The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, May 1 to Thursday, May 5, 2000

Lawmakers continued to work on conference committee reports and the remaining pieces of Oklahoma's $5.2 billion state budget. With just three weeks remaining in the 2000 legislative session, approximately 550 bills and resolutions await action in joint conference committee. The session adjourns on Friday, May 26.

Monday, May 1

  • Senators approved legislation that would refine the process by which the State Insurance Commissioner makes appointments. SB 1278 by Sen. Ben Brown would prohibit the commissioner from appointing certain individuals who are related to the commissioner "within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity" or entering into contracts with them. Sen. Brown indicated the bill was prompted by the action of a former insurance commissioner.

  • House members approved two bills affecting hunters and fishermen in Oklahoma. HB 2178 by Sen. Frank Shurden would prohibit the use of a noise suppression device on a firearm used to hunt game. Certain employees of the Department of Agriculture are exempt from the prohibition. Also approved was HB 2387 by Sen. Shurden. That legislation would prohibit anyone from tampering with a trotline, throwline, jugline or limbline owned by another fisherman. Both bills now go to the Governor for his consideration.

  • Governor Keating put his signature on legislation designed to hold HMOs accountable for their health care decisions. SB 1206 by Sen. Brad Henry will allow members of health plans to sue their HMO if it improperly denies them medical treatment or makes other health care decisions detrimental to them. Currently, public employees can hold their HMO legally responsible and Sen. Henry said his bill would simply extend that right to people in the private sector. The law is modeled after a similar statute that was approved by the Texas Legislature and Governor George Bush three years ago.

  • Governor Keating approved legislation that would crack down on Oklahomans who illegally register their vehicles in other states in an effort to obtain cheaper license plates. HB 2332 by Sen. Mike Johnson would make such a violation at misdemeanor with a fine ranging from $100 to $500. It would also require offenders to buy an Oklahoma tag. The Oklahoma Tax Commission estimates that it loses millions of dollars each year because of illegal car registrations.

  • The Governor approved a bill that will give an additional tax break to some of the victims of last year's May 3rd tornadoes. SB 857 by Sen. Dave Herbert will allow victims to claim a homestead exemption for a new home built in Oklahoma and will extend the application deadline to June 1st.

Tuesday, May 2

  • House members approved legislation establishing new guidelines for the donation of human embryos. HB 1338 by Sen. Bernest Cain authorizes embryo transfers by licensed medical practitioners provided that they have the written consent of the husband and wife desiring to receive the embryo transfer. The physician must also have the written consent of the husband and wife donating the embryo. Documentation of such consent must be filed in court, but is not open to the general public, only to persons with a "legitimate interest." The legislation also states that the embryo donors have no legal parental responsibilities for the children that may be produced. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

  • In a continuing effort to expand the collection of State Capitol artwork, Sen. Jeff Rabon donated to the state a new painting entitled "Surrender of General Stand Watie." The painting, which depicts the surrender of the last Confederate general during the Civil War, was dedicated during ceremonies on the Senate floor. Sen. Charles Ford has led the effort to commission new pieces of art depicting historical scenes from Oklahoma's past.

  • Governor Keating signed a bill into law that requires insurance carriers to pay the cost of wigs for cancer patients. Supporters of HB 2725 by Sen. Jerry Smith. noted that insurance companies are required to pay for expensive reconstructive surgery related to the disease, but didn't have to cover the cost of a $150 wig. They argued that for a small expense, the self-esteem of cancer patients could be greatly improved.

Wednesday, May 3

  • Governor Keating signed legislation designed to provide consumers with additional protections when information is requested about them. HB 2492 by Sen. Frank Shurden would require individuals who request consumer reports for employment or insurance purposes to first notify the person who is the subject of the report. The notice would inform the consumer that such a report is being requested and would allow the consumer to request a copy. Supporters say the measure will give individuals an opportunity to correct factual errors in such reports before they cause any damage to them.

  • The State Senate confirmed Joseph E. Cappy's appointment to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Cappy will finish the term of the late Stephen Jatras. Cappy is the CEO and president of the Tulsa-based Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group.

  • After meeting with Governor Keating, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee formally asked the Governor to present a revised budget reflecting expenditures to date and bills the state must pay before the end of session. According to Sen. Kelly Haney, the updated budget should include a detailed list of the state's financial obligations, including but not limited to:
Phase I Road Program Bonds $82.2 million
Replace Higher Ed Funds $23.5 million
Replace Common Ed Funds $17.5 million
Annualize Supplemental Approps
(Prisons, Educ., Health Care Auth.)
$41.5 million
Phase I Capital Bond Issue $13.4 million
University Hosp. Indigent Care $6.7 million
Eastern State Hospital Transition $2.7 million
Governor's Emergency Fund $1.0 million

Sen. Haney noted that the obligations listed above do not include other possible expenditures, such as Phase II of the road construction program or budget increases lawmakers would like to enact for education and other important programs.
In recent weeks, the Governor has claimed that an additional $300 million is available for appropriation, but he has been unable to document how the state can meet existing obligations and still have such a large surplus. Neither House nor Senate figures reflect that much available revenue.

Thursday, May 4

  • The Senate continued work on budget matters and conference committee reports before adjourning for the weekend.

Other News

  • Federal authorities arrested Acting State Health Commissioner Brent Van Meter in connection with an ongoing investigation of the agency's regulation of the nursing home industry. Published reports indicated that the probe focuses on allegations that kickbacks were made in exchange for regulatory favors. Six health department employees including Van Meter were suspended with pay pending the conclusion of the investigation. At Governor Frank Keating's direction, the State Board of Health appointed Health and Social Services Secretary Jerry Regier to take over Van Meter's position temporarily.