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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
|Phase I Road Program Bonds
|Replace Higher Ed Funds
|Replace Common Ed Funds
|Annualize Supplemental Approps
(Prisons, Educ., Health Care Auth.)
|Phase I Capital Bond Issue
|University Hosp. Indigent Care
|Eastern State Hospital Transition
|Governor's Emergency Fund
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.
- The Senate continued work on budget
matters and conference committee reports before adjourning for the
- 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.