President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee assesses ‘lucky week 13’

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 30-Apr-2010

Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said “lucky week 13” of the 2010 legislative session resulted in “light floor work” but some significant progress. Saying that bipartisan budget negotiations were reaching a sensitive stage, he expressed hope that the Legislature can still finish early (before the mandated late May adjournment). 

Coffee responded to a question from CapitolBeatOK concerning S.J.R. 5, a constitutional proposal to limit property taxes to 3% annual increases in value assessments.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City, passed the state Senate last year but has not gained a vote on the House floor. Coffee said, “I do bring it up regularly [to Speaker Benge]. I don’t have any compromise to give to you today.”

In back-and-forth with the assembled journalists, the president pro tem defended the Legislature’s override of Governor Brad Henry’s  controversial decision to veto two pro-life measures. Coffee said, “The goal of all these [pro-life] bills is that people will be made aware of all the alternatives, and that people will choose alternatives to abortion.”

Coffee said legislators do not seek litigation when passing laws: “The job of the Legislature is to advocate and to pass laws that the people support, that they want to see. There will always be lawsuits, and the courts can do their jobs.” He countered suggestions that legislators seek to trigger opportunities for legal challenges, but defended the prerogative of elected representatives to pass laws they believe are constitutional and in the public interest.

Coffee repeated his criticism of the state Supreme Court’s “single-subject” ruling that invalidated some pro-life measures. Saying the state court “gave no guidance as to how to avoid the same legal deficiency, as defined by the court, in other areas.

Coffee said the Legislature is making every effort to respect the legal precedent, but he is not certain the full implications of the decision are understood if it is applied to all of state government. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, “you could need a single bill for every section of law being changed.” He pointed to education reforms, agency consolidation and other issues that might be impacted by the court’ “single subject” precedent.

Coffee’s comments on “log-rolling” and the single subject precedent came in the context of a question on Senate Bill 213, a committee substitute now pending in the Legislature.

The Republican legislative leader said he and members of his caucus had not decided whether or not to attempt an override of another veto, of legislation allowing legislators, rather than the attorney general, to craft ballot language for statewide referenda.

Coffee also revealed a significant issue for this session’s closing days will be an effort to grapple with a controversial judicial ruling subjecting business intangible property to state taxation.

He told reporters, “This is a significant issue for all businesses.  I believe we will have a short-term fix for this year, but for the future we need a comprehensive look. That is absolutely needed.”