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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.