The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, April 10 to Thursday, April 13, 2000

Most of the action continued to take 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 adjourns on Friday, May 26.

Monday, April 10

  • The full Senate approved legislation that would revamp the education reform act approved by last session's Legislature. HB 2728 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Loyd Benson would eliminate a controversial two-tiered diploma system for high school students, adjust curriculum mandates, modify requirements for middle school math teachers and expand a college scholarship program for high school students, among other things. The legislation is supposed to address concerns raised about HB 1759, the 1999 education reform bill.

  • The full Senate also approved another piece of legislation designed to address flaws in HB 1759. HB 2128 by Sen. Mike Morgan is currently a "shell" bill that can be used as a vehicle to address changes in the reform act. The legislation is aimed at the two-tiered diploma and will only be used if attempts to pass HB 2728 are unsuccessful.

  • Senators passed legislation designed to improve literacy efforts across the state of Oklahoma. HB 2117 by Sen. Maxine Horner would allow the establishment of a toll-free statewide literacy services referral system, provided funds become available.

  • The Senate voted to add two more exemptions to its list of state sales tax exemptions. HB 2681 by Sen. Brad Henry would exempt goods and services purchased by YMCAs and YWCAs. Senators also approved HB 1870 by Sen. Jeff Rabon, legislation that would place a sales tax exemption on tangible personal property or services purchased by qualified children's homes on church-owned property.

  • Senators gave their approval to one of several "sales tax holiday" bills currently moving through the legislative process. HB 1870 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would allow Oklahoma consumers to buy clothing and footwear sales tax free during a 10-day period in August. The legislation is designed to give Oklahomans a break when they are buying back-to-school clothing for their children. It is patterned after a similar law in Texas.

  • The House gave final approval to legislation that would crack down on offenders who attempt to elude law enforcement officers. SB 1383 by Sen. Dave Herbert would make it a felony for someone to endanger others while attempt to elude the police. Anyone found guilty of such an offense would face up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 fine. The measure now goes to the Governor for his signature.

Tuesday, April 11

  • On a 24-23 vote, Senators defeated a procedural motion designed to bring right to work to the full Senate floor for action. The proposal had been defeated earlier this session in the Senate Business and Labor Committee.

  • Senators approved legislation that would crack down on sex offenders who use computers or the Internet to facilitate their crime. SB 2349 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would prohibit the use of electronic devices or computers to make lewd proposals to a child.

  • After lengthy debate, the Senate approved legislation that would change the continuing education requirements for school board members. HB 1932 by Sen. Jeff Rabon requires board members to take three hours of continuing education for each year they serve on the board. Currently, members are required to take 15 hours of continuing education. Opponents argued that school board members needed more education to adequately prepare them for the job, but Sen. Rabon said the legislation was designed to encourage more people to participate in the process and was requested by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to prevent Oklahoma motorists from being charged twice for drivers license reinstatements. SB 2425 by Sen. Herb Rozell would waive the reinstatement fee if a motorist could prove that such a fee had already been paid once. Sen. Rozell said there are some cases where drivers with suspended licenses can be billed twice under the current system. The legislation was requested by the Department of Public Safety.

  • The House approved legislation that would hold HMOs legally responsible for their health care decisions. SB 1206 by Sen. Brad Henry would allow people to sue their HMO if it improperly denied them medical treatment or made other decisions detrimental to their health. State employees already have the right to file such lawsuits and the legislation would simply extend that right to people in the private sector, according to the measure's supporters. The bill is patterned after a similar law that was passed by the Texas Legislature and Gov. George Bush. SB 1206 and a similar piece of House legislation are headed for conference committee.

  • House members voted to roll back some of the pay raises included in a state employee salary bill that was recently signed into law. A floor substitute for SB 967 by Rep. Loyd Benson would revoke a pay raise for state elected officials and reduce a pay hike for judges to $3,000. Laws passed in 1994 and 1997 linked the pay of elected officials such as the Governor to the salaries of state judges. Hence, when lawmakers voted to give judges a pay raise earlier this year, elected officials received one too. SB 967 would dissolves the link between the pay plans, in addition to revoking salary hikes for elected officials and reducing the judges' increase to $3,000.

  • Governor Keating handed down his first vetoes of the year. The Governor axed three bills: SB 1137, SB 1456, and HB 2561. SB 1137 would have allowed a judge to finish certain business undertaken in a state court prior to election or appointment. SB 1456 would have prohibited the State Corporation Commission from promulgating or enforcing rules regarding pipelines that are inconsistent or more restrictive than federal regulations. HB 2561 related to the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act, applying to third party administrators who acted as insurance carriers.

Wednesday, April 12

  • Senators approved legislation designed to eliminate the expense of annual millage elections in school districts around the state. The annual votes are required by the constitution, but more often than not the votes simply reaffirm the existing property tax levels. Schools officials have argued that the annual votes are simply a waste of time and money. HJR 1019 by Sen. Trish Weedn would call for a statewide vote on whether each school district should have the option of discontinuing the annual elections.

  • In an effort to protect health care workers and others from the dangers associated with accidental needle sticks, Senators approved legislation that would create a Needlestick Injury Prevention Committee. Among other things, the panel would examine the use of "needleless" technology in areas that are considered high risk for accidental needle sticks. Such accidents can transmit dangerous blood diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV.

  • The Senate approved legislation aimed at improving safety on amusement park rides. HB 2115 by Sen. Lewis Long directs the State Labor Commissioner to promulgate rules for the safe installation, repair, maintenance, use, operation and inspection of all amusement rides for the protection of the general public. The measure also increases the amount of liability insurance needed by an amusement park from $300,000 to $1 million. The legislation was sparked in part by a fatal accident at Bell's Amusement Park in Tulsa.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to protect disabled Oklahomans from assault. HB 1902 by Sen. Keith Leftwich would expand the definition of assault to include the unauthorized touching of an individual's assistive device, such as a wheelchair or a cane.

  • Senators voted to send SB 967 to conference committee. The legislation addresses pay raises recently approved for state judges (see above).

  • House Republicans blocked the two-thirds vote required suspend rules and reconsider flawed baby abandonment legislation that is headed for the Governor's desk. HB 1577 by Rep. Debbie Blackburn and Sen. Bernest Cain would allow mothers to abandon their newborn babies at hospitals without fear of prosecution. After the bill was approved by the Legislature, its authors discovered a glitch that might allow mothers who sexually abuse their babies to be free of the threat of an abandonment charge. House Republicans admitted they knew about the glitch and voted against the bill on final reading, but didn't inform their Democratic counterparts. House Democrats complained that the incident was a case of election-year "gotcha" politics and that their Republican opponents will try to use the vote against them in the upcoming elections. The House GOP leadership indicated it was upset because Republican authors were not allowed to be part of the legislation. It has asked Gov. Keating to veto the bill.

  • After lengthy and divisive debate, the full House approved a $4.8 billion "general appropriations" bill to fund state government. HB 2260 finances agencies at a standstill level and acts as a protection against a government shutdown in case legislators are unable to agree on other budget items when the session adjourns at the end of May. The debate on the bill broke down along party lines with Republicans arguing against the legislation and Democrats for it. GOP members argued that funding government at the same level as last year would reduce the possibilities of significant tax cuts, given the fact that lawmakers had already approved pay raises for teachers and state employees. Democratic members argued that the measure did not rule out tax reductions and pointed out that it simply prevented the possibility of a government shutdown. The legislation passed 60-38, but House Republicans implied that Governor Keating would veto the bill.

Thursday, April 13

  • Senators continued work on the Senate floor. Lawmakers have until April 20 to pass all bills out of the opposite house of origin.

Other News

  • State revenue collections increased during the month of March, according to the Office of State Finance. March collections topped the previous year by 5.3 percent and this year's estimate by 6.0 percent. Collections were also up for the first three-quarters of the current fiscal year, 4.5 percent above last year and 2.1 percent above the estimate. If trends continue, OSF officials say the state will produce enough surplus revenue this year to make a deposit in the rainy day fund.

  • According to a new report from the State Regents for Higher Education, remedial education is not the problem at OU and OSU that some have purported it to be. The regents' study indicates that only 8 percent of remediation in the Oklahoma higher education system takes place at the two comprehensive state universities. The vast majority of remedial courses, some 75 percent, are taught at Oklahoma's two-year junior colleges. The study also found that non-traditional adult students were more likely to need remediation than those who attend college directly after high school. According to the study, the remedial needs of students are usually limited to one course.