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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.