The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 5th to Thursday, February 8, 2001

Monday, February 5th

  • The Oklahoma Legislature formally convened its 2001 session, gathering in a joint Senate-House meeting to receive the annual state of the state address. Governor Keating applauded the accomplishments of recent years, but also focused on a number of challenges in the years to come. He outlined his executive budget and legislative initiatives, saying his ultimate goal was for Oklahoma to not only restore the congressional seat it lost in the last U.S. Census, but to add another one when a new census is taken in 2010. In order to attain that goal, the Governor proposed several initiatives for the 2001 session, including:

    1. A phased in reduction of the state income tax, ultimately cutting the levy from 6.75 % to 3.75% -- a one-billion dollar reduction.
    2. A sales tax holiday and elimination of the estate tax.
    3. Right to Work.
    4. Workers compensation reform.
    5. $100 million increase in education funding, earmarking the bulk of new money for a block grant program to reward schools that meet certain standards.
    6. A $3,000 pay raise for state correctional officers.
    7. A 1.2 % across-the-board budget cut at a number of state agencies including the Department of Human Services to free up an additional $51 million in funds.

  • Legislative leaders applauded the positive tone of Governor Keating's address, but also questioned whether the state will have enough money to enact both his new spending initiatives and his tax cuts. In a Senate budget briefing last week, it was revealed that while the state expected to have $300 million in growth revenue next fiscal year, outstanding obligations already totaled almost $230 million. Those include:

    • $107.3 million - Financial obligations on Phase I and II of the ongoing statewide highway construction program;

    • $ 18.5 million - Disaster assistance on winter storms (state funds to match federal);

    • $ 43.0 million - Costs related to the 2000 Oklahoma Health Care Initiative and other health care issues such as rising prescription drug and Medicaid costs;

    • $ 25.0 million - Financial obligations on statewide bond issues;

    • $ 13.3 million - Annualized costs associated with state employee pay raise
      approved in 2000;

    • $ 10.8 million - Costs associated with federal changes in the Medicaid program;

    • $ 7.5 million - Estimated costs of fully funding the $3,000 teacher pay raise approved in 2000;

    • $ 1.0 million - Replenish state emergency fund.

      The $226 million total does not include agency requests for emergency supplemental funding, such as a $28 million request from the Department of Corrections to pay for additional private prison beds it has either leased already or plans to lease. When those requests and other budget needs are included in the budget picture, total revenue obligations and requests total $640 million - more than double the amount of projected growth revenue.

  • The Senate Special Committee on Redistricting heard from a number of speakers during a public hearing in the Senate chamber. The panel has been traveling the state in recent weeks, seeking input on the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts. Lawmakers must redraw district lines to reflect population shifts documented by the 2000 census, including the loss of a U.S. Congressional seat.

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor and Senate Republican Leader Jim Dunlap announced agreement on two proposed changes in the Senate rules. The rules are the byproduct of the work of a special bipartisan task force that was appointed to study the Senate rules and offer proposals for improvement.
    The proposed changes are:

    1. The Senate may not consider a floor substitute or conference committee substitute (except appropriation bills) unless copies have either been distributed to the desks of members or made available to them electronically prior to the adjournment of the Senate the day before the measure is considered. The Senate may not consider a bill or a joint resolution after noon on the final day of session in May unless copies of the measure have been distributed to members in the manner described above at least four hours before consideration.

    2. All "shell bills" (except appropriation bills and other exempt measures) shall be assigned to the Senate Rules Committee. After the preparation of a committee substitute that includes a substantive change in law, the measure may be reassigned to another committee.


Tuesday, February 6th

  • In a unanimous vote, the full Senate approved its procedural rules for the session (see changes above). Members also viewed the dedication of another piece of artwork for State Capitol. Donated by Sen. Paul Muegge, the painting features African-American cowboy Bill Picket bulldogging a steer in front of the 101 Ranch general store in Ponca City. "101 Ranch" is the work of Oklahoma artist Harold "H.T." Holden. It will be added to a growing collection of Capitol artwork that has been bolstered by the work of Sen. Charles Ford.

  • Right to work legislation was assigned to the Senate General Government Committee for consideration. SJR 1 by Sen. Dave Herbert would call a statewide special election on June 12th to decide the question. The general government panel will hold a hearing on the legislation on Monday, February 12th.

  • The Senate Finance Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to a measure that would raise money for passenger rail service in Oklahoma. SJR 4 by Sen. Dave Herbert would ask voters to approve a temporary 1-cent increase in the gas tax. The measure would raise an estimated $180 million over a ten-year period, allowing Oklahoma to qualify for almost $1 billion in federal matching funds, according to Sen. Herbert.

  • Officials with Tulsa's Hillcrest Hospital went before a joint House Republican-Democratic caucus to make their case for a special appropriation of state funding. Hillcrest contends that it will have to end its affiliation agreements with OU and OSU, a move that it claims will jeopardize medical teaching programs at both schools. Hospital officials say that they may also be forced to terminate contracts with Heartland and Community Care, making it more difficult for the SoonerCare program to be successful in Tulsa. Hillcrest is seeking $19.3 million in state funding over the next two fiscal years.


Wednesday, February 7th

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services heard testimony on the funding crunch faced by Hillcrest Hospitals in Tulsa (see above).

  • The House Revenue and Taxation Committee approved one of many sales tax holiday bills. HB 1002 by Rep. Danny Hilliard would create a three-day sales tax holiday the first weekend in August. Exempt from sales taxes would be clothes purchases under $100. The legislation is patterned after a similar law in Texas that is designed to give parents a tax break on back-to-school shopping costs. The panel also approved HB 2681 by Rep. Debbie Blackburn, legislation that would raise the tax deduction on contributions to the Oklahoma College Savings Plan from $1,000 to $2,500.


Thursday, February 8th

  • The Senate met briefly before adjourning for the weekend. Senate committees continued to meet to discuss pending legislation. Lawmakers are facing a February 22 deadline to pass bills out of committee in their house of origin.


Other News

  • Southwestern Bell made a $30 million donation to a special educational trust fund designed to boost school technology. Interest from the fund, which could range from $1 million to $3 million annually, will be distributed to schools by a board of trustees. The donation is the byproduct of a telecommunications deregulation agreement forged between Bell and state officials in 1999.