Monday, April 27, 2009

House democrats walk off chamber floor

Published: 4/27/2009

OKLAHOMA CITY — House Democrats tried unsuccessfully Monday to get legislation heard that would require insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism.

Disappointed, most of the 40 Democratic House members walked out of the House chamber.

They were upset that they were not permitted to seek a vote to suspend House rules so the proposal — called “Nick’s Law” after an 11-year old boy from Edmond who suffers from autism — could be taken up. They wanted to insert the language into a revised measure, Senate Bill 135, that would create a state license for certified behavioral analysts and increase training for therapists who would evaluate and diagnose autism.

The Democrats’ action had little effect on House business. SB 135 passed, 65-0, with eight Democrats who stayed on the floor voting for it.

House Democratic floor leader Mike Brown of Tahlequah tried to strip SB 135 of its original language and replace it with language that was mostly identical to House Bill 1312, which would have required insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism. HB 1312 was killed by a committee in February.

Rep. Don Armes, presiding over Monday’s session, ruled that HB 1312 was dead and could not be taken up. Brown challenged the ruling and asked Armes to suspend the rules so the full House could vote on the matter.

House members voted 55-38 to uphold Armes’ ruling.

“This is totalitarian government,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “We’re basically rendered ineffective completely.”

House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said House precedent holds that “final action on legislative language is in fact that, final action. The Democrats had recourse to appeal the ruling of the chair, and they lost that vote.”

Democratic leader Danny Morgan of Prague said Democrats will be back in the chamber Tuesday.

SB 135 now goes to the governor.

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