The Oklahoma Senate
Monday, February 7th
• The second session of the 50th Oklahoma Legislature formally convened, gathering in a joint Senate-House meeting to receive the annual State of the State address. However, before the Senate adjourned to the House of Representatives, the Senate passed the following two resolutions:
-SR 1 by Senator Debbe Leftwich commended Carlos Rogers of Auburn University for being selected as the 2004 Jim Thorpe Award Winner
-SR 2 by Senator Glenn Coffee designates February 6th through February 12th as “Ronald Reagan Week” in the State of Oklahoma.
• In the State of the State address Governor Brad Henry outlined his goals to enhance Oklahoma’s education system as well as continue efforts to drive positive economic growth. Another key factor in his speech was the issue of family and the Governor urged both sides of the aisle to put aside their differences and work together to achieve the major issues facing Oklahoma families. Governor Henry began his speech by outlining the bipartisan efforts of the last legislative session. Citing an increase in revenues for education, higher teacher pay, significant tax release and a package of healthcare initiatives that needed bipartisan support in order to gain approval. Some of the Governor’s recommendations for the upcoming session are as follows:
-“Operation Homefront” was one of the first items on the Governor’s agenda. The plan would include a tax exemption for military pension income for all veterans and purchase a $250,000 life insurance policy for every member in the Oklahoma National Guard. Henry also proposes the creation of the Military Family Relief Fund, which is an income tax check-off program to raise funds to assist Guard families who need the supplemental assistance the most.
-Increase teacher pay and introduce a comprehensive package of reforms to guarantee accountability in the classroom as well as identify each student’s needs to ensure they receive the education needed to further their lives.
-Fund full-day kindergarten, provide meaningful eighth-grade testing, stronger math instruction, end-of-course testing in high school and the promotion of a college-bound curriculum are all aspects of the Governor’s Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) initiative.
-Swift passage of the $500 million capital bond issue for higher education to alleviate crowded facilities at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities and address obsolete equipment within the system. The bond issue would include 140 construction projects within 36 communities across Oklahoma to provide an economic impact of nearly $740 million in the creation of more than 4,000 construction jobs.
-Tax relief in the form of the Oklahoma Growth and Taxpayers Fairness Act. In the event of the Rainy Day Fund is funded to its limit, half of any excess funds will be returned to the taxpayers of Oklahoma. The other half of the excess funds will be used to bolster a $1 billion research endowment recommended by Oklahoma’s Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) report.
-Further tax relief through the elimination of the corporate capital gains tax on Oklahoma-based property, reduced taxes on retirees and an annual sales tax holiday.
-Tort reform was also mentioned in the Governor’s address as he stated that he would like to see the legislature pass the rest of the tort reform package he introduced last session.
-Address the rising costs of prescription drugs. Governor Henry stated that several states are currently reimporting prescription drugs from Canada because their prescription drugs are more affordable and would like Oklahoma to begin the same process. He also proposed the creation of “Smart Cards,” which would enable Oklahomans to purchase medication at significant discounts.
-Governor Henry also addressed strengthening the state’s anti-methamphetamine efforts and tougher safeguards at nursing homes.
• Many Senate committees convened to consider legislation after the State of the State address. Among those that received approval are the following:
-SB 621 by Sen. Nancy Riley would require an auto insurer to be responsible for all towing and storage fees if the vehicle was involved in an accident resulting in a total loss. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 1 by Sen. Frank Shurden would permit Oklahoma veterinarians to engage in equine sports massage therapy. The title was stricken from the bill and Senator Shurden proposed to amend sections of the legislation as well. The bill received a do pass recommendation as amended.
-SB 556 by Sen. Frank Shurden would allow the manufacturing and storage of gaming equipment in the State of Oklahoma without being convicted of a crime. Sen. Shurden proposed an amendment to allow the state to exhibit the machines as well. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 519 by Sen. Tom Adelson would increase the hourly minimum wage for state employees to $6.15. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 260 by Sen. Harry Coates would give the Department of Labor total jurisdiction over the investigation or inquiry into accidents and incidents regarding amusement ride safety. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 747 by Sen. Randy Bass would allow the operation of the Lawton/Ft. Sill Division as a veterans’ center. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 4 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson makes the selenite crystal the official state gem. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 464 by Sen. Scott Pruitt makes “GUSTY” the states’ official cartoon character. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 516 by Sen. Cliff Branan would require that a person elected to the position of chief of polices to be at least 21 years of age, a citizen of the U.S. and possess at least a high school diploma or general education diploma. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 662 by Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre would authorize a convicted felon, while on probation or parole, to petition the State Election Board for voter registration. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
• The House of Representatives convened to consider several pieces of legislation pertaining to the rules procedure of the body. Many amendments were proposed to the rules, with every one of them tabled by a vote of 56-44, except one motion by Rep. David Braddock to make it illegal for representatives to accept campaign contributions on the Capitol grounds. This amendment received unanimous approval. The new House rules were passed without debate by a vote of 56-44. The rules will no longer allow debate on the House floor and will require all action to be made in committees.
• With attention focused on getting measures assigned and heard by committees, the Senate met briefly on Tuesday.
Numerous measures were considered by Senate committees on Tuesday. The following bills received a do pass recommendation:
-SB 958 by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm would exempt the purchase
of clothing and footwear from state and county sales taxes if it is
less than $100 and the sale must take place on the first Friday of August
to midnight on the following Sunday. The bill would also allow corporations
to deduct from the Oklahoma taxable income for the amount of qualifying
gains that received capital enhancement earned by the corporation during
the taxable year and included in the federal taxable income. The plan
also includes several other tax relief measures for Oklahoma families
that were initially proposed by Governor Henry.
-SB 926 by Sen. Frank Shurden would create an income tax credit for employing volunteer firefighters.
-SB 45 by Sen. Cal Hobson would require a background investigation of all nominees to the Oklahoma Lottery Commission.
-SB 560 by Sen. Brian Crane would amend procedures and requirements for the issuance of the articles of incorporation.
-SB 257 by Sen. Debbe Leftwich would prohibit the acceptance of campaign contribution in the Capitol building and requires immediate return to the contributor upon release.
-SB 513 by Sen. Cliff Branan would require computer technicians to report pornographic material involving individuals under the age of 18 found on computer hard drives.
-SB 297 by Sen. David Myers would provide an exemption for senators and representatives from requirements for state employees to participate in the state health insurance benefit plans.
-SB 430 by Sen. Patrick Anderson would decrease the fine to $100 for trespassing without permission.
-SB 864 by Sen. Debbe Leftwich would increase the membership of the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board by one member to include a member of the judiciary selected by the Supreme Court. The bill failed to receive a second.
• The House met on Tuesday to consider legislation and reassign several pieces of legislation to their proper committee.
-HR 1003 by Rep. Lance Cargill and Rep. Todd Hiett, requires the Speaker of the House to designate the number, duties, and compensation of the temporary employees of the House of Representatives for the first session of the 50th Legislature. The resolution was adopted by unanimous consent.
• Attention continued to be focused on committee action on Wednesday, with committees considering numerous measures, including the following:
-SB 745 Committee Substitute by Sen. Cal Hobson would allow the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education to borrow money in the form of bonds for the purpose of purchasing, constructing, or refurbishing property used by Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. Revenue generated from the Oklahoma Education Lottery passed in November 2004 would be used to pay off the bonds at a rate of $30 million for 25 years. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 429 by Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson and Rep. Susan Winchester would direct the Department of Libraries Board to allocate funds to public libraries on a per-capita basis. The title was stricken and the bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 322 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols would require school districts to prepare and post income and expenditure statements for each school site. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 668 by Sen. Angela Monson and Rep. Barbara Staggs would provide for the filing of an application to reduce the assessed valuation of property and requires school district treasurers to complete at least 12 hours of training on school finance laws, accountings, ethics, and the duties and responsibilities of a school district treasurer. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 268 by Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield would include school district superintendents in the education employee flexible benefit program. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 816 by Sen. Mary Easley would charge anyone with a felony who knowingly and willfully communicates false information to a law enforcement agency about a missing child without probable cause. The felony offense would be punishable by no more than two years in prison or a fine no less than $1,500. The title was stricken and the bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 517 by Sen. Judy Eason McIntyre would require hospitals and health care providers to accept inmates under their care, setting the reimbursement at the Medicaid rate. The title was stricken and received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 504 by Sen. Brian Crain would call for a presiding judge or designee to determine the eligibility of an offender for a Drug Court program instead of the District Attorney. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 613 Sen. Kathleen Wilcoxson would provide uninsured motorists with eligibility for victim’s compensation if injured in an accident if the driver was not cited for any traffic or criminal violation. The measure received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 822 by Sen. Debbe Leftwich would expand the crime of identity theft to include fraudulently obtaining or using any personally identifying information and would authorize expungement of records for identity theft victims. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 634 by Sen. Kenneth Corn would modify the purposes for which money in the State Use Committee Revolving Fund may be spent and removes the authority of an agent to participate in programs and relates to the Surplus Property Agent. The bill would turn over responsibility for surplus weapons received from the military to the Department of Public Safety, instead of law enforcement. The title was stricken and received a do pass recommendation.
-SB 1005 by Sen. Bernest Cain would require the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the State Board of Mental Health to create rules and standards for a pilot Medicaid reimbursement program for assisted living services for 200 low-income, elderly Medicaid recipients. The bill was approved with the title stricken.
-HR 1004 by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft designates February 7th through 14th as Marriage Week in Oklahoma.
-HB 1780 by Rep. Dale Rousselot would require the Oklahoma Military Department to create an Oklahoma National Guard Relief Program to provide expenses to qualified members of the Oklahoma National Guard through taxpayer contributions through a voluntary check-off program on tax forms. The bill was approved in committee.
-HB 1256 by Rep. Pam Peterson would give married couples the same benefits as single individuals on their state income tax return. The bill would allow married couples to file separately under either Method 1 or Method 2 as single individuals and therefore allow them to receive the standard $2000 deduction as a single person, instead of the collaborative $2000 deduction as a couple. The bill was laid over until the next meeting.
-HB 1275 by Rep. Ron Peters would provide a sales tax exemption for federally tax-exempt nonprofit organizations that provide services to the homeless. The bill was approved.
-HB 1301 by Rep. Gary Banz would provide an income tax exemption in lieu of Social Security benefits for retirees of the U.S. Civil Service. The bill passed committee.
-HB 1358 by Rep. Mike Wilt would provide an exemption for one time lump sum retirement payments for individuals 55 or older. The bill was approved.
-HB 1247 by Rep. John Nance would require the criminal history record from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation cover only the last five years from the date the information was attained. The bill received a do pass recommendation.
-HB 1397 by Rep. David Braddock would expand the Small Business Capital Formation Incentive Act and the Rural Venture Capital Formation Incentive Act to provide income tax credits to be claimed against gross production tax. The bill was approved.
-HB 1810 by Rep. Don Armes would expand the Quality Jobs Program Act to include new direct jobs from which gross payroll existed on or after January 1, 2003 in the areas of engineering services, custom computer programming services, computer systems design services, computer facilities management services and other computer related services, facilities support services and flight training. The bill was approved.
• The Senate met briefly before adjourning so that committees could continue hearing legislation. The deadline for final action by committees on legislation from the house of origin is February 24th. The full Senate will reconvene on Monday, February 14th at 1:30 p.m.
-SR 3 by Sen. J. Berry Harrison was adopted commending the Pawnee High School Black Bears for winning their first ever Class A State Football Championship. The football team had an undefeated season with a record of 15-0.
-SCR 5 by Sen. Daisy Lawler and Rep. Ray McCarter was adopted commending two Marlow High School students for their act of bravery. Joseph Womack and Lee Tumblson noticed a lady slumped over her steering wheel and Womack jumped into the passenger side to stop the car, which was picking up speed.
-SCR 5 by Sen. Daisy Lawler was adopted commending Comanche High School Students, Thomas McDevitt and Kevin Hartman, for pulling two people out of their burning home.