breaks uniformly during the same week every year. Currently, spring breaks are scheduled at the discretion of local school boards and can vary from district to district.

  • The Senate Business and Labor Committee approved legislation designed to strengthen safety requirements for amusement park rides. Among other things, HB 2115 by Sen. Lewis Long would require the Commissioner of Labor to establish rules for safe installation, repair, maintenance, use, operation and inspection of amusement rides necessary for the protection of the general public. The panel also approved legislation designed to modify state boxing regulations and extend them to professional wrestling. HB 2708 by Sen. Brooks Douglass defines pro wrestling as "noncompetitive unarmed fighting or combat… in which it is reasonable to anticipate that the participants strive to entertain spectators rather than to win."

  • The House Appropriations Committee approved legislation that would prohibit state agencies from using answering machines to receive incoming telephone calls. SB 824 by Sen. Jim Maddox would require agencies to have a live person answering the phone during regular business hours. Agencies could use answering machines outside of normal business hours.

  • The House Criminal Justice Committee approved legislation that would increase penalties for students who commit violence in the public schools. SB 520 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would make it a felony to assault a teacher or student. It would also require schools to post a notice in a prominent place stating that any such assault was a felony offense. The panel also approved legislation designed to better protect the identities of sexual assault victims. SB 828 by Sen. Ben Brown would allow victims to assume a pseudonym to designate their legal name in public files regarding their case. Also approved by committee members was SB 1053 by Senator Keith Leftwich. That legislation would increase the fine for public littering, raising the maximum amount of community service hours from 20 to 50.

  • The House Community and Family Responsibility Committee killed legislation that would have given law enforcement officers the right to examine case records and other material generated on behalf of an individual living in a domestic violence shelter. SB 1071 was opposed by the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Tuesday, March 28

  • New digital drivers licenses may be in Oklahoma's future under legislation approved by the Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee. HB 2100 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson would allow the Department of Public Safety to move toward a digital format that has a magnetic stripe on the card containing the driver information. The panel also approved legislation that would increase the size of motorcycle that can be operated under a Class D drivers license from 125cc to 250cc. Supporters say the change is necessary because of the decreasing availability of 125cc motorcycles.

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that would boost funding for the Oklahoma Wildlife Department. HB 1717 by Sen. Frank Shurden would add a .5 percent sales tax increase on hunting and fishing equipment to help fund the agency. Sen. Shurden said he hopes to use the funding to raise the pay of department field officers. The panel also approved a resolution calling for a statewide vote on possible car tag legislation. Sen. Penny Williams said HJR 1035 could serve as a vehicle for any compromise that is ultimately reached on the car tag question. The Senate Finance Committee has advanced three tag cut bills to the full Senate for consideration. Committee members also gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation that would increase Oklahoma's road construction budget. HB 2088 by Sen. Trish Weedn would allow for one percent of motor vehicle registration fees to be earmarked for public transportation. She estimated that such an action would put an additional $6.5 million into highway construction, allowing the state to qualify for more matching federal funds.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee approved "patients rights" legislation that would give patients more power in dealing with the HMOs. Among other things, HB 2710 by Sen. Brad Henry would allow people to sue HMOs if they improperly denied or prescribed medical treatment. Supporters say state employees already have the ability to sue their HMO and they argue that the same right should be extended to the private sector.

  • The House Education Committee approved two bills that would revamp controversial provisions of the HB 1759, the education reform act approved by last year's Legislature. SB 788 would eliminate the two-tiered diploma system that many educators have objected to. SB 1015 would also address the two-tiered diploma, in addition to revising curriculum requirements adopted in last year's legislation.

  • Efforts to ease restrictions on home brewers of beer were defeated by the full House. SB 1174 by Sen. Gene Stipe would have exempted home brewers from licensing requirements in the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Act if they product was produced for home consumption only. The bill was defeated 41-56. House members did approve legislation that would crack down on "date rape" drugs. SB 1467 by Sen. Sam Helton would add date rape drugs to Oklahoma's Schedule 1 controlled substances.

  • Legislation that would overhaul Oklahoma's electric industry received a do-pass recommendation from the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. SB 220 by Sen. Kevin Easley would restructure and deregulate electric utilities in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, March 29

  • The State Senate approved a $2,000 pay raise for Oklahoma State Employees. SB 959 would grant the salary increase to all state workers including assistant district attorneys, state troopers, OSBI agents, county health department employees and county election board secretaries. State judges were also granted raises in the legislation, but no other elected officials will receive an increase under SB 959. The pay raise will go into effect on October 1 of this year. It will cost the state approximately $38 million during the next fiscal year and $51 million when it is fully annualized.

  • Both the House and Senate approved a supplemental appropriation for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. SB 946 by Sen. Kelly Haney will deliver an additional $8.2 million to the DOC to help cover increased costs for new private prison beds and inmate medical services. Although the legislation was approved on a 44-3 vote, several Senators criticized Oklahoma's increasing dependence on the private prison industry.

  • Also included in SB 946 was a $500,000 emergency appropriation for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The additional money will help the OSBI clean up methamphetamine labs in the months to come. Officials with OSBI estimate that they will process about 900 meth labs this fiscal year with each clean up costing an estimated $2,000. The Federal Drug Enforcement Administration has estimated that Oklahoma ranks third in the country in the number of illegal meth labs. SB 946 also provided an additional $600,000 to the Tourism and Recreation Department for capital improvements and environmental projects. Another $225,000 was appropriated to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board for a water quality monitoring program.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation that could ultimately authorize cost-of-living increases for retired teachers and state employees. HB 2507 by Sen. Keith Leftwich would provide a system for implementing COLAs for members of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System. Similar legislation, HB 1266 by Sen. Ted Fisher and HB 2411 by Sen. Angela Monson, was approved for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System and the Firefighters Pension and Retirement System. Committee members killed legislation that would have allowed voters to decide whether business owners should be compensated for lost business profit caused by the taking of public lands. Opponents of HJR 1034 by Sen. Kevin Easley argued that it would be difficult and extremely expensive to complete state road projects with such a law in effect.

  • House members gave final approval to legislation that will extend the life of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. HB 2468 by Sen. Maxine Horner will allow the panel to continue its work until February of 2001 when it will issue a report and recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor. The bill would also allow Oklahoma State University to donate a parcel of land in north Tulsa's Greenwood area to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The land is to be used for a possible monument commemorating the victims of the 1921 race riot. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

  • The House Appropriations and Budget Committee rejected a proposal that would have allowed Oklahoma voters to decide whether or not they would like to raise gas taxes in the name of passenger rail service. SJR 37 by Sen. Dave Herbert would have placed a temporary one-cent gas tax increase on the state ballot, with the proceeds earmarked for the expansion of passenger rail in Oklahoma. Proponents argued that the funding would allow Oklahoma to qualify for matching federal dollars and build a state-of-the-art rail network, but opponents questioned the possible impact on the trucking industry. The House committee defeated the proposal on a 12-17 vote.

  • The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would allow Oklahomans to sue their HMO for improper decisions regarding their personal health care. SB 1206 by Sen. Brad Henry is patterned after similar legislation approved by the Texas Legislature and Gov. George Bush Jr. Although opponents have contended such legislation will ultimately raise health care costs, Sen. Henry said there has been no evidence of that in Texas. The House panel also approved legislation that would overhaul Oklahoma's workers compensation system. SB 1606 by Sen. Scott Pruitt would junk the state's current judicial system and replace it with an administrative one.

Thursday, March 30

  • The House was expected to give final approval to SB 959, the legislation granting a $2,000 pay hike to state employees. The bill will then go to the Governor who has indicated he will sign it.

  • The Senate adjourned for the weekend after completing long hours of committee action. March 30th was the deadline for passing all bills of the opposite house out of committee. The next legislative deadline is April 20th when all legislation must be passed out of the opposite house of origin.

Other News

  • Two Oklahoma House members announced that they would not be returning to the Legislature next year. Rep. John Bryant and Rep. Tommy Thomas said they did not plan to seek re-election.

  • OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione raised serious concerns about Governor Keating's plan to ban remedial courses at OU and OSU, saying such an action would devastate the schools' athletic programs. Castiglione indicated that such a ban would hinder their ability to recruit and retain student athletes. According to the OU athletic official, many student athletes' NCAA eligibility would be jeopardized if remedial classes were not available at their home university. A bill on the subject, HB 1710, died this week when it was not heard in committee.