The Oklahoma Senate

Week In Review
Monday, February 6 to Thursday February 9, 2006

Monday, February 6

• Monday, February 6, marked the first day of the 2006 Legislative session. Prior to beginning formal work, the State Senate convened at 10:00 a.m. to hold a “Celebration of Life” in honor of State Senator Robert M. Kerr. Senator Kerr lost his battle with cancer on January 25.

• Following the ceremony and a brief reception, the Senate formally convened. During that session, the Senate heard SJR 63 which would name the performing arts center at Quartz Mountain the “Senator Robert. M. Kerr Performing Arts Center.” After a brief session, members of the Senate reconvened in the House for a joint session which featured Governor Brad Henry’s third State of the State address.

Tuesday, February 7

• With attention focused on getting measures assigned and heard by committees by the February 23 deadline, the Senate met briefly on Tuesday, giving approval to the following resolutions:

-SR 61 by Sen. Debbe Leftwich honoring Michael Huff of the University of Texas for his performance at the Rose Bowl and for being awarded the 2005 Jim Thorpe Award.

-SCR 36 by Sen. Nancy Riley honors Jennifer Berry for being the fifth Oklahoman to be selected as Miss America

-SCR 37 by Sen. James A. Williamson recognizing Jenks Public Schools for being awarded the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.

-SCR 38 by Sen. Patrick Anderson recognizes the Enid Majors American Legion Post 4 baseball team for winning the 2005 American Legion World Series and for being the first team in Oklahoma to win the title.

Numerous measures were approved by Senate committees on Tuesday including:

-SB 1020 by Sen. Mary Easley would limit the distance and the time a group could demonstrate at funerals and memorial services. The measure was amended from creating a two-hour leeway after funeral commencement to four hours. The title was stricken.

-SB 1470 by Sen. Bernest Cain would limit jury trials for cases involving a fine of less than $500.

-SB 1503 by Sen. Glenn Coffee to allow a victim or a victim’s family member to give an oral impact statement without being submitted to cross-examination by defense attorneys in the sentencing phase of a trial.

-SB 1748 by Sen. Randy Bass would give individuals the ability to freeze their credit reports, preventing unauthorized credit checks. The measure would also ban the sale of an individual’s cell phone records without their permission within the state.

-SB 1022 by Sen. Mike Morgan creates a sales tax exemption for tickets to the NBA Hornets’ basketball games.

-SB1665 by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm would create a tax-free weekend during the month of August which would apply to certain clothing and footwear items.

• The House on Tuesday heard second reading of bills, with committees approving several bills, including the following measures:

-HB 2018 by Rep. Kevin Calvey would rename portions of the North Canadian River. Earlier legislative action changed the name of the seven-mile portion of the river that flows through Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma River. HB 2018 would change the name of the rest of the river to the Oklahoma River as well.

-HB 2841 by Rep. Kris Steele which would require courts to look at the past criminal record of an arrested person when setting bail. The measure would also allow a judge to deny bail to a person based on that individual’s previous criminal history.

-HB 2357 by Rep. Dale DePue would require government agencies to help expedite the process by which individuals are notified of a breach in computer systems that results in unauthorized release of personal information.

-HB 2396 by Rep. Marian Cooksey would provide an exemption from the Open Records Act for Social Security numbers kept by public bodies that provide utility services to the public.

-HB 2786 by Rep. John Smaligo would allow municipal police officers on probationary status to be discharged without cause during that probationary period.

Wednesday, February 8

• Although attention remained focused on committee action in the Senate, two high profile measures were approved on Wednesday. SB 1264 by Sen. Kenneth Corn contained a $24 million supplemental appropriation for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The measure included funding for a $3,200 pay raise for correctional officers, probation and parole officers and other employees at state prisons as well as funding the cost of hiring and training 50 additional corrections officers and 30 probation parole officers.

The full Senate also approved SB 1022 by Sen. Mike Morgan which would exempt tickets to NBA and NHL events in Oklahoma from sales tax. The measure was amended to include minor league baseball and hockey teams based in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

The Senate also formally adopted SJR 63 which would name the performing arts center in the Quartz Mountain arts, conference and nature center the “Senator Robert. M. Kerr Performing Arts Center.”

The following measures were approved in committee on Wednesday:

-SB 1495 by Sen. Kenneth Corn and Sen. Todd Lamb would create the Kyle Williams Boating Safety Act to prohibit anyone who is at least 12 years of age but not yet 16 from operating a jet ski or motor boat unless the child has successfully completed safe boating education.

-SB 1993 by Sen. Mike Morgan raising the maximum income eligibility for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access scholarship program from $50,000 to $75,000.

-SB 1294 by Sen. Tom Adelson would expand the Insure Oklahoma program to include small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Currently that program is limited to businesses with 25 employees or less.

-SB 1585 by Sen. Frank Shurden which would allow surgical or chemical castration of rapists.

-SB 1764 by Sen. Nancy Riley would require the state Department of Education to provide education to juvenile delinquents within 72 hours being booked into a facility.

-SB 1536 by Sen. Jim Wilson directs the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to establish a pilot program under which uninsured patients in that program would only pay 20 percent of their medical bills with the remaining 80 percent paid by money from the tobacco tax and excess funds from Medicare reimbursement of uninsured payers.

-SB 1056 by Sen. Cal Hobson creating a legal entity enabling the construction of a diabetes research and treatment center.

-SB 1420 by Sen. Kenneth Corn would increase the penalty for violating the Oklahoma Mandatory Seat Belt Use Act, from $20 to $50 plus court costs. The measure would place the additional $30 into the Department of Public Safety Revolving Fund for funding Highway Patrol Academies and other law enforcement officer training and continuing education.

-SB1760 by Sen. Nancy Riley would require anyone age 15, 16 or 17 who is charged with first-degree murder to be charged as an adult.

-SB 1800 by Sen. Jonathan Nichols would establish a Child Abuse Response Team within the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate cases of physical or sexual assault, abuse or neglect.

-SB 1801 by Sen. Don Barrington would make it a crime for any individual or company to make available lists of credit card subscribers and their addresses and account numbers without the consent of the credit card issuer and the customer.

-SB 1824 by Sen. Kenneth Corn would increase drivers license fees and fees for drivers license re-tests. The revenues from those fees would go to DPS to fund more positions for drives license examiners and clerks.

-SB 1515 by Sen. Daisy Lawler creating an Oklahoma Farm to School Program. The measure would encourage schools to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as encourage agriculture education in the schools.

-SB 1067 by Sen. Mary Easley would require the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to develop a counseling program to be offered to family members of suicide victims provided funding is available.

• The House also focused on committee action, and approved the following measures:

-HB 2142 by Rep. Dale DePue would provide an income tax deduction for health and spa membership fees in order to encourage better health, thus decreasing health costs in the state due to diabetes and other health problems resulting from obesity.

-HB 2073 by Rep. Glen Bud Smithson provides for an income tax deduction of $500 to volunteer firefighters, reserve police officers and reserve sheriff’s deputies.

-HB 2522 by Rep. Randy Terrill would allow individuals to take a state income tax deduction of up to $10,000 in the year that they or one of their dependents donates one or more human organs.

-HB 2628 by Rep. R.C. Pruett lowers the minimum wage requirement of the Small Employer Quality Jobs Act.

-HB 2358 by Rep. Dale DePue would authorize an employer to provide “reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to breast-feed or express milk.” If possible, the break time “shall run concurrently with any break time, paid or unpaid, already provided to the employee.” The bill states that an employer would not be required to provide a break for breast feeding or expressing milk if it would create an undue hardship on the operations of the business.

Thursday, February 9

• 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 23, 2006. The full Senate will reconvene on Monday, February 13, at 1:30 p.m.

Other News

• Former Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher was found guilty on Wednesday of embezzlement and perjury. The jury recommended one year in prison and a fine of $10,000 for his own campaign funds and two years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for perjury.

In 2004, the Oklahoma House of Representatives impeached Fisher. The State Senate came within days of holding the first ouster trial since 1965 as a result of the charges against the former Insurance Commissioner. However, shortly before the trial was to begin, Fisher resigned from office. A similar event occurred in 1975 when then Secretary of State John Rogers resigned before his impeachment trial was slated to begin.

Fisher still faces trial on additional charges, according to Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

• KTOK Capitol Reporter Bill Bateman made news on Wednesday when he asked a Hispanic community leader to leave a State Capitol press conference. State Rep. Randy Terrill had called the press conference to discuss his bill on illegal immigration when Ed Romo began questioning the lawmaker. Although members of the public are sometimes present at such press conferences, questions are restricted to members of the media. Bateman told Roma that the event was not a debate and told him to leave. Romo refused, prompting Bateman to call DPS officers located in the Capitol. Three Highway Patrol troopers arrived shortly before the press conference ended, however no arrests were made. Other reporters said Romo later accused Bateman of being a member of the “Minutemen,” which is a civilian group formed to help patrol the border between Mexico and the United States in an effort to stop illegal immigration into this country.