All signs point to the governor summoning lawmakers into special session later this fall, even though there's no compelling reason for it.
Oh, sure, the State Chamber and its elected marionettes are shedding crocodile tears over the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision to overturn a 2009 tort reform measure.
To hear their wailing, you'd think their first-borns had been slain in the night by evil spirits unleashed by the black-robed legal gods.
All because the Supremes had the temerity to uphold the state Constitution's unmistakably clear ban on lawmakers rolling multiple subjects into a single piece of legislation.
The fancy suits want you to believe it was an egregious example of out-of-control, trial-lawyer-lovin', activist judges whose liberal bias slammed shut the door on Oklahoma's business recruitment efforts. Nonsense.
This ruling will have no more effect on the state's economic development efforts than Right to Work. Remember that fairy tale? Approve the union-busting measure and it would unleash an economic juggernaut the likes of which the good ol' U.S. of A. had never seen.
Still waiting? So am I.
Sure, Oklahoma's done okay economically in recent years when compared to other states, but it's not because of Right to Work. It's because we've benefited from the latest energy boom, which almost certainly will cycle eventually into the latest bust. (See History, Oklahoma)
The demand for a special session to right the Supreme Court's alleged wrong is evidence of policymaking by tantrum.
Everyone knows the State Chamber has enough legislative votes -- not to mention an unabashed proxy in the governor's chair -- to get tort reform on the statute books again when the Legislature returns to regular session Feb. 3.
So why waste $20,000 to $30,000 a day of the taxpayers' money to do now what could easily wait seven months or so?
It's a question being posed across the political divide. Believe it or not, the reactionary, right-wing Oklahoman editorial page and state legislative Democrats, hardly pals or allies, both agree the expense isn't worth it.
"We're no fan of the state Supreme Court's decision on tort reform, either, but using a special session to make things right isn't the way to go," the Oklahoman editorialized recently.
Legislative Democrats reminded all that they warned the governor and Republican legislative leaders the tort proposal was problematic.
And they suggested legislators should work for free if a special session is called -- something, of course, that would never happen, but which is designed to make a point about unnecessarily squandering taxpayers' money.
"This is a perfect example of just one of the financial ramifications our state faces when we pass legislation that is unconstitutional," said Rep. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. "Year after year this problem persists, which is exactly why I proposed an interim study on unconstitutional legislation and what it costs our state. Unfortunately, the study was not approved.
It is time we stop playing legal games with the tax dollars of Oklahomans and start putting this money to better use."
Indeed, a memo circulating recently among House Democrats identified no fewer than 20 measures that state courts have held to be unconstitutional since 2006 -- not because of some mythical judicial activism, but because of legislators failed to heed the state Constitution. Hubris?
Thirty thousand dollars a day that could be used for vital state services sounds like a lot of money, and it is -- to you or me. But in the context of a $7 billion annual state budget, it's chicken feed. So, opposing a special session primarily because of its cost seems less than compelling.
What's far more persuasive is this: How can Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman justify calling a special session for something that could just as easily be addressed in regular session next spring when Oklahoma has a health care emergency that demands action now?
While the governor and legislative leaders play politics with ObamaCare, hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma's working poor remain uninsured, forced to seek medical treatment at the most expensive health centers on the planet: hospital emergency rooms.
State leadership's inability to work out a solution -- even as Obama's Affordable Care Act dangles huge incentives for states to expand Medicaid -- creates a two-tier society of haves and have-nots whose very lives hang in the balance.
Oklahoma's refusal to set up a health insurance exchange or expand Medicaid now has put what little help we give the working poor -- Insure Oklahoma -- in jeopardy. The state-financed Leavitt Partners report suggests a strategy for tapping ObamaCare to expand Insure Oklahoma, but there's no guarantee the feds will allow it.
Even if Oklahoma leaders finally come to their senses -- putting people above politics -- there'll still be thousands who fall through the healthcare cracks.
Did you see the excellent, recent analysis by Oklahoma Watch? Nearly 110,000 uninsured Oklahoma workers whose annual incomes fall below the federal poverty level still won't be helped by ACA. That's 6,704 cooks, 6,154 cashiers, 4,572 waiters, you get the idea.
As a buckle on the Bible belt, we should all be ashamed that our elected leaders are more concerned about politics -- sticking a thumb in an unpopular (in Oklahoma) president's eye and catering to the noisy tea baggers -- than health outcomes of those who work hard but simply don't earn enough to buy even the barest health insurance.
Christian charity, where art thou?
As state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, recently put it, "I know calling special sessions on the taxpayer's dime is the thing to do for Republican governors these days, but bringing us back to the Capitol when there was time left to do this (fix Tort Reform) in May is just poor management by leadership.
"If we aren't coming back to figure out how to implement the Affordable Care Act in the state of Oklahoma and ensure that our constituents have access to better health care, there is nothing else that can't wait until February," he continued.
Whose priorities are more important to Oklahoma's elected leadership: the silk-stocking State Chamber-type elites or the working poor?
By their deeds ye shall know them.
Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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