The Oklahoma Senate

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

Monday | Tuesday | Wednesday | Thursday | Other News


Monday, March 5th

  • In a day of heavy floor activity, the full Senate worked through approximately 40 pieces of legislation. Lawmakers are rushing to beat a March 15th deadline for passing all bills out of their house of origin. Any legislation that does not beat the deadline is dead for the session. Some of the bills approved Monday included:

    -SB 741 by Sen. Jim Dunlap would expand the treatment of breast and cervical cancer for low-income Oklahomans. The measure would modify the Medicaid Reimbursement Act to provide coverage to women at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Sen. Dunlap estimated that the expansion of coverage will cost the state about $900,000, but he noted that the expenditure would also attract federal matching funds.

    -SB 157 by Sen. Ted Fisher would require juvenile sex offenders to register with the state. The measure was prompted by the murder of 7 year-old Kristi Blevins and the rape of her 12-year old friend. Another juvenile is accused in the offenses. Robert Rotramel had a record of several sex crimes in his juvenile file. Under the proposed legislation, juveniles between 14-18 years of age who are convicted of rape or sodomy would have to register with the state annually. At the request of prosecutors, a juvenile could be transferred to the adult sex offender registry upon reaching 21 years of age if a judge determines that he or she is still a threat to the public.

    -SB 9 by Sen. Angela Monson would repeal a new law that requires individuals with professional licenses to pay their state taxes before they can be re-licensed. Sen. Monson said the language approved last year was vague and needed to be clarified. If no agreement can be reached on the language, she said she would push to repeal the new section of law entirely.

    -SB 35 by Sen. Bernest Cain would cut taxes on low-income Oklahomans. The measure would provide for a state earned income tax credit of up to 10 percent of the federal earned income tax credit. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC indicated that Oklahoma is one of the harshest states in the nation when it comes to taxing the poor.

    -SB 477 by Sen. Frank Shurden would allow hunters and fishermen to go online to get their licenses. The measure would authorize the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife to sell licenses over the internet.

  • The State House approved approximately 60 bills and resolutions during a long day of work. One measure defeated by House members would have required low-income Oklahomans to pay a $5.00 "co-pay" for each medical visit covered by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority's Medicaid program. According to Rep. John Wright, the author of HB 1112, the purpose of his measure was to remind Oklahomans that there is "no free lunch," even when it comes to health care. Opponents, however, argued that the measure simply punished Oklahoma's poorest citizens for taking advantage of government health care programs. The bill was defeated on a 36-59 vote. Legislation approved by the House included:

    -HB 1355 by Rep. Ray Vaughn would expand provisions of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act to allow public comments on any subject, whether they related to issues on a published meeting agenda or not. Rep. Vaughn said a number of public bodies currently restrict comments to only those items on their agenda.

    -HB 1641 by Rep. Abe Deutschendorf would allow "math-challenged" students to take four units of math in high school, including 2 years of Algebra I if necessary. Currently, state law requires students to take Algebra I and at least two other units in order to graduate. To qualify for the math-challenged program, a student's math grades would have to be in the lowest 10 percent in his or her school.

    -HB 1361 by Rep. Stuart Ericson would make operators of illegal methamphetamine labs responsible for their clean up. The measure would require convicted offenders to pay the costs of cleaning up their illegal operations. OSBI officials estimate that it costs approximately $2,500 to clean up a single meth lab. State law enforcement officials investigated almost 1,000 meth lab complaints last year alone.

Tuesday, March 6th

  • In a full day of work, the Senate approved approximately 50 bills and resolutions, including:

    -SB 486 by Sen. Jeff Rabon would make it illegal to knowingly disseminate falsehoods about a candidate during a political campaign. Offenders would face a misdemeanor charge, up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. SB 486 failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate on its first run last week, but was approved on a motion to reconsider on Tuesday.

    -SB 446 by Sen. Herb Rozell would allow the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission to assess campsite fees for the first time. The measure would allow fees of six dollars to be charged against campers, and would also authorize the commission to increase the one-dollar river float fee to two dollars. The commission oversees the Illinois River, Flint Creek and Barren Fork Creek.

    -SB 345 by Sen. Bernest Cain would severely limit the gifts that nursing home residents could give to their caregivers. The measure would make it illegal for a caregiver to accept anything valued at more than one dollar. According to Sen. Cain, the Attorney General's office believes that the defrauding of nursing home residents is a major problem in Oklahoma.

    -SB 757 by Sen. Scott Pruitt would allow retailers to be prosecuted for renting or selling violent video games to youths under 17 years of age. The penalty for a first offense would be a fine up to $200, with penalties rising with each offense. Sen. Pruitt contends that violent video games lead to aggressive behavior in young people and should be regulated.

    -SB 405 by Senator Angela Monson would provide a cost of living increase to state retirees. The measure would provide a 5 percent COLA to retirees and increase the monthly health subsidy from $105 to $180.

    -SB 439 by Sen. Jim Maddox would allow campus security officers to remove certain individuals from campus and prohibit them from returning. The author said that the measure would only apply to people who are causing a disturbance. The bill was requested by campus security directors.

    -SB 182 by Sen. Paul Muegge would create the Oklahoma Farmland Protection Act - a measure designed to protect prime farmland from urban sprawl.

    -SB 767 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would provide a pay raise for Oklahoma's veteran teachers. The measure would extend the current step pay program for teachers from 26 years to 30 years.

  • House members approved approximately 25 bills, including a measure that would do away with annual vehicle inspections. As initially drafted, HB 1144 by Rep. Leonard Sullivan would have raised the cost of motor vehicle inspections from $5 to $12 in an effort to encourage more service stations to offer the service. The measure was amended, however, to repeal vehicle inspections completely.
    Supporters of repeal claim that inspection stickers serve little purpose other than a nuisance for motorists, but opponents contend that the annual inspections help remove unsafe vehicles from the road.

  • The House also approved legislation designed to strengthen state sex offender laws. HB 1351 by Rep. Fred Morgan would require convicted sex offenders to notify the state Corrections Department and local law enforcement agencies at least three business days before they relocate, as well as after they move to a
    new address. Failing to register as a sex offender is a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison term and $5,000 fine.

Wednesday, March 7th
  • Senators approved more than 30 pieces of legislation during a long day of work. One of the measures passed by the Senate was a scaled down version of a liquor tax reform bill. As originally written, SB 501 by Senator 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. Sen. Morgan said he removed the new per liter tax to keep the bill moving through the legislative process in hopes of reaching an agreement on the tax legislation later in the session. Sen. Morgan is attempting to reform the state's current liquor tax system that employs a complicated "depletion" audit to determine the taxes for clubs and restaurants that serve liquor.

  • The State House approved a major supplemental appropriation bill, but failed to attach the necessary emergency clause that would make the measure become law immediately upon the governor's signature. HB 1564 by Rep. Mike Mass would allocate an additional $96.7 million for education, health care, prison beds and programs associated with emergency heating assistance, among other things. Expenditures include:

    -$21 million for winter heating assistance with natural-gas, propane and electricity bills. The appropriation includes funds for public schools, colleges and universities and state agencies;

    -$4.8 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps working families and senior citizens pay their heating bills;

    -$1.4 million to the state Tourism Department for damage related to the recent winter storms;

    -$13.7 million for additional prison beds for the state Corrections Department;

    -$9 million for endowed chairs at state institutions of higher education;

    -$200,000 to hire 17 more surveyors at the state Health Department to help with nursing home inspections;

    -$3,250,000 to University Hospitals Authority for graduate medical education programs at state institutions of higher education, including Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa;

    -$4 million to the Oklahoma Military Department for replacement of weathered roofs on armories throughout the state;

    -$6.7 million to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, to provide for digital conversion of equipment;

    -$10.2 million for debt service on capital improvement bonds for the Quartz Mountain State Lodge and other projects;

    -$2.4 million to honor commitments the Department of Career and Technology Education has made through its Training for Industry Program;

    -$31,000 to the State Labor Department to pay for inspections of boilers in schools, hospitals and nursing homes throughout Oklahoma;

    -$14,656,439 to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, for enrollment growth in public health care programs and to pay a rate increase toproviders of services to aged, blind and disabled Oklahomans;

    -$2,575,000 to the state Agriculture Department for rural fire departments and other entities;

    -$420,000 to the State Department of Education to provide incentive funding for teachers who obtain national board certification;

    -$1,691,000 to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;

    -$350,000 to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board for weather modification;

    -$158,000 to the Conservation Commission; and

    -$106,710 to the Centennial Commission, for employee salaries.

    The supplemental appropriations bill was approved on a 52-46 vote. The vote on the emergency clause was 53-45, falling much short of the necessary two-thirds margin.

Thursday, March 8th

  • 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. Approximately 130 bills remain on the agenda. The Senate will reconvene at 1:30 p.m., Monday, March 12th.

Other News

  • Governor Frank Keating ordered a stay of execution for death row inmate Phillip Dewitt Smith. The 30-day stay was granted at the request of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, which is seeking clemency for Smith. Gov. Keating said he issued to stay so that board members could provide him with further explanation on the type of clemency that they believe should be granted. Smith is facing the death penalty for a 1983 murder.