OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A bill to divert $38 million from an environmental cleanup fund to build weather and bioterrorism research centers sailed to approval in the Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate sent the measure to the House on a 47-0 vote after supporters said the centers would be a boon to the economy and save lives.
The bill taps a fund set up at the Corporation Commission to clean up leaking underground tanks that store petroleum products such as gasoline.
It would provide $19 million for the National Weather Research Center at the University of Oklahoma and the same amount for the Sensor Research Center at Oklahoma State University.
David Boren, University of Oklahoma president, said approval of funding for the two projects represents ``a historic breakthrough and moves Oklahoma's economy forward to one based upon high technology and higher paying jobs.
``It begins the process of putting us in the ranks of states like North Carolina, Texas, California and Massachusetts that have made wise investments in research facilities in order to create new jobs and new opportunities for their citizens.''
State Sen. Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, said the bill will not deplete the cleanup fund. He amended the measure to extend the time when a penny of the state gasoline tax, or about $25 million a year, is dedicated to the fund.
The result of the change, Hobson said, is that there will be an extra $34 million devoted to fixing petroleum tanks that leak.
OU and Tulsa-based Williams Cos. Inc. have signed a $10 million alliance to enhance weather research and meteorology education. The $19 million in state funds going to the center will match previously approved federal funds.
The proposed 200,000-square-foot center will house a number of federal weather facilities under one roof and will be valuable in providing data that can save lives through research on tornadoes and other severe storms, officials said.
The center at OSU has developed sensors that can detect exposure to bacteria and viruses that could be used by terrorists much quicker than existing technology.
``I believe the center at OSU can make a difference in the safety of your family and my family,'' Hobson told his colleagues.
Although some House members have expressed concern about using the environmental fund, Hobson said it should be noted that the money in question is dedicated to fixing a problem caused by private industry.
He said he supports the fund as necessary, but said it was actually a form of corporate welfare that is financed every day ``by your taxpayers and is paid at the pump.''
In other action, the Senate approved a bill by Sen. Bernest Cain, D-Oklahoma City, that proposes an increase in funding to welfare recipients to 33 percent of the poverty level in Oklahoma.
Cain said welfare recipients have not received an increase in several years and now receive checks amounting to only 17 percent of the poverty level.