Sunday, March 1, 2009
Dems' agenda is left to the shouting
by: MICHAEL MCNUTT NewsOK.com
Sunday, March 01, 2009
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House Democrats promise to make more noise as legislation favored by the in-control Republicans is taken up on the chamber's floor in the next two weeks.
Many bemoan legislation they authored that did not make it out of committees by last week's deadline. In some committees, Democrats didn't speak out against measures they were against.
"The opposition will begin now," said House Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague. "What you're going to see from the Democratic caucus is a lot more activity from us on the floor so that the arguments against these pieces of legislation can be heard by the entire body and not a half-dozen committee members.
"I don't know that I've ever seen this caucus quite as invigorated as it is right now. Sometimes failure promotes energy."
House Republican leaders got all their key issues through committees — no surprise as Republicans control the House 61-40, and as a result, all committees.
House Speaker Chris Benge had all his key proposals — including bills promoting the use of alternative fuels through tax breaks and other incentives — passed unanimously out of committees.
"It's been a good, productive, first four weeks," said Benge, R-Tulsa. "We've got a lot of good things going. The budget (shortfall) still is going to be a challenge, of course, but I feel good about things to this point."
Democrats lost their showdown with Republicans over the autism mandate during a committee hearing on the second day of this year's session.
Benge said more study is needed on the cost of mandating coverage.
"We've established a good precedent that you deal with these mandate issues, examine them, analyze them and have a better understanding of the effects on all Oklahomans before you act on them," he said. "We put together a good plan, and I feel it's a step in the right direction to addressing families with autistic children."
Republicans got their proposal on how to deal with children with autism passed out of committee and basically eliminated any chance legislators would consider for the next two years the Democratic-backed idea of requiring insurance companies to cover children with autism.
The House Republican measure, by House Speaker Pro Tem Kris Steele of Shawnee, calls for enacting a licensing process for national board-certified behavioral analysts and expanding state programs that train doctors to diagnose and treat autism.
Still, Morgan said Democrats will try to keep alive the concept of insurance companies being required to cover treatment for children with autism.
"What we're wanting to do is just establish a pattern that if you cover other areas of medical service, then we think that autism ought to be just as important," he said.
Morgan said he's disappointed that two measures he filed didn't get heard by committees: establishing a no-call list for businesses, and prohibiting drivers under the age of 18 from being able to use cell phones while driving. He hopes to find some bills where he can put in some of the language of his proposals.
With House members filing 1,270 bills, 46 joint resolutions, and six concurrent resolutions for consideration this session, it was understood that most would be set aside so essential bills picked by Republican leadership could make their way through the 17 weeks or so legislators are in session. Nearly 400 measures advanced to the House floor, a House spokeswoman said.
Lawsuit reform measures, bills promoting alternative fuels and energy independence, reducing the number of Oklahoma's uninsured, voters being required to show identification, revamping the state medical examiner's office, and modernizing and reforming state government buying practices all passed out of committees and will be up for action on the House floor in the next two weeks.
Other measures by Republicans that passed committees include making English the official language, taking steps to crack down on puppy mills and changing how workers compensation judges are picked.
A proposal by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, to allow faculty members and those who have concealed gun permits along with firearms training to carry concealed weapons on college campuses remained bottled up in committee. Murphey, noting the Senate killed a similar measure, said he may wait until next session to bring out a guns-on-campus bill.