The week (or two) that was: House Republicans highlight agenda steps
Published: March 18th, 2011
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
At the end of this sometimes tumultuous week, House Republican leaders and several members of the majority caucus highlighted “agenda accomplishments” they affirm as the lower chamber’s work on its own proposals ended.
A wide range of measures sent from the House over to the Senate include policies that, at least “a majority of the majority” contends will enhance the state’s economic environment, improve public safety, access to affordable health care, reformation of educational practices, streamlining and modernizing state government, protecting traditional values, and defending constitutional rights.
To be sure, there were disagreements within the majority caucus that played out in deeply divided and/or confusing votes over the past two weeks, including late night sessions filled with challenging debates and procedures.
In the end, however, most priorities pressed by the Speaker and his top allies prevailed. In some cases, super-majorities needed to attach emergency clauses fell short, as was the case with some legal policy reform items and some pieces of the touted education reform agenda.
“I am extremely proud of the Republican Caucus for adhering to the agenda priorities,” said House Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee. “It is an enormous responsibility knowing each vote cast could change the lives of Oklahomans. Our focus is on doing what’s best for our citizens and the future of our state.”
The House entered the 2011 Legislative session faced with a $600 million budget deficit, requiring cuts to balance the budget, as required in the state constitution, and leading to critical looks at business incentives, tax credits and facets of tax reform.
“Because we face a $500 million shortfall, this is clearly a challenging budget environment,” said state Rep. Earl Sears of Bartlesville, who chairs the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “However, House Republicans are advancing reforms that will help close that hole by streamlining and modernizing state government. The money saved through these reforms will help us protect vital areas such as education, transportation and public safety.”
“I am proud that House Republicans are focused on fixing the flawed tax credit system,” said state Rep. David Dank of Oklahoma City, who chairs the House Revenue and Taxation subcommittee. “If we are going to compete in the crucial next few years, we had to stop talking and start acting to dramatically reform our state tax system. The GOP is doing just that.”
House Republicans have stressed they are committed to creating an environment conducive to job retention and job growth including worker’s compensation reform, lawsuit reform, improving transportation infrastructure and not raising taxes.
“House Republicans believe economic growth should be measured by the number of private-sector businesses that can grow and employ Oklahomans,” said House Floor Leader Dan Sullivan of Tulsa. “The reforms we have advanced will reduce frivolous litigation and allow the private sector to thrive.”
“For nearly 20 years, Oklahoma road funding was badly neglected,” said House President Pro Tempore Jeff Hickman of Fairview. “House Republicans have reversed that trend, and we remain committed to protecting road funding. Our state cannot grow without a viable transportation system.”
Several measures have advanced to improve public safety through responsible corrections reform and further addressing illegal immigration to create safer communities and protect limited taxpayer dollars.
“While House Republican believe there must be consequences for those who commit crimes, we do not believe the state must always utilize the most expensive punishment available,” said state Rep. Lisa J. Billy, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on public safety. “The reforms we have enacted have been shown to cost less while also reducing recidivism. We are working to preserve public safety while being smart with public dollars.”
“To deal with the pressing issues of illegal immigration the House Republicans are taking a very deliberate course of action looking for solutions,” said state Rep. George Faught of Muskogee, who is co-chair of the joint committee on immigration.
“This focus on this measure will be centered on public safety which affects all citizens of this state. We are taking input from the law enforcement officers who deal daily with the issues of public safety and encourage their solutions to crime and illegal immigration. Our goal is to give law enforcement officers the tools and information that will help them become effective in enforcing our laws and protecting our citizens. There should be consequences for criminal behavior.”
House Republicans say they want to provide better access to affordable quality health care and promote a competitive free market system.
“We have made significant strides in developing initiatives for those needing health coverage,” stated state Rep. Doug Cox of Grove. “House Republicans are centered on reducing Oklahoma’s uninsured population by building a premiere healthcare exchange constructed on rock solid conservative values.”
“Having health insurance that is accessible and affordable is an issue that has our focus and commitment this session,” said state Rep. Glen Mulready of Tulsa. “House Republicans want Oklahoma to lead the way in building a better health insurance marketplace, one that truly empowers individuals and small-business owners to purchase plans that best meet their needs.”
Republicans took steps on a challenging education reform agenda, including measures they assert are devoted to ensuring all Oklahoma students have access to a quality education by advancing measures to eliminate trial de novo, eliminate social promotion, increase accountability and transparency, and provide greater instructional opportunities to include protecting parents’ rights to educate their children by other means.
“For Oklahoma students to become productive adults, they must have access to a quality education,” said state Rep. Ann Coody of Lawton, who chairs the House Common Education Committee. “The reforms we are advancing will increase academic rigor and accountability, providing Oklahoma children a better future.”
“The education reforms promoted by House Republicans will provide greater transparency to parents, allowing them to determine how their local schools are performing through a true apples-to-apples comparison,” said state Rep. Lee Denney of Cushing, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee on education. “That information will highlight successful schools and allow the dissemination of successful teaching strategies, benefiting all children and districts in the state.”
The House GOP agenda is aimed at streamlining state government, reforming state pension systems, and eliminating or reforming tax policies that fail to generate widespread economic benefit.
“For years, our unfunded pension liability has been the enormous financial problem of state government that no one would acknowledge,” said state Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Oklahoma City. “This year, we have finally started making the tough decisions necessary to ensure the continued viability of those retirement systems without increasing taxes on working families.”
“By eliminating needless duplication in state government, we can save millions of taxpayer dollars while maintaining services,” said state Rep. Jason Murphy of Guthrie. “By enacting the common-sense reforms that private industry has used for years, we are bringing state government into the 21st Century.”
The release from Republican legislators circulated today (Friday, March 18) said, “The Republican caucus will continue its commitment to protect traditional Judeo-Christian values, including the sanctity of human life and the traditional family.
“House Republicans have enacted pro-life reforms with bipartisan support to provide greater protections to the most-vulnerable Oklahomans – those in the womb,” said state Rep. Pam Peterson of Tulsa. “We are modernizing state law to reflect the medical and scientific realities of 2011, which show us unmistakably that a child in the womb is a precious, living member of our human family deserving of our protection.”
“One of the greatest challenges facing Oklahoma is the fragmentation of families,” said state Rep. Mark McCullough of Sapulpa. “Divorce leads to increased demand for many state services. By working to enact policies that can help preserve families, we can ultimately save hundreds of millions in the long run.”
Finally, House Republicans said they are “dedicated to restoring and defending the Constitution, including promoting second and tenth Amendment rights.”
“The right to self-defense is one of the most fundamental constitutional rights granted Americans, and House Republicans have advanced legislation that prevents the erosion of that right,” said state Rep. John Enns of Enid. “Law-abiding citizens should not be left defenseless against criminals who will not hesitate to commit murder or rape, let alone break a gun control law.”
The House will begin hearing Senate bills next week.