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Bills cover new problems and old issues

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Hundreds of bills filed by a legislative deadline cover new problems such as terrorist attacks and old issues that include taxes, health care and the environment.

Solving a budget shortfall and meeting commitments will be the No. 1 priority of the session, leaders say, but there is no shortage of other issues for lawmakers to debate.

Several bills dealing with patriotism and calling for steps to combat terrorism were filed by Friday's House deadline for introduction of legislation. The Senate deadline is Jan. 29.

One House measure would require that every beverage container sold in the state have a refund value of at least 5 cents.

Gov. Frank Keating, in his eighth and final year in office, is pushing for an overhaul of the tax system and making a last stab at getting lawmakers to go along with his ``four-by-four'' education program.

``He's not going to let up this year,'' spokesman Dan Mahoney said of Keating's plan to require students to take four years of math, science, English and social studies in order to graduate high school.

Mahoney said Keating has sponsors for about 30 shell bills in the House and Senate that deal with his program, including tax reform.

Keating is proposing to junk the state income tax and sales tax on groceries and replace lost revenue through a 5.9 percent sales tax on services.

House Democrats are discussing a hybrid plan that would cut the income tax from 7 percent to 4.3 percent and install a 4.5 percent sales tax on services, the same tax now charged on goods.

Rep. Clay Pope, D-Loyal, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, has introduced a series of bills that can be used as vehicles for tax legislation.

``The important thing is there seems to be a consensus that tax code needs reforming and that will be a top issue for the session,'' Mahoney said.

On Friday, Senate budget leaders received a briefing from fiscal officials on the seriousness of the revenue shortfall. Senators were told it will take $301 million to meet critical needs and commitments and take care of the shortage.

Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the session will focus on budget cuts and congressional redistricting.

He said one emotional issue was removed from the agenda when state and tribal leaders announced Friday they had ended negotiations, apparently for the year, on selling water from southeast Oklahoma to Texas.

Recent developments, Hobson said, ``puts on the governor's back the requirement to make a more effective argument that we should have a huge tax swapout in a year when revenues are precarious.''

Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, is among those proposing new laws to combat terrorism.

Mahoney said specifics of the governor's anti-terrorism program will become known after task forces complete their work and issue recommendations. One proposal would create a homeland security czar to coordinate anti-terrorism activity.

In the area of patriotism, House bills have been introduced to require schools to stress the importance of speeches by George Washington and Patrick Henry, to require a moment of silence in class each day and to display the motto ``In God We Trust.''

Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, has a bill to prohibit ``no tolerance'' policies of local school boards in dealing with student problems.

Rep. Ray Miller, D-Quinton, is proposing a deposit on beverage containers, something that has been proposed in the past as a way to improve the environment by cutting down on litter.

Miller's bill would ban metal pull-out tabs and non-degradable material used to connect beverage containers.

Rep. Bill Paulk, D-Oklahoma City, has a bill to require the attorney general to establish a ``no-call'' list of consumers who do not want to be bothered by telemarketers.

Other bills tackle a potential problem with human cloning and inadequate health coverage of teachers and school employees.

Hobson said that despite the financial situation, he hopes lawmakers can find a way to further supplement teacher health care payments.
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