The Oklahoma Senate
• Due to snow and sleet that moved through the state over the weekend, both the Senate and the House cancelled all scheduled meetings and closed their offices on Monday. The Senate announced it would vote later in the week to suspend the rules which would allow for additional time to hear bills still in committee.
Tuesday, February 21
• On Tuesday, the Senate voted by unanimous consent to extend the committee deadline from February 23, 2006 to February 27, 2006, and to allow filing of committee reports on February 28, 2006. Measures approved Tuesday on the Senate Floor included:
-SR 63, by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, a Resolution supporting TRIO programs and memorializing Congress not to cut funding without a thorough study.
-SCR 40, by Sen. Earl Garrison, honoring Oklahoma agriculture in conjunction with the state’s centennial celebration.
• The following measures were approved in committee on Tuesday:
-CS SB 334, by Sens. Glenn Coffee, Mike Mazzei and Debbe Leftwich, would eliminate Oklahoma’s estate tax over a three-year period.
-SB 1693, by Sen. Ted Fisher, would limit tax credits under the Small Business and Rural Venture Capital Formation Incentive Acts.
-SB 1747, by Gumm, would provide the death penalty and life without parole as punishments for repeat child molesters.
-SB 1717, by Fisher, would prohibit certain retailer-to-retailer sales of cigarettes.
-SB 1096, by Sen. Tom Adelson, would clarify that the state’s tobacco tax is collected at the wholesale level.
-SB 1057, by Sen. Cal Hobson, would allow the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to refinance bond debt, projected to save the state up to $51 million.
-SJR 52, by Fisher, would create the Oklahoma Opportunity Fund to provide financial incentives to businesses when the state is competing for new jobs.
-SB 2022, by Sen. Scott Pruitt, would lower the state’s top income tax rate from 6.25 percent to 4.9 percent.
-SB 408, by Mazzei, would provide a tax exemption on equipment used for research.
-SB 1046, by Gumm, would provide a sales tax exemption to an individual acting for a disabled veteran or national guardsman.
-SB 1455, by Sen. Owen Laughlin, would provide an income tax credit for unreimbursed expenditures by public school teachers for classroom supplies.
-SJR 60, by Sen. Randy Bass, proposes a constitutional amendment to provide a homestead exemption of 15 percent, up to a maximum of $15,000, for veterans of foreign wars and hostilities in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.
• A few bills were approved on the House Floor Tuesday, including the following measures:
-HB 2509, by Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, would create the Oklahoma Funeral Protection Act, making it illegal for anyone to picket or engage in any form of protest or demonstration at funerals or within 500 feet of any home, funeral home, church, synagogue, temple, mosque, cemetery or mortuary.
-HB 3082, by Rep. Dale DeWitt, would create the "Commonsense Consumption Act" to protect agricultural and food producers from lawsuits filed by individuals making a claim "arising out of weight gain, obesity, a health condition associated with weight gain or obesity, or other generally known condition allegedly caused by or allegedly likely to result from long-term consumption of food."
• House committees approved several bills on Tuesday, including the following measures:
-HB 2091, by Rep. John Wright, would eliminate the excise tax on vehicles purchased in Oklahoma that were manufactured in Oklahoma.
-HB 2676, by Rep. Barbara Staggs, would move employees of Teacher Prep from the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System to the Teachers Retirement System of Oklahoma
-HB 1268, by Rep. Terry Ingmire, would provide 45 percent of abandoned utility deposits into the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) account, and the remaining 55 percent into the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement fund.
-HB 3056, by Rep. Thad Balkman, would allow fines of up to $5,000 and five years in prison on servers who repeatedly sell beer to minors. Teenagers caught purchasing beer would be fined up to $900 and lose their driver’s license for up to two years.
-HB 2903, by Rep. Ken Miller, would prohibit the sale of cell phone records without the owner’s consent.
-HB 2840, by Rep. Kris Steele, the Kelsey Smith-Briggs Child Protection Reform Act, would give the state Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation more authority in cases of suspected child abuse, make judges more accountable for their rulings, give parents more information about their child’s case and ensure that case workers and Court Appointed Special Advocates are properly trained.
• The Senate considered a resolution on the Floor Wednesday. Senate Resolution 65, by Sen. Earl Garrison, calls upon the President George W. Bush to reverse he decision to allow the Dubai Ports World company, a company which is state-owned by the United Arab Emirates, to own and operate certain U.S. ports until a public review can be completed, and urges Congress to take action to delay the sale. SR 65 passed by a vote of 38 to 7, with 2 members excused.
• Attention was mainly focused on committee work on Wednesday. Among those measures approved in committee were the following:
-SJR 53, by Fisher, would require a vote of the people to raise the cap on the state’s Rainy Day Fund from 10 percent of the previous year’s certified general revenues to 15 percent, projected to provide an additional $230 million for the fund if the change is applied to the current fiscal year.
-SB 1957, by Fisher, would change the name of the Oklahoma Dynamic Economy and Budget Security Fund to the EDGE (Economic Development Generating Excellence) Research Initiatives Fund, create an investors board and a board to select research projects for funding.
-SB 1713, by Sen. Charles Wyrick, would provide a penalty of 10 years to life in prison for anyone convicted of importing one or more pounds of methamphetamine. The legislation is part of Governor Brad Henry’s “Mission MethNet” initiative.
-SB 1921, by Sen. Brian Crain, would provide up to $60 million for construction of two maintenance hangars for American Airlines’ Tulsa Maintenance and Engineering Base. The state would raise the money by selling bonds, which would be paid off using the airline’s payroll taxes.
-SB 1030, by Sen. Kenneth Corn, would create the Matthew S. Evans, Jeff Rominger Act, providing funds to build a 800 MHZ statewide emergency communication system that will allow local, state and federal agencies to communicate directly with each other rather than through dispatchers.
-SB 1431 by Sen. Corn, would require independent performance review audits of state agencies to determine if the agencies are adequately carrying out the mission they have been assigned by the Legislature.
-SB 2047, by Sen. Debbe Leftwich, would allow the Department of Commerce to use $20 million from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to expand the Existing Worker Training Program.
-SB 1894, by Rep. Mike Mazzei, would require fiscal retirement bills to have an actuarial study.
-CS SB 1479, by Sen. Jim Wilson, would make it a felony to solicit sexual conduct with a minor by any technology, including the Internet.
• The House also focused on committee action. In addition the following measures were approved on the floor:
-HB 2104, by Rep. Doug Cox, provides an exception in school boards’ prohibition on nepotism for substitute teachers.
Other measures approved by House committees on Wednesday included:
-HB 2429, by Rep. Sally Kern, would allow students to audibly pray, express religious viewpoints and distribute religious materials in school.
-HB 2693, by Speaker Todd Hiett and Rep. Tad Jones, would increase the amount of prize money available to Oklahoma Public Schools under the Academic Achievement Award program, created in legislation authored by Jones last year.
-HB 2813, by Reps. Lee Denney and Trebor Worthen, would make it a misdemeanor when a dog attacks another person, punishable by a fine of no more than $1,000 for a first offense and no more than $5,000 for a second offense.
-HB 3121, by Speaker Todd Hiett, would establish an online registry of methamphetamine offenders and would require county officials to send names and addresses of anyone convicted and sentenced of manufacturing and distributing meth to state authorities.
-HB 2408, by Rep. Thad Balkman, would direct funds from the Oklahoma Lottery Commission’s operating budget to pay for gambling addiction programs.
-HB 2454, by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, would allow a judge to approve an emergency protective order before being provided with a physical copy of a police report.
-HB 2608, by Rep. Odilia Dank, would require teens to pass an eighth-grade equivalency mathematics test before obtaining a driver’s license.
-CS HB 2891, by Rep. Randy Terrill, would require public agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
-HB 3125, by Speaker Todd Hiett, would repeal the state’s estate tax.
-HB 2556, by Rep. Ron Peters, would prohibit unfunded mandates for the Department of Human Services.
• The Senate met briefly Thursday morning. The members unanimously passed a resolution honoring the life and work of former Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Hans Brisch, who died Wednesday at age 66 due to brain cancer. Brisch served as chancellor from 1987 to 2003, when he was succeeded by Paul Risser. Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4400 N. Shartel in Oklahoma City.
• The full Senate will reconvene on Monday, February 27, at 1:30 p.m.
• The Oklahoma Tax Commission passed new rules Tuesday requiring all tribal smoke shops to remit an 86-cent tobacco tax and apply for refunds based on their tribe’s compact. Tribal leaders oppose the new rules.
• Former Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher was released from the Oklahoma County Jail after posting a $500,000 appeal bond on Tuesday. Fisher spent nearly two weeks in jail after his conviction Feb. 8 on charges of embezzlement and perjury. He was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison. His next trial is scheduled for Sept. 11.
• Oklahoma State University Basketball Coach Eddie Sutton is scheduled to undergo surgery Thursday in Tulsa to address chronic back and hip problems. In a few weeks, Sutton plans to enter a rehabilitation clinic to address an alcohol problem. Sutton was charged with aggravated DUI following a car crash in Stillwater two weeks ago.
• The Miss America Homecoming is scheduled for this weekend, with events in Tulsa and Jenks. Jennifer Berry of Tulsa became fifth Oklahoman to win the title of Miss America on Jan. 21. On Friday, Berry will make appearances with the Kiwanis Club of Tulsa and at the sold-out Miss America Gala at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks. On Saturday, Berry will be featured at the Miss America Revue at the Jenks Public Schools Performing Arts Center.
• U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, a candidate for the Oklahoma governor’s race, spoke before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee in support of HJR 1061, by Rep. Kevin Calvey. HJR 1061 would send to the people a constitutional amendment to block the courts from mandating funding levels for state government operations. Designed to block lawsuits such as the one filed against the state by the Oklahoma Education Association, the committee substitute for HJR 1061 could not be heard in committee on Wednesday because a copy of the committee substitute was not distributed to members in a timely manner.
• The House Revenue and Taxation Committee met Tuesday to discuss whether the federal Internal Revenue Service could be convinced to alter its ruling to tax state refund checks.
• As the Senate Finance Committee completed its work on Senate bills assigned to it this morning, the panel’s chair, Sen. Jay Paul Gumm said the committee considered and approved upwards of $523 million in tax cuts, many of which are targeted to middle class families or to grow Oklahoma’s economy.
• SB1857, the Republicans’ lawsuit reform bill authored by Senate Republican Leader Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Todd Hiett, failed to receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively killing the measure.
• The newly-formed House Native American Caucus met for the first time Wednesday. The 13-member caucus, the first in the history of the Legislature, was formed to educate the House membership on Native American issues and develop closer relationships with leaders of the state’s tribes, and will meet on the third Tuesday of each month during the session.
• Oklahoma City Attorney Kent Meyers filed a protest on Wednesday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, initiative petition circulated last fall. Meyers filed on behalf of 27 people protesting the initiative, including a number of prominent business and civic leaders from Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The challenge cities issues of due process, equal protection and impairment of contracts, and deceptive or misleading language in the proposal.
• Gov. Brad Henry signed into law the first bill of the session on Tuesday, House Bill 1619 by Rep. John Nance and Sen. Debbe Leftwich. HB 1619, a carryover bill from the 2005 session, allows certain businesses to enter into Quality Investment agreements with the Department of Commerce to recover from the state up to 10 percent of the amount invested in capital improvements.
• Gov. Henry approved emergency rules from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission requiring electricity utilities to open up more power and fuel purchases to a competitive bidding process.
• Gov. Henry declared Sunday a day of prayer to end violence against women, which was advocated on Wednesday by a group of religious leaders and state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton.
• AT&T, the new name for telecommunications company SBC, announced residential rates would increase by $1.90 a month for about 70 percent of the company’s 700,000 Oklahoma customers.
• Oklahoma City attorney Jay Mendros plans to file documents by Friday at the Court of Criminal Appeals defending her clients against charges of illegal tattooing in Oklahoma.
• Requests for qualifications for artists and landscapers are due by March 3 for participation in a proposed African American History Plaza on the south grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol Complex, to be completed May 2007. SB 1919, by Sen. Constance Johnson, endorsing the history plaza, passed the Senate Committee last week.
• More than 90,000 Oklahomans have enrolled in the new Medicaid Part D prescription program
• Students from various Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapters around the state visited the Capitol on Wednesday for their annual “FFA Day at the Capitol.” The event coincides with National FFA Week, Feb. 18-25. Students were able to speak to their legislators about various agricultural issues and witness the legislative process. FFA also provided a barbeque lunch for legislators and legislative staff members.