The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 12 to Thursday, February 15, 2001

Monday, February 12th

  • With little discussion, the Senate General Government Committee approved SJR 1 by Senator Dave Herbert. The proposed constitutional amendment would give voters the final say on the Right to Work issue. SJR 1 originally called for an August 7th special election, but Sen. Jim Dunlap successfully amended the legislation to call for a May 22nd election. Committee members gave SJR 1 a do-pass recommendation on a 13-1 vote.

  • The House approved legislation that would decriminalize the abandonment of an infant if the child is left with a medical provider. After some heated debate, HB 1122 by Rep. Susan Winchester was approved on a 91-7 vote. The author said her legislation was designed to prevent mothers from killing their newborns by abandoning them in an unsafe environment, but opponents contended the measure would simply legalize child abandonment.

  • The full House also gave its approval to several other measures. HB 1124 by Rep. Winchester would allow certain persons to apply for a protective order under the Domestic Abuse Act. HB 1182 by Rep. Dale Wells would grant a sales tax exemption to certain student organizations. HB 1207 by Rep. Larry Ferguson would make it illegal to make a bomb threat through the use of a written document. HB 1300 by Rep. Jack Bonny would require telephone or telecommunications companies to provide consumers with a written notice before they increase residential rates. All of the bills passed unanimously.

  • The Senate Education Committee approved legislation that would make it easier for veterans of World War Two to get a high school diploma. SB 129 by Sen. Sam Helton would grant a diploma to any veteran who left high school in order to serve in the armed services during that conflict. The bill requires at least 18 months of service between 1940-46 and an honorable discharge, among other things. Sen. Helton said the legislation is patterned after laws in other states.

  • The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation designed to punish people who fabricate child abuse allegations. HB 1185 by Rep. Joan Greenwood would allow contempt of court charges to be filed against anyone who knowingly makes such false allegations. The measure carries a fine of up to $10,000 and states that such misstatements can be considered in child custody cases. The panel also approved legislation that would raise the stakes in small claims court cases. HB 1381 by Rep. Terry Matlock would raise the small claims limit from $4,500 to $7,500.

  • A measure that is designed to protect public school teachers from assault was given a do-pass recommendation by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. SB 46 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would make it a felony to commit assault and battery on a school employee on school grounds. The Ardmore legislator said statistics show that such attacks are increasing, even in the middle and elementary school level. The panel also approved legislation that would raise the felony level on hot checks. Currently, it is a felony to write a bogus check of $50 or more in Oklahoma, but SB 420 by Sen. Jerry Smith would raise the level to $500. The Tulsa legislator said the change would make Oklahoma's felony level more consistent with other states.


Tuesday, February 13th

  • The full Senate met briefly to confirm an executive nomination forwarded by Governor Keating. Senators gave their okay to the appointment of Guy Berry to the Oklahoma Transportation Commission. The Sapulpa man replaces Jerry Ryan.

  • The Senate Finance Committee gave do-pass recommendations to several bills that would create sales tax holidays in Oklahoma. The four measures were: SB 16 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, SB 163 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, SB 488 by Sen. Jeff Rabon and SB 653 by Sen. Ben Robinson. The bills are designed to give back-to-school shoppers a break on sales taxes by enacting a holiday exemption over a limited period of time. Sen. Nichols' legislation proposes a 10-day holiday while Sens. Crutchfield's and Rabon's bill would impose a three-day holiday. Sen. Robinson's legislation would declare sales tax holidays on the first weekend of each month for a four-month period starting in September. Committee members also approved a measure that would put a tax increase for education to a vote of the people. SB 518 by Sen. Robert Kerr would raise the state sales tax by one-cent and devote the new revenue to an education capital improvement fund.

  • Legislation designed to discourage the dissemination of false information in election campaigns received a do-pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee. SB 486 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would make it illegal for anyone to participate in the preparation, dissemination or broadcast of political advertising or campaign material that is untrue. Such a violation would be a misdemeanor carrying a maximum fine of $5,000 or one-year imprisonment. SB 352 by Sen. Frank Shurden addressed the same issue, but focused on false information regarding the voting record of a public official. His legislation would put violators under the jurisdiction of the State Ethics Commission. Committee members also approved SJR 3 - a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Lieutenant Governor to appoint his or her successor if he or she ascends to the Governor's office to fill a vacancy. The measure was originally drafted when it was thought that Governor Keating might join the Bush administration in Washington, DC. An attorney general's opinion indicates the Lieutenant Governor currently does not have the authority to appoint a successor.

  • The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the "Oklahoma Farmland Protection Act." SB 182 by Sen. Paul Muegge is designed to protect the state's prime farmland from encroaching urban areas. It would create a public trust within the Oklahoma Conservation Commission for the purpose of securing long-term conservation easements. Farmers who wanted to sell their land would have it appraised for both rural and urban value, and be compensated for the difference.

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety killed two bills that would have done away with annual vehicle inspections. HB 1224 by Rep. Thad Balkman and HB 1328 by Rep. James Covey would have repealed laws that require all tagged vehicles to obtain a yearly inspection sticker. Supporters argued that it is getting harder and harder to get inspections performed, especially in rural areas, but opponents contended that the state could not afford to lose the accompanying revenue.

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources approved several emergency budget requests. The panel gave its okay to supplemental budget appropriations for the Department of Agriculture, Centennial Commission, Conservation Commission, Labor Department and the Department of Tourism and Recreation. Several of the requests deal with weather-related emergencies such as wildfires, drought and winter storms.

  • The House Wildlife Committee gave a do-pass recommendation to legislation that would move up quail season in southeastern Oklahoma. HB 1382 by Rep. Terry Matlock would set the season for Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 for all areas east of the Indian Nation Turnpike and south of I-40. The measure is designed to eliminate some of the current overlapping with deer season

Wednesday, February 14th

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation designed to facilitate the hiring of a new state health commissioner. SB 331 by Sens. Kelly Haney and Cal Hobson would remove the salary cap on the position. The change was made at the request of the State Board of Health. The finalist it has chosen for the job currently earns more at his present position than the capped amount allowed in Oklahoma.

  • A measure designed to improve the treatment of breast cancer in Oklahoma was given a do-pass recommendation by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Social Services. SB 741 by Sen. Jim Dunlap would expand the duties of the Oklahoma Breast Cancer Prevention and Treatment Advisory Committee. It would also allow Medicaid to be used for the treatment of breast and cervical cancer.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education took no action on legislation that would establish a state lottery and earmark a good share of the proceeds for public education. A hearing had been planned for SJR 24 by Sen. Brad Henry, but the author opted to postpone the vote until the next meeting of the panel. The measure would ask Oklahoma voters to decide if they want to create a state lottery. Sen. Henry said his proposal is modeled after a lottery initiative in Georgia that produces $2 billion a year. He hopes the Oklahoma version would raise an estimated $500 million for college scholarships, early childhood programs, capital improvements and classroom technology.

  • The panel did approve legislation that would raise teacher pay in Oklahoma. SB 767 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would adjust the current salary schedule to provide a raise for the state's veteran teachers.

  • In other action before the education subcommittee, State Superintendent of Schools Sandy Garrett made her official budget request on behalf of common education. Garrett indicated that common education would need at least $400 million in new money to meet current needs and pay bills, including this winter's unusually high heating costs at public schools. Although she earlier expressed support for Gov. Keating's $100 million block grant program, she stressed that meeting existing funding needs in the public schools was her top priority.

  • The House Commerce, Industry and Labor Committee killed legislation that would have required employers to give workers at least 30 days notice before termination, unless just cause is shown. HJR 1031 by Rep. Opio Toure was defeated on a 7-9 vote. Opponents argued that the move might discourage businesses from locating in Oklahoma, but supporters contended that workers deserved to get some kind of notice before they were fired.

Thursday, February 15th

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

Other News

  • Word that the national economic slowdown has helped create unexpected budget shortfalls in as many as 15 states should send a message of caution to state policy makers in Oklahoma, according to Senator Kelly Haney, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Haney pointed to recent article in the New York Times showing that at least 15 states are facing unexpected budget shortfalls and spending cuts as high as 15 percent. Many of the states are in Oklahoma's region. For example, both Missouri and Kansas are facing budget reductions and Texas has seen most of its growth revenue wiped out by increased health care costs.

  • State revenue collections were up during the month of January, but three key categories came in below the estimate. For the second month in a row, sales tax revenues and motor vehicle fees were below projections. Income taxes also came in below the estimate.

  • Citing erroneous government employment statistics compiled and reported by the Office of State Finance over the last seven years, a State Senator Larry Dickerson is urging OSF to recheck all of the other reports it has distributed to reporting authorities, the media and other entities during the Keating administration. It was discovered last week that OSF, the Governor's budget agency, reported inflated government employment numbers to the U.S. Census Bureau - the federal agency that is the clearinghouse for a variety of state statistics. OSF's reports missed the mark by some 6,000 employees.

  • State workers rallied at the capitol on Wednesday in an effort to advance their legislative agenda. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association is seeking an eight percent pay raise for state workers; an increase in the dependent insurance subsidy; a five percent COLA for retirees; an increase in the insurance subsidy for state retirees; and improved staffing levels and equipment for state services.