The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, February 26 to Thursday, March 1, 2001

The majority of action took place on the floors of the House and Senate as lawmakers rushed to beat a March 15th deadline for reporting all bills out of their house of origin.

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Other News

Monday, February 26th

  • The full Senate worked long hours as it attempted to sort through hundreds of bills advanced by various Senate committees. Senators approved 20 measures Monday afternoon as they worked to beat their next internal deadline for passing bills out of their house of origin.

    - SB 2 by Sen. Dave Herbert would establish a new liquor license for passenger trains. The measure is designed to help the Heartland Flyer that connects Oklahoma City and Fort Worth;

    - SB 25 by Sen. Mike Morgan would allow a special sales tax exemption for entertainment tickets such as sporting events that are sold by institutions of higher education. The savings from the tax exemption would help schools comply with Title IX requirements regarding the funding of female athletic programs;

    - SB 525 by Sen. Fisher would allow senior citizens who live in mobile homes to maintain a homestead exemption even if the mobile home is moved from their property;

    - SB 115 by Sen. Keith Leftwich authorizes the creation of County Jail Authorities, which would handle decisions regarding jail privatization agreements. The five-member board would be composed of the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, the sheriff, an appointee of the sheriff, an appointee of the county commissioners and an appointee of the presiding district judge;

    - SB 125 by Sen. Larry Dickerson would establish a separate Aeronautics and Space Commission outside of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation;

    - SB 16 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would establish a sales tax holiday in Oklahoma. The holiday would be a three-day period in August that is designed to give a cost break to back-to-school shoppers. The tax exemption would apply to clothing and footwear purchases totaling $100 or less.

  • The House also had a busy day of activity, passing 35 bills on to the Senate for consideration. Legislation approved by House members included:

    - HB 1007 by Rep. Dan Webb establishes the Oklahoma Aeronautics and Space Commission as a separate state agency;

    - HB 1204 by Rep. Joe Sweeden prohibits the videotaping of an individual when privacy is expected. Offenders could face up to 20 years in prison;

    - HB 1336 by Rep. Barbara Staggs provides a sales tax exemption for various organizations involved in the construction of low or moderate income housing;

    - HB 1896 by Rep. Debbie Blackburn authorizes deductions from taxable income for the purpose of contributions to the Oklahoma College Savings Plan. The measure would allow an exemption on up to $2,500 in contributions;

    - HB 1634 by Rep. Wayne Pettigrew allows previous drunken driving convictions to be admissible at trials for repeat offenders. The so-called "Matli Family Act" was inspired by the deaths of four members of the Mark Matli family. They were struck and killed by a drunk driver as they stood by the side of the road near Piedmont.

Tuesday, February 27th

  • In another busy day, the full Senate approved 41 bills and resolutions. One piece of legislation that didn't make the cut was SB 580 by Sen. Jim Dunlap. It would have given the State Regents for Higher Education the authority to raise tuition rates without receiving approval from the Legislature. Supporters argued that college presidents shouldn't have to lobby state lawmakers for tuition hikes and that the regents were better equipped to handle the job. Opponents, however, contended that it was the Legislature's responsibility to protect the people from unnecessary or outrageous tuition increases. The measure was killed on an 18-27 vote. Senators did approve the rest of the legislation before them on Tuesday, including two sales tax holiday bills:

    -SB 488 by Sen. Jeff Rabon establishes a sales tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers. The measure was amended to extend the holiday to the last weekend in July and the first weekend in August. The measure would exempt clothes and footwear purchases of up to $100 from the state sales tax. It would cost approximately $6 million to implement;

    -SB 163 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols also establishes a sales tax holiday, but would offer the exemption on purchases over the 10-day period. The measure would cost approximately $9 million to implement;

    -SB 51 by Sen. Carol Martin would modify character education programs in schools to require students to cite the pledge of allegiance each day. The measure was amended to mandate that the pledge "shall" be recited rather than "may" be recited;

    -SB 397 by Sen. Stratton Taylor would lower the blood alcohol content level on drunk driving from .10 percent to .08 percent. Federal officials have ordered states to lower their BAC levels on drunken driving or risk the loss of federal highway money;

    -SB 131 by Sen. Ben Robinson would give cities the right to prohibit smoking in any of their buildings. As an alternative, cities could designate smoking and nonsmoking areas;

    -SB 519 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would expand the recipients of Rural Economic Assistance Plan, allowing rural fire departments to be eligible for funds. REAP was designed to help smaller communities with infrastructure improvements and other economic development projects. An unsuccessful attempt was made to amend the bill to prohibit REAP funds from going to the construction of school facilities.

    -SB 121 by Sen. Dave Herbert would provide a sales tax exemption for nationally broadcast television commercials that are shot in Oklahoma. The measure was requested by the Oklahoma Film Commission.

  • House members also worked a long day, passing more than 30 different measures. The House voted down one piece of legislation, HB 1673 by Rep. Dale Wells. That measure would have established a parole docket of non-violent, non-sex crime offenders in an effort to ease prison overcrowding. An estimated 560 inmates would have been eligible for parole under the program. It was defeated on a 43-57 vote. Bills approved by House members included:

    -HB 1840 by Rep. Barbara Staggs would allocate $5 million to encourage public schools to offer all-day kindergarten to their students. Currently, only about one-third of the state's kindergarten age students are participating in full-day programs.

    -HB 1897 by Rep. Kevin Cox would create the Oklahoma Low Cost Prescription and Non-prescription Drug Assistance Program. Under the bill, the DHS would be directed to provide $25 medication vouchers to low income senior citizens. The program would help an estimated 15,000 elderly Oklahomans.

    -HB 1178 by Rep. Don Ross would serve as a vehicle for any legislation stemming from the recommendations of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission. That panel released its final report this week, including a call for reparations for riot survivors (see "Other News" below);

    -HB 1601 by Rep. Fred Morgan would authorize the Office of State Finance to conduct performance audits of school districts in an effort to identify cost-saving measures. OSF is also seeking additional funding for the task;

    -HB 1646 by Rep. Abe Deutschendorf would provide an income tax deduction to medical researchers who decide to locate in Oklahoma. Eligible participants would receive a state income tax deduction of up to $50,000 spread over a two-year period.

    -HB 1560 by Rep. Mike Mass would require that state agencies be funded at at least 90 percent of their budget for the previous fiscal year. The measure also mandates that both the Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs would receive at least the same amount of money as the previous fiscal year.

Wednesday, February 28th

  • The full State Senate approved more than 70 bills in a long day of work. Approximately 50 of the measures were appropriations "shell" bills that will ultimately carry the funding for state agency budgets. House and Senate budget leaders are currently meeting to discuss supplemental appropriations for various state agencies. Other legislation approved by the Senate included:

    - SB 653 by Sen. Ben Robinson would enact a sales tax holiday in Oklahoma. The legislation would provide an exemption on clothes and footwear purchases on the first weekend of each month for a four-month period starting in September. The measure is one of four sales tax holiday bills approved by the Senate;

    - SB 389 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would provide an annual bonus to nationally certified speech-language pathologists, audiologists and school psychologists. The measure would cost an estimated $2.2 million to implement;

    - SB 190 by Sen. Frank Shurden would require an alternative method for drivers license testing if a language barrier exists. The legislation is designed to make it easier for Spanish-speaking individuals to obtain a drivers license. Sen. Shurden said many Hispanics who are productive members of their community are being arrested simply because they have difficulty obtaining drivers licenses;

    - SB 611 by Sen. Rick Littlefield allows for paid administrative leave for state employees when the Governor or his designee closes state offices because of inclement weather. Currently, state workers are required to use personal leave time when the state chief executive closes state offices.

    - SB 21 by Sen. Dave Herbert would provide a tax exemption to certain federal retirement benefits received by federal civil service employees. The measure was amended by Sen. Jim Dunlap to exempt lump-sum distributions from retirement plans for individuals 55 and older. The Bartlesville Republican said the proposal would encourage retirees, such as those from Phillips Petroleum in his district, to stay in Oklahoma. The measure was further amended to extend an exemption to winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor;

    - SB 454 by Sen. Jerry Smith would change the population requirements that designate whether a county must have a separate public defender's office. The move is designed to keep Cleveland County within the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System after the release of new population figures. Currently, only Tulsa and Oklahoma counties have their own public defender's offices.

  • The full House passed more than 50 pieces of legislation Wednesday, many of the "shell" appropriations bills. Only two bills were defeated by House members: HB 1036 by Rep. Gary Taylor would have allowed cities to charge certain fees; HB 1688 by Rep. Mike O'Neal would have allowed private school teachers to purchase up to five years of service upon entering the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System.

Thursday, March 1st

  • The Senate continued to work long hours on the floor and in committee as they rushed to beat their next procedural deadline. Lawmakers have until March 15th to pass all bills out of their house of origin. Bills that don't beat the deadline are considered dead for the session.

Other News

  • Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor announced that a resolution calling for a statewide vote on right to work will be taken up by the full Senate at 10:30 am on Wednesday, March 14th. By announcing the time and date of the floor debate in advance, Senator Taylor said he hoped to allow members of the Senate and general public time to adjust their schedules accordingly. If approved by the Legislature and Oklahoma voters, SJR 1 by Sen. Dave Herbert would add a right to work provision to the state constitution. In February, the measure earned a do-pass recommendation from the Senate General Government Committee, which then forwarded it to the full Senate for consideration.

  • The Tulsa Race Riot Commission presented its final report to state leaders on Wednesday. The report is the culmination of a four-year effort designed to historically document the 1921 race riot in Tulsa. Among other things, the panel has recommended reparations for survivors of the riot and their descendents, a memorial in Tulsa, economic development assistance to the Greenwood area in Tulsa and the creation of a special scholarship fund. Governor Keating said he favors providing reparations to riot survivors who can demonstrate that the city, county or state are liable for damages. Legislative leaders said that they will discuss the recommendations with their members in the weeks to come.

  • State Corrections Director James Saffle announced his retirement. Saffle, who held the director's post for approximately four years, said he will probably take a job in the private prison industry.

  • The State Attorney General requested an execution date for death row inmate Marilyn Kay Plantz. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the final appeal of the convicted killer on Monday. Plantz was sentenced to death for her role in the 1988 murder of her husband. Plantz was accused of engineering the killing that was carried out of two other men.