The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, May 15 to Thursday, May 19, 2000

Lawmakers worked a long week in an effort to wrap up all remaining business before the constitutionally mandated adjournment day of May 26. House and Senate budget leaders continued to meet in an effort to get final agreement on the remaining pieces of Oklahoma's $5.2 billion state budget. Only one week remains in the 2000 session.

Monday, May 15

  • House and Senate budget talks were derailed when House Speaker Loyd Benson threw yet another new demand on the negotiating table. Before committing to an additional $40 million for higher education and other pressing budget issues, Benson asked that Senate leaders sign off on a list of road projects drawn up by members of the House. Even though House and Senate leaders have been meeting for weeks on budget issues, Monday marked the first day that Speaker Benson brought up the issue of specific road projects for Phase II of the state's CIP road construction program. Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor said Benson was simply increased the likelihood of a special session each time he made a new demand in the budget negotiation process.

  • Senator Dave Herbert made one last plea to pass a temporary one-cent gas tax to finance expanded passenger rail service in Oklahoma. The proposed statewide vote on a gas tax hike passed the Senate earlier this session, only to die in a House committee. Sen. Herbert said Oklahoma would lose millions of dollars in matching federal funding if it didn't begin raising money for passenger rail service. The Midwest City legislator asked his colleagues to give SJR 37 one more chance before the conclusion of the legislative session. The language for the proposed statewide vote has been placed in SB 1096.

  • An effort to expand Oklahoma's bogus check laws was defeated by the State Senate. HB 1921 by Sen. Mike Morgan would added to the definition of bogus checks any check used as a down payment for the purchase of any item of which the buyer is taking immediate possession. Sen. Morgan said it was designed to prevent the practice of writing a hot check as a down payment on equipment and then returning the equipment when the check bounced. Opponents, however, argued that Oklahoma's bogus check laws were already strict enough. The measure failed to receive the necessary 25 majority votes, falling on a 24-22 vote.

  • Senators approved legislation that would expand the state liquor agency's duties to include education. SB 1038 by Sen. Ted Fisher would add to the list of duties performed by the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission (ABLE) to include the education of bartenders and others in licensed establishments to recognize and prevent intoxication. The measure calls for particular emphasis on provisions prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors.

  • The House and Senate approved legislation that would officially change the name of the State Board of Vocational and Technical Education. HB 2128 by Sen. Mike Morgan renames the entity the State Board of Career and Technology Education. Board members requested the change, saying it better reflects the mission of the department they oversee.

  • The House gave final approval to legislation that would make it easier for retired teachers' organizations to retain members. SB 1239 by Sen. Keith Leftwich would require the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System to provide application for retired teachers' groups and allow membership fees to be deducted from retirement benefits

Tuesday, May 16

  • Oklahoma school patrons may soon have the option of doing away with annual millage elections if the Legislature gets its way. The House and Senate approved HJR 1019 by Sen. Trish Weedn, legislation that would put that question to a statewide vote. If approved, individual school districts would have the option of asking their local voters to discontinue the annual millage elections. Supporters say the annual votes simply reaffirm current property tax levels and therefore, are an unnecessary waste of time and money.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to stop the practice of "racial profiling." SB 1444 by Sen. Maxine Horner would prohibit law enforcement officers from making traffic stops based solely on the race or ethnicity of the driver or his passengers. Under the legislation, racial profiling offenses would be a misdemeanor. Complaints could be filed with either the local district attorney or the Human Rights Commission.

  • The Senate approved legislation that would change the face of the Oklahoma Textbook Commission. SB 1139 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield stipulates that no more than six members of the board can be certified at the elementary level at any one time. It would also prohibit any commission member from serving back to back terms.

  • Senators officially went on record in favor of saving some Tulsa jobs that are headed for China. SCR 98 by Sen. Lewis Long urges Zebco to reconsider its decision to lay off approximately 240 Tulsa employees and ship its manufacturing facility to China. Officials with Zebco say the move is designed to cut costs at their company.

Wednesday, May 17

  • For the second year in a row, Governor Keating vetoed legislation designed to deliver car tag relief to Oklahoma motorists. In his veto statement, the Governor called HB 2663 by Sen. Jim Maddox "seductive," but charged that the legislation was unacceptable to him because some used car buyers would initially pay higher excise taxes before reaping tag savings in the years to come. However, figures from the Oklahoma Tax Commission indicate that 75 percent of Oklahoma motorists would have saved money immediately under the bill because most vehicle transactions are tag renewals rather than car purchases.
    Under HB 2663, annual tag fees would have been a flat rate ranging from $85 to $15, depending upon the age of the vehicle. The legislation would have also changed the way excise taxes are assessed, levying the tax on the actual sales price of a vehicle rather than the higher sticker price as current law requires. The measure would have resulted in a $22 million tax cut for Oklahomans. House and Senate leaders say they may bypass Governor Keating and put the issue to a statewide vote.

  • The House and Senate gave final legislative approval to an education reform clean-up bill designed to correct problems in school legislation approved last year. HB 2728 by Sen. Stratton Taylor revises a number of others sections in last year's HB 1759, correcting deficiencies identified by state lawmakers and education officials in recent months. The changes include:

    Repeals the dual diploma system, returning to one standard diploma;

    Revises the Oklahoma Higher Education Learning Access Program, raising the income eligibility level from $32,000 to $50,000;

    Revises the Oklahoma Tuition Scholarship Program, deleting the controversial "diploma of honor" requirement and setting new criteria, including a minimum ACT of 26, minimum GPA of 3.25 and a ranking in the top 15 percent of a high school graduating class;

    Revises required core curriculum courses, providing students with greater flexibility to take advantage of vocational-technical opportunities;

    Revises certification requirements for middle school math teachers, allowing certification through passage of a competency test or professional development courses;

    Stipulates that provisions of the Open Transfer Act do not apply to students who transferred prior to its implementation;

    Clarifies that school dress codes are decided by local officials, not the state;

    Requires common education, vo-tech and higher education institutions to coordinate spring break dates by the 2001-2002 school year.

    HB 2728 received overwhelming legislative approval, passing the House 96-4 and the Senate 47-0. It now goes to the Governor for his signature.

  • The Senate approved legislation ensuring that sex offenders would not be allowed to work on public projects while in Department of Corrections custody. DOC policy already prevents such offenders from working on public projects, but Sen. Lewis Long, author of HB 2315, said he wanted the prohibition added into state law.

  • Governor Keating approved legislation that would strengthen state guidelines for the siting of municipal garbage dumps. HB 2720 by Sen. Herb Rozell would prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality from issuing a permit to establish a solid waste landfill at any location that is within a locally fractured or cavernous limestone bedrock, and that is within five miles of any water well owned by a rural water district.

Thursday, May 18

  • Senate and House leaders reached a tentative agreement on budget allocations for state agencies. The agreement is allowing appropriations subcommittees to complete work on the final pieces of the state budget. Lawmakers have already approved the bulk of the $5.1 billion budget for next fiscal year. The general appropriations bill, passed in April, allocated $4.8 billion to state agencies and programs.

  • The Senate approved legislation that would open the books on deferred prosecution agreements between prosecutor and offenders. District attorneys came under fire from the Oklahoma Press Association recently for not disclosing the details of those agreements to the public. SB 1451 by Sen. Brad Henry would make the pacts part of the public record, requiring district attorneys to provide the name of the accused and other identifying information to any member of the public that requests it.

  • Senators approved legislation that will expand the size of motorcycle that can be operated under a restricted license. HB 2324 by Sen. Kevin Easley would increase the size from 125cc to 250cc. Sen. Easley said the change was needed because 125cc motorcycles are no longer being manufactured.

  • The Senate approved a bill designed to extend Oklahoma's public smoking ban to common education facilities. HB 2529 by Sen. Ben Robinson would prohibit smoking K-12 public schools and in educational facilities that offer an early childhood education program.

Friday, May 19

  • Lawmakers continued to work on conference committee reports and budget items in an attempt to prepare for the final week of the legislative session.

  • The Oklahoma Black Legislative Caucus called on Governor Keating to apologize for and retract racially charged remarks he made Thursday at the State Capitol. In a media event staged by the Governor, Keating told reporters that Senator Angela Monson and Democratic leaders would be making a "racist statement" if Monson did not advance the appointment of Russell Perry as Secretary of Commerce. As chairperson of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Monson controls the appointment of Perry. She has decided not to confirm Perry, saying she questions whether the job created for Perry is a good expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Both Perry and Monson are African-American.