Speaker Kris Steele hails “breadth of accomplishments” in 2011 session

In a session with Capitol reporters today (Friday, May 20), Speaker of the House Kris Steele praised colleagues and others in state government, saying the 2011 legislative session was characterized by “a sweeping, pro-growth, conservative agenda.” 

He pointed to successful enactment of a cluster of pension reforms as perhaps the most signal accomplishment of the year. He announced that state Rep. Randy McDaniel of Oklahoma City, House author of pension changes estimated to slice more than $6 billion out of the state’s unfunded liabilities of $16 billion, will detail Oklahoma’s pension changes at an upcoming meeting of Southern state legislators. 

In what was often a stressful session, Steele pointed to the peaceful passage of a House redistricting plan as another notable success. He also expressed pride in reforms in House rules that allowed the greatest transparency and openness in committee procedures in Oklahoma history. 

“When we look back, and the smoke clears, I believe this will be considered one of the most production sessions in state history,” Steele commented. 

In dialogue with the press, Steele repeated his frustration that additional immigration reforms – aimed at combating crime connected to illegal smuggling and human trafficking, failed. In response to questions, he said the House investigatory committee is looking into a member’s use and possible misuse of his office and will issue a report after completing its work. He said any action flowing from that work will be delayed until the 2012 session. 

Looking ahead to the coming year, Steele said he wished some water policy issues could have been resolved, but that consensus developed to await the final version of the final state water plan. He said, “That will be a top issue next session.”

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK about criticisms from some conservatives about the budget, Hosue rules and other issues, Steele reflected, “I’m not sure I fully understand the frustrations. But communications is the key. I consider myself a solid conservative and I will continue to promote conservative policies, for the good of the whole state.”

Steele and other state leaders today said a major effort will made in the interim between sessions to study various bond ideas before advancing any new state debt proposals, including the unfinished Native American Cultural Center on the Oklahoma River. He stressed, “There was not support among our members in the House to push an Information Technology bond,” which was one of Governor Mary Fallin’s pre-session priorities. 

Responding to a common theme of Democratic critics in the House, Steele said he believed meaningful proposals to reduce the number of tax exemptions and “give-aways” that do not serve a broad public purpose. He expressed confidence in state Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City, who is leading an interim study of the issue. 

Steele and his Senate peer, President Pro Temp Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, announced their respective bodies were recessing and would not, absent an emergency, convene next week. Formal “sine die” will happen at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 27, and will not require reconvening. 

In his prepared comments, circulated after the press briefing, Steele asserted, “Oklahomans can take pride in knowing the state is set up to grow and thrive in the 21st century.” 

Like Bingman and Fallin later in the afternoon, he touted the new state budget and a wide range of new pro-business policies, including “landmark reforms” in civil justice  and workers compensation. 

The House of Representatives’ staff listed the Republican leadership’s top achievements as follows:

•                A balanced $6.5 billion state budget;

•                Lawsuit reform that reduces harmful, frivolous lawsuits by placing limits on damages awarded through civil actions;

•                Workers’ compensation reform that provides increased savings to employers and puts injured workers back on the job faster;

•                Education reforms that improve student reading skills and place more accountability on schools and teachers;

•                Corrections reform that alleviates the fiscal and social strains caused by high incarceration rates;

•                A well-received legislative redistricting plan that fairly redrew the boundaries of all 101 House districts;

•                Government modernization that makes the state’s technology operations more efficient;

•                Government consolidation that streamlines duplicated services, saves money and increases the efficiency of all government services;

•                Pension reform that reduces unfunded liabilities by $5 billion;

•                A closing fund that will help the state attract new businesses;

•                Policies that protect the second amendment rights of citizens;

•                Policies that protect the sanctity of life;

•                Policies that uphold family values.