The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
For the week of Monday, April 14 to Thursday, April 17, 2003

Monday, April 14th

• The Senate convened at 10:00 a.m. on Monday to continue working through House bills on third reading in anticipation of the April 24th deadline for action on those measures. Among those winning approval by the full Senate:

-HJR 1011 by Sen. Ben Robinson and Rep. Ray Vaughn proposes a vote of the people on stiff smoking restrictions for indoor workplaces, with the exceptions of stand-alone bars and taverns.

-HB 1382 by Sen. Kathleen Ferguson and Rep. Larry Ferguson would allow the state Board of Education to grant emergency exemptions from some state mandates to school districts during a financial crisis.

-HB 1030 by Sen. Ben Robinson and Rep. Greg Piatt would allow a board of education of a technology center school district to hold meetings by videoconferencing. The measure would not allow executive sessions to be held through teleconferencing.

-HB 1734 by Sen. Ben Robinson and Rep. Dale Wells would create the Bryar Wheeler Act. Under the bill, convicted felons, alcoholics, drug addicts and the mentally unstable would be considered unfit guardians of children.

-HB 1623 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson and Rep. David Braddock would add the acts of exploiting or forcing children under the age of 16 to view photos, drawings or computer-generated images depicting the body or private parts of another person to the list of lewd and indecent proposals.

-HB 1707 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson and Rep. Dale Turner would require law enforcement and the district attorney to notify the superintendent of a school district of the arrest of any student or school employee and any charges filed against them.

-HB 1058 by Sen. Kenneth Corn and Rep. Jerry Ellis would expand the state’s “Whistleblower Act,” to protect individuals who talk to the print or electronic media to report wrongdoing.

• Likewise, the House focused much of its attention on floor action on measures from the opposite chamber. Those measures winning approval included:

-SB 596 by Sen. Keith Leftwich and Rep. Al Lindley would direct the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to give in-state tuition to students graduating from Oklahoma High Schools, even if their parents are not U.S. citizens and do not hold permanent resident status.

-SB 299 by Sen. Stratton Taylor and Rep. Opio Toure. Under this measure, when the constitutionality of any state law affecting the public interest is questioned, the Attorney General would immediately deliver a copy of the proceedings to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who may intervene on behalf of their respective chamber.

-SB 649 by Sen. Glenn Coffee and Rep. Michael Tyler would abolish the Oklahoma State Employees Benefits Council and transfer duties to the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board.

-SB 610 by Rep. M.C. Leist and Sen. Ben Robinson would enable the state to offer Medicaid coverage to low-income, uninsured working residents. The legislation would allow the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to seek approval from the federal government to expand its coverage. If implemented, an additional 600,000 Oklahomans could be brought into the plan, which would cover any employed individual who works and is part of a family of four with an income of $32,000 or less.

Tuesday, April 8th

• On Tuesday, Governor Brad Henry signed 13 bills into law, including:

-SB 515 by Sen. Robert M Kerr and Rep. James Covey, which transfers administrative duties relating to the Rural Economic Development Loan Act from the State Treasurer to the Commissioner of Agriculture.

-HB 1061 by Rep. Ray McCarter and Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield, which includes work release programs among the assignment options for non-violent offenders in the Department of Corrections.

-SB 393 by Sen. J. Berry Harrison and Rep. James Covey, which expands the scope of practice of veterinary medicine to include complementary and alternative therapies.

• The State Senate gave its approval to a $1.95 billion dollar common education appropriation for fiscal year 2004. HB 1160 by Rep. Bill Mitchell and Sen. Mike Morgan represents an increase of $80 million over the current funding levels. Also approved on Tuesday were:

-FS for HB 1247 by Sen. Mike Morgan and Rep. Bill Mitchell would require the legislature to complete action on common education appropriations and send the measure to the governor by April 1st of each year.

-HB 1801 by Sen. Kenneth Corn and Rep. Jari Askins would transfer domestic violence services from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to the Attorney General’s office, creating the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

-HB 1014 by Sen. Kevin Easley and Rep. Robert Worthen would require licensed retail sellers of low-point beer kegs to affix an identification seal displaying an identification number and other information required by the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

-SCR 18 by Sen. David Myers would designate a portion of State Highway 15 as the Henry Bellmon Highway.

• Among those measures winning approval in the House on Tuesday:

-SB 200 by Rep. Bill Mitchell and Sen. Mike Morgan which would authorize the state to refinance its outstanding bonds, saving the state an estimated $100 million in finance costs.

-SB 810 by Rep. Barbara Staggs and Sen. Dick Wilkerson would allow the Commission on the Status of Women to form a task force to study factors resulting in Oklahoma being one of the highest state’s in the nation in the rate of incarceration of women.

-SB 240 by Rep. Jim Newport and Sen. Keith Leftwich would amend the Telemarketer Restriction act to maintain the privacy of those individuals on the no-call registry.

-SB 625 by Rep. Barbara Staggs and Sen. Daisy Lawler would stiffen penalties for throwing or dropping objects from a bridge or overpass onto a vehicle and expand existing law to include dropping objects onto the roadway itself. Resulting damage to property or injury to a person could result in a felony charge.

-SB 660 by Rep. Fred Perry and Sen. Glenn Coffee would prohibit specified commercial E-mail and require a method of contacting the sender. Messages containing adult material would have to carry specific characters in the subject line to indicate content.

Wednesday, April 9th

• Governor Brad Henry signed 19 bills into law on Wednesday, including the following:

-SB 280 by Sen. Jim Reynolds and Rep. Carolyn Coleman would create the “Pearl Harbor/USS Oklahoma Memorial Highway” along State Highway 77 between the intersections of State Highway 9 and Interstate Highway 240.

-SB 10 by Sen. Harry Coates and Rep. Kevin Calvey changes the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Safety Act to clarify the Celsius temperature control limit of “hot Water Supply Heater.” The measure also amends the Oklahoma Welding Act to update references and modify piping codes.

-SB 549 by Sen. Mike Morgan and Rep. John Carey would require tax forms to allow for donation of tax refunds to common education, for roads and highway maintenance and to the Health Care Authority.

-HB 1001 by Rep. Danny Hilliard and Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would allow a lawfully appointed personal representative of a deceased candidate to withdraw that candidate’s name from the ballot.

• Although the Senate had already approved SB 835 this session allowing a vote of the people on whether to reduce cockfighting penalties, on Wednesday Senators voted against a similar House bill. HB 1784 by Sen. Frank Shurden and Rep. Randall Erwin also sought a public vote on changing the penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor. Among those measures which did win approval:

-SB 200 by Sen. Mike Morgan and Rep. Bill Mitchell would authorize the Oklahoma Building Bonds Commission to refinance bonds issued under the 1992 Oklahoma Building Bond and College Savings Bond Act.
-HB 1802 by Sen. Sam Helton and Rep. Jari Askins would add exceptions to accreditation standards for certain equipment under the Forensic Laboratory Accreditation Act.

-HB 1313 by Sen. Dick Wilkerson and Rep. William Paulk would authorize creation of a bomb squad section of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

-HB 1430 by Sen. Kevin Easley and Rep. Thad Balkman would raise the fine for transporting an open container from a maximum of $150 to $300.

• On Wednesday, the House approved SJR 22 by Sen. Cal Hobson and Rep. Ron Kirby, which would provide for a vote of the people to amend the Constitution to create the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund. However, the measure failed to get the 68 votes needed to put the question on a special election ballot, meaning a statewide vote on the proposed education lottery may not take place until November, 2004. Among other measures approved by the House on Wednesday:

-HB 1326 by Rep. John Nance and Sen. Jonathan Nichols which would require registration for possession of substances that could be used as a precursor to manufacturing methamphetamines.

-SB 216 by Rep. Carolyn Coleman and Sen. Owen Laughlin would allow teachers and superintendents to contract with more than one school district in a year.

-SB 787 by Rep. Bill Nations and Sen. Angela Monson would require vaccinations for or detailed information on the risks of the disease of meningitis to first time enrollees in any post-secondary education institution residing in on-campus student housing.

Thursday, April 9th

• The Senate did not meet on Thursday in observance of the upcoming Easter Holiday. The Senate will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. Monday, April 21st. The deadline for floor action on House measures still on general order is Thursday, April 24th.

Other News

• Oklahoma received more than $51 million from Philip Morris this week as part of the payment negotiated between State Attorney General Drew Edmondson and seven other attorneys general and the tobacco industry. So far, Oklahoma has received more than $300 million as part of the settlement arising from a lawsuit asking for damages for state funds spent for the treatment of smoking-related illnesses. Of the $51 million received this week, more than $28 million was deposited in Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment.

• Senator Charles Ford, President of the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund Inc., unveiled two new pieces of original art this week. On Tuesday, Senator Ford unveiled a portrait of the Honorable Alice Robertson, Oklahoma’s first and only woman ever elected to Congress and founder of Kendall College, which is now known as the University of Tulsa. On Wednesday, Senator Ford dedicated “S.W. Woodhouse at Lost City.” The painting is based on a journal entry by Woodhouse, a surgeon-naturalist whose survey of the Creek Indian Boundary was one of the earliest natural history studies of the area now known as Sand Springs. The painting was a gift of Sen. Nancy Riley, R-Tulsa, and the citizens of Sand Springs.