Senate approves relief measure
The Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would withdraw $45 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund to help reimburse state agencies, local communities and counties for expenses caused by disasters, particularly this week's tornadoes. The Senate passed Senate Bill 249, 45-0. A clause to make SB 249 take effect as soon as the governor signs it also passed 45-0. The House Calendar Committee later approved the measure, making it eligible for consideration Thursday by the full House. Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, said, “Having come from there and witnessed firsthand the destruction, I want to thank you all for consideration of this measure.” The Rainy Day Fund has about $577 million. State law allows up to 25 percent, or about $144 million, to be used for emergency expenses. The rest is reserved for budget shortfalls and revenue failures. The $45 million would be allocated to the state Emergency Management Department, which will place it in the state's emergency fund. Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said about $25 million of the $45 million would be used for matching money for local communities. The rest would be available to reimburse state agencies that were called in to assist after this week's tornadoes in Moore, Edmond, Newcastle, Carney, Prague, south Oklahoma City and Shawnee.
House approves veterans bill
The House passed a bill Wednesday to require the state Health Department to make at least one annual unannounced inspection of each of Oklahoma's seven veterans centers. Senate Bill 629 was filed in response to reports of neglect and abuse at the centers. The House approved the bill, 87-0. It now goes to the Senate. A conference committee took out two provisions of the bill: One called for monthly visits to each of the centers and another that required Health Department inspectors be assigned exclusively to the veterans centers. SB 629 would require the veterans centers to be subject to the requirements of the Nursing Home Care Act. It also would give the Health Department the authority to approve employer-based nurse aide training programs provided by the Veterans Affairs Department. It also would prohibit the veterans centers from employing nurse aides who are neither certified nor eligible for placement on the Health Department's nurse aide registry.