New laws take effect Thursday in Oklahoma

Oklahoma measures intended to control prison growth and to reduce lines at driver's license exam stations are among nearly 100 new laws that take effect.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm •  Published: October 30, 2012

Under the measure, businesses may continue to prohibit firearms to be carried on their premises.

The measure prohibits carrying firearms on properties owned or leased by the city, state or federal government, at corrections facilities, in schools or college campuses, liquor stores and at sports arenas during sporting events.

The measure won strong support from the Legislature. The House of Representatives passed it 85-3 and it passed the Senate 33-10.

Welfare, drug testing

Under HB 2388, welfare recipients who test positive for drugs or refuse to be tested will have their benefits withheld. The measure makes practices mostly already used by the state Department of Human Services a state law.

It requires DHS to screen adults who apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for drug use. The legislation allows DHS to request a drug test if there is reasonable cause to believe the applicant is illegally using a controlled substance. If the applicant refuses to participate or is determined to be using an illegal drug, assistance would not be provided.

DHS now allows those who test positive to continue to receive the assistance while they receive drug treatment. HB 2388 will withhold assistance, but still provide treatment.

Applicants who undergo a substance abuse treatment program can reapply for benefits six months after the date of denial, according to the measure. Child-only cases and underage parents are exempt from the drug screening under the legislation and an alternative payee can be named when a parent has been found ineligible for benefits.

Abortion medications

HB 2381 requires a doctor to be physically present when a woman takes medication to induce an abortion. The measure applies to RU-486, also called mifepristone, or any other drug or chemical used for abortion. It is used in combination with other medicines to end an early pregnancy, usually during the first seven weeks. This medicine is only available in a doctor's office, health clinic or hospital.

Under the bill, a doctor is not allowed to watch a woman take the pill via videoconference or allow a woman to take the pill anywhere outside his or her presence.

In-state contractors

HB 2258 has the support of many Oklahoma contractors who say it levels the playing field with out-of-state contractors. Under the measure, contractors on public construction projects, upon written request, must show proof of current employer identification number issued by various state and federal agencies.

The contractor would have to provide the numbers before bidding on an in-state, public project or be subject to a penalty. If the contractor fails to do so, the contractor will be fined up to 10 percent of the contractor's total bid, according to the measure.

Supporters of the measure say out-of-state contractors who don't abide by state laws and regulations are undercutting in-state contractors by about 30 percent.

Harvest of red cedars

Legislation also was passed and signed into law this year that takes effect Thursday which allows the Corrections Department to use inmates to harvest Eastern red cedars on public and private land. SB 1539 is intended to be another way to attack the hardy Eastern red cedars that choke off land for crops and pastures and fuel wildfires. The trees helped spread wildfires across at least four counties during the summer. They take over nearly 300,000 acres of Oklahoma land each year; it's estimated the state is losing about 700 acres per day to the trees.