Gift bill wins panel approval
A bill that would allow the Speaker of the House, the Senate president pro tem and the chief justice of the Supreme Court to accept gifts on behalf of the state was approved Thursday by the House Government Modernization Committee. The governor currently is the only state official who can accept property or gifts donated to the state, according to state law. The committee voted 9-1 to pass Senate Bill 908. It now goes to the House Calendar Committee, which will decide whether it will get a hearing in the House. Committee member Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, voted against the measure, questioning why the law needed to be changed. The governor is the only statewide elected official, he said. He also was concerned about the chief justice accepting gifts because of a high court scandal nearly 50 years ago. In 1964, retired Supreme Court Justice Nelson Smith Corn confessed to a 20-year agreement with one lawyer to exchange favorable court rulings for money. The scandal led to changes in how judges were selected, with Oklahoma voters revamping the state's court system in 1967. Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesvillle, the House sponsor of SB 908, said the bill does not permit the legislative leaders or the chief justice to accept cash donations or gifts of money.
MICHAEL MCNUTT, CAPITOL BUREAU
Governor seeks disaster funds
Oklahoma officials filed a request Thursday with the federal government officials seeking a major disaster declaration in order to obtain federal funds to help pay for costs associated with last month's winter storm. If approved, the designation would deliver federal funding to assist municipalities, counties and rural electric cooperatives with infrastructure repairs and costs associated with responding to the Feb. 24-26 storm. Gov. Mary Fallin said areas of northern and western Oklahoma were inundated with heavy snow during the storm, which caused widespread infrastructure damage and resulted in significant emergency response costs. Counties included in the request are Alfalfa, Beaver, Beckham, Blaine, Custer, Dewey, Ellis, Garfield, Grant, Kay, Kingfisher, Major, Noble, Roger Mills, Washita, Woods and Woodward. The storm caused an estimated $7.5 million in infrastructure damage and response costs in those counties, the governor's office said.