The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, April 3 to Thursday, April 6, 2000

Most of the action took place on the House and Senate floors as lawmakers worked to beat their next procedural deadline. Legislators have until April 20th to pass all legislation out of the opposite house of origin. The 2000 legislative session is a little more than half over. It adjourns on Friday, May 26.

Monday, April 3

  • The full Senate gave unanimous final approval to legislation that would make it easier for Oklahomans to donate funds to the bombing memorial in Oklahoma City. HB 1858 by Sen. Glenn Coffee Rep. Susan Winchester would create a state income tax checkoff for the national foundation that administers the bombing memorial. Taxpayers would be allowed to earmark any portion of their state income tax refund for the Oklahoma City National Bombing Commission for the construction and maintenance of the downtown memorial site. The measure now goes to the Governor for his signature.

  • In a unanimous vote, Senators approved legislation that would provide an additional $8 million in sales tax revenue to local governments. HB 2034 by Sen. Dave Herbert would prohibit the Oklahoma Tax Commission from keeping additional money from counties and cities to pay the cost of collecting and distributing sales tax revenues. Cities and towns have complained that the state has withheld too much money in recent years. Currently, the tax commission collects state and local sales taxes and then distributes the local taxes back to the cities and counties.

  • Senators sidelined a measure aimed at curbing teenage drinking after several legislators questioned the additional power it would give to law enforcement officials. HB 2128 by Sen. Ben Brown would make it illegal for an adult to provide 3.2 beer to anyone under 21, even if that person was on his or her own premises. Opponents argued that such a stipulation would open the door for abuses by law enforcement officials, giving them one more reason to come into a person's home. After the objections, Sen. Ben Brown agreed to lay the bill over, but could bring it up for reconsideration.

  • Gov. Keating signed a supplemental appropriations bill providing additional money to the Department of Corrections, the OSBI, the Tourism Department and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. The corrections agency will use its $8.2 million to purchase additional private prison beds and pay for prison medical expenses. The OSBI will use its $500,000 appropriation to help clean-up illegal meth labs across the state.

  • House members took final action on legislation recreating the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, successfully attaching an emergency clause that will allow the panel to begin work immediately. In an earlier attempt, House members were unable to muster the votes necessary for the emergency clause, a designation that makes a law become effective as soon as it is signed by the Governor. 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 measure now goes to the Governor.

  • The full House approved legislation revising the Quality Jobs Act. SB 1326 by Sen. Ted Fisher would raise the average annual salary requirements for Quality Jobs participants in "opportunity zones" in the state's two major metro areas. An opportunity zone is defined as an area in which 30 percent of the residents are below the federal poverty level. The average salary for Quality Jobs participants would go from $18,720 to $26,000 under the bill. The average would apply as long as Tulsa and Oklahoma counties were "high employment" counties with jobless rates of less than 3.5 percent.

Tuesday, April 4

  • The full Senate approved legislation that would expand child abuse intervention efforts across the state. HB 2007 by Sen. Mike Morgan would raise $3.8 million for child abuse multidisciplinary teams by imposing a $10 fee increase on all civil court filings in Oklahoma. The multidisciplinary team approach coordinates the efforts of mental health professionals, law enforcement, medical professionals, child protective service workers and district attorneys in the investigation of child abuse cases. The approach has been highly successful in Tulsa County and other areas, but has suffered from a lack of funding. The measure now goes to the Governor for his signature.

  • Senators approved legislation that would allow Oklahomans to hold their HMOs legally responsible for the health care decisions they make. HB 2710 by Sen. Brad Henry and Rep. Opio Toure would allow people to sue HMOs if they improperly deny medical treatment or make other health care decisions detrimental to their clients. State employees now have the right to hold their HMOs legally responsible and Sen. Henry said his legislation would simply extend that right to people in the private sector. Opponents argued that the legislation would lead to increased health insurance rates, but supporters pointed out that there have been no such rate hikes in Texas where the Texas Legislature and Gov. George Bush recently approved a similar law. The measure passed 36-7.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to offer tax relief to Oklahoma farmers who are having a difficult time making ends meet. HB 2035 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson and Rep. Randy Beutler would allow agriculture producers to base their annual state tax liability based upon the average of their income for the last three years. Supporters contend such a formula would be more representative of true agricultural income, reflecting the "feast or famine" life that is farming. The bill would also make the cost of insurance for self-employed individuals tax deductible.

  • The Senate passed 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.

  • House members approved legislation that would overhaul Oklahoma's workers compensation system. SB 1606 by Sen. Scott Pruitt and Rep. Fred Morgan would replace the existing judicial system with an administrative one that caps attorney fees among other things. The authors contend the legislation will eliminate the adversarial nature of workers comp claims and reduce costs, but opponents on the House floor argued that there was no evidence that any such reduction would occur. They claimed that the change would just muddy the waters and create a new but not necessarily more efficient bureaucracy to handle comp case. The bill passed on an 89-10 vote. It is headed for conference committee.

  • After lengthy debate, the full House approved legislation that would let Oklahomans know the country of origin of some of the food they eat. SB 1084 by Rep. Clay Pope would establish a voluntary country-of-labeling program. House members defeated an amendment that would have made the labeling program mandatory and imposed a fine for those who didn't comply.

Wednesday, April 5

  • The Senate approved legislation designed to reduce the cases of baby abandonment in Oklahoma. HB 2148 by Sen. Bernest Cain would allow mothers to drop off their newborn babies at a hospital without facing criminal prosecution. Sen. Cain said the bill is designed to give young mothers an alternative to simply abandoning their babies under unsafe conditions. The legislation is patterned after a Texas law.

  • Senators 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 Senate approved legislation designed to put teachers at the Oklahoma schools for the deaf and blind on par with teachers in the public schools. HB 1906 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would modify the salary schedule for certified teachers at the two state institutions to reflect the salary schedules of other Oklahoma teachers.

Thursday, April 6

  • The Senate adjourned for the weekend.

Other News

  • Legislative leaders and Governor Keating appointed State Treasurer Robert Butkin to lead a special task force on the Oklahoma tobacco settlement. The four-member panel will advise the Legislature and the Governor on how to administer the $2.3 billion settlement, namely whether the state should agree to "securitize" all or part of the total. "Securitization" would allow the state to receive the payment in a lump sum, rather than receiving it in annual payments over a 25-year period.

  • Doctors, nurses and a number of other health care providers joined the fight to pass SB 1206, a patients' rights bill by Sen. Brad Henry. At a news conference, the medical professionals announced their support for the bill that would allow people to sue HMOs if they improperly deny medical treatment or make other health care decisions detrimental to their clients. State employees now have the right to hold their HMOs legally responsible and Sen. Henry said his legislation would simply extend that right to people in the private sector. The Texas Legislature and Governor George Bush have passed a similar law in Texas.

  • Gov. Keating named businessman Paul D. Austin of Norman to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents. Austin succeeds Dr. Donald Halverstadt on the board. Austin's term will end March 21, 2007. Senate confirmation is required for the appointment.