LEGISLATIVE pace picks up, prison bill advances

Saturday, May 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Legislature acted on scores of bills in a rare Friday meeting, including funding for forensic testing of inmates convicted after testimony by a police chemist who is being investigated for shoddy work.

Lawmakers, who usually meet Monday through Thursday, are striving for an early adjournment of the 2001 session. They must finish their work by May 25 under the state constitution, but leaders think they can beat that deadline by at least a day or two.

In action Friday, the Senate approved a bill by Sen. Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood, to appropriate $725,000 for a revolving fund at the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.

Officials at the agency also have received $250,000 from the Oklahoma City Police Department to conduct DNA tests of inmates, primarily those convicted after testimony by suspended police chemist Joyce Gilchrist.

Gilchrist's work has been strongly criticized after it was reviewed by the FBI. DNA testing in one case involving Gilchrist led to clearing a man who served nearly 15 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.

Also Friday, the Senate passed a bill appropriating an extra $5 million to the Department of Corrections. Leaders concede the funding is not sufficient and there have been suggestions of a special session to beef up prison funding.

The $387.5 million budget bill now goes to the governor.

The Senate also approved a bill raising funding for colleges and universities by $34 million. Sponsors said that colleges' actual funding could go up by about $70 million, counting earlier appropriations and providing that tuition at all schools is raised as authorized.

The House also was busy Friday, passing 43 bills in 2 1/2 hours before adjourning for the weekend.

One measure sent to the Senate would set July 1 as the effective date for abolishing the vehicle inspection system.

Earlier in the session, lawmakers voted to do away with the unpopular inspection program, effective 90 days after adjournment.

In another development Friday, Gov. Frank Keating signed a declaration authorizing an emergency so legislators can spend $78.7 million available in the constitutional Rainy Day Fund.

Of that total, $57.2 million is ticketed for road construction, $10.1 million for the state Emergency Fund, $5 million to improve the state's computer information system, $2.7 million for the Oklahoma Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma, $2.5 million for the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus, $981,000 for state building repairs and $250,000 to the University Hospitals Authority for operation of the Child Study Center.