The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 19 to Thursday, February 22, 2001

The majority of action took place in House and Senate committees as lawmakers rushed to beat the February 22nd deadline for reporting bills out of committee. The next deadline is March 15th when all bills must be reported out of their house of origin.


Monday, February 19th

  • The full Senate approved legislation designed to make it easier to open nursing homes in Oklahoma. SB 798 by Sen. Mike Johnson would change current regulations that prohibit the opening of new homes within seven miles of existing facilities in urban areas and 15 miles in rural areas if those facilities have an occupancy level of at least 92 percent. Supporters contended the occupancy requirement is too high and virtually guarantees that there will be no competition from new nursing homes. Opponents, however, argued that the rule was in place for a reason, mainly to prevent existing nursing homes from going out of business and forcing their residents to seek shelter elsewhere.

  • Senators approved legislation designed to help the state hire a new 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.

  • The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education approved legislation that would establish a state lottery and earmark a good share of the proceeds for public education. SJR 24 by Sen. Brad Henry 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. A companion bill, SB 809 by Sen. Henry, which establishes how lottery revenue will be allocated, was also approved. In other action, subcommittee members defeated legislation that carried a portion of Governor Keating's education program. SB 728 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would have established criteria for an $80 million block grant program proposed by Governor Keating. Under the program, schools would compete for the additional funding by attempting to meet various academic goals. Supporters contended that the incentives would force schools to improve academics, but opponents argued that the state should fund existing needs in the public schools before it launches another new program.

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education approved legislation that would give support personnel a pay raise. HB 1418 by Rep. Barbara Staggs would raise the pay for all support personnel would by $1.00 an hour. The increase would cost the state $43 million. The measure would also provide a flexible benefit allowance to personnel that only work part-time.

  • The Senate Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Safety Committee approved legislation designed to make it easier for Spanish-speaking individuals to obtain a drivers license. SB 190 by Sen. Frank Shurden would provide an alternate method of license testing when a language barrier existed. Sen. Shurden said many Hispanics who are productive members of their community are being arrested simply because they have difficulty obtaining drivers licenses.

  • The House Public Safety and Transportation Subcommittee on Appropriations approved legislation designed to increase the number of organ donors in Oklahoma. HB 1858 by Rep. Leonard Sullivan would give people a price break on drivers license fees if they checked the organ donor box on the registration form. The panel also approved HB 1144 by Rep. Sullivan, legislation that would change the way vehicle inspections are handled. The measure would increase the amount of revenue that goes to the Department of Public Safety revolving fund, giving inspection stations the option of charging as much as $12 for the inspection work. Many station operators claim that the current $5 fee is too low to recover the cost of performing an inspection. Panel members also approved HB 1081 by Rep. Richard Phillips, legislation aimed at motorists who use cell phones. The bill would create an inattentive driving statute at people who use cell phones, eat, put on make-up or perform other distracting tasks while operating a motor vehicle. Inattentive driving would not be a primary offense that could cause a driver to be stopped, but could be cited as a cause of an accident.

Tuesday, February 20th

  • The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation that would change the way the state taxes liquor. SB 501 by Sen. Mike Morgan would abolish the current 12% tax on total gross receipts at restaurant and clubs that serve liquor and replace it with a per liter sales tax at the wholesale level. The measure was amended to raise the proposed per liter tax from 50 cents to 72 cents. Committee members also approved a proposal that would put repeal of the sales tax on groceries to a vote of the people. SJR 10 by Sen. Penny Williams is designed to be revenue neutral, replacing lost grocery tax revenue with adjustments to other levies such as cigarette and gasoline taxes. The panel also approved three proposed constitutional amendments that would allow local patrons to raise property taxes to benefit their local schools. SJR 18, SJR 19 and SJR 20 by Sen. Brad Henry would raise money for school technology and building projects, among other things.

  • The full House approved sales tax holiday legislation, but not before amending it to make the tax exempt period a much lengthier amount of time. HB 1002 by Rep. Bill Nations originally called for a three-day sales tax holiday with tax exemptions on purchases of up to $100. Amendments increased the exemption level to $200 and expanded the tax holiday to an entire month. The bill's enacting clause was stricken, meaning it must be considered by the House again before it can become law.

  • Electric deregulation will be put on hold if the House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee gets its way. On a 29-1 vote, the committee approved HB 1922 by Rep. Larry Rice, legislation that delays the implementation of electric deregulation until January 1, 2004. Under current law, electric deregulation was supposed to go into effect in 2002.

  • The Senate Wildlife Committee approved legislation that would make hunting and fishing a constitutional right of Oklahoma citizens. SJR 12 by Sen. Frank Shurden would amend the state constitution so activities such as hunting, fishing, rodeo and the raising of livestock would be considered an inherent right of state citizens. The measure was amended to include circuses and other forms of entertainment.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that may be used as a vehicle for workers compensation reform. SB 548 by Sen. Brad Henry is currently a shell bill. Sen. Henry said work will continue on the subject with hopes of a reaching a consensus on further changes to the workers comp system before the end of the session.

Wednesday, February 21st

  • In a long day of work, the Senate Appropriations Committee cleared its agenda, passing approximately 120 bills on to the next stage of the legislative process. Members defeated two companion bills that would have put the creation of a state lottery to a statewide vote, SB 809 and SJR 24 by Sen. Brad Henry (see above). Gaining a do-pass recommendation from the committee was SB 264 by Sens. Haney and Hobson. That legislation would transfer $8.8 million from the statewide marriage initiative to a heating assistance program for low income and elderly Oklahomans. The measure also stipulates that the money cannot be replaced unless approved by the Legislature. Committee members also approved SB 46 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, legislation that would make it a felony to assault school personnel on school grounds. The panel also gave a do-pass recommendation to SB 397 by Sen. Stratton Taylor. That legislation would lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drunk driving from .10 to .08 percent. Federal authorities have threatened to withhold highway funding if Oklahoma doesn't reduce the BAC level to .08. Also clearing the committee was SB 420 by Sen. Jerry Smith which would raise the felony limit on hot checks from $50 to $200; SB 757 by Sen. Scott Pruitt which provides penalties for selling or renting high-violence video games to persons under 17-years old; and SB 767 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson which would raise salaries for veteran teachers.

  • The House Appropriations and Budget Committee also had a busy day, passing 93 bills on to the full House for consideration. The big ticket item approved by committee members was HB 1564 by Rep. Mike Mass, legislation that contains a laundry list of supplemental appropriations for various state agencies, totaling approximately $120 million. The measure would help a number of state entities make bond payments on ongoing projects and provide additional funding to education, the Department of Human Services, the Health Care Authority and several other agencies that are seeking supplemental aid. If approved in its current form, the legislation would consume more than one-third of the growth revenue that is available for appropriation this year.

  • A parental notification measure was approved by the House Public Health Committee. HB 1693 by Rep. Russ Roach would require parents to be notified if their underage daughter was seeking an abortion. The measure contains exceptions for victims of abuse and when the mother's life is in danger. An amendment to the bill expanded the period of time that must elapse between notification and the actual abortion procedure from 24 to 48 hours. Committee members also approved legislation that would clear the way for the legalization of tattooing in Oklahoma. HB 1368 by Rep. Al Lindley would put tattoo regulations in place just in case the current ban is ever challenged and overturned by the courts. He said Massachusetts' tattoo ban was recently overturned and now that state is scrambling to enact tattoo regulations.

  • The House Revenue and Finance Committee gave approval to legislation that would further reduce the estate tax in Oklahoma. HB 1430 by Rep. Clay Pope would eliminate the current state estate tax law and replace it with a "pickup" tax equal to the federal credit for estate taxes. The panel also approved a series of bills that would provide income tax credits to various entities. HB 1709 by Rep. Kent Friskup would provide a credit for the purchase of poultry litter; HB 1729 by Rep. Kenneth Corn would provide an income tax credit for tuition up to $500; and HB 1919 by Rep. Debbie Blackburn would provide an income tax credit for qualified rehabilitation for certain structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Thursday, February 22nd

  • 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

  • Citing rising natural gas revenue, the State Equalization Board certified an additional $17.9 million for appropriation during the coming fiscal year. Although the panel increased its revenue estimate for energy taxes, it downgraded projections in all other major revenue categories, raising concerns about a possible economic downturn in the near future. Estimates for sales taxes, personal income taxes, corporate income taxes, estate taxes, franchise taxes, liquor taxes, cigarette taxes were all reduced, meaning forecasters don't expect revenue collections to be as high in those categories as they first estimated in December. Gross production was the only major revenue source that had its projection increased.