By all official accounts, the recently concluded session of the Oklahoma Legislature was a successful one, although the measurement of that success isn't exactly uniform.
"This year's legislative session addressed many issues of paramount importance to the future of our state," said Gov. Brad Henry in a post-Sine Die communiqué.
"There were some disappointments, of course -- no legislative session ever addresses every issue facing the state -- but those were offset by many successes, and I commend lawmakers of both parties for the dedication and hard work they showed this session," the Governor continued.
One of Henry's disappointments was the defeat of one of his pet projects, which was a $15 million program (to be matched by Tulsa's Kaiser Foundation) that would have guaranteed early childhood education for three-year-olds.
The Governor isn't the only one whose cheery assessment of the session's work was tempered by a modicum of disgruntlement.
"This was a 'B+' session that could have been an 'A' if Governor Henry had signed the lawsuit reform bill," said Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City.
Henry vetoed this season's attempt at sweeping changes in Oklahoma courts, citing what he said were unconstitutional aspects of the proposal, such as caps on monetary compensations for damages.
While the movers-and-shakers of the Oklahoma state government don't always see eye-to-eye on what constitutes a "success" for the august body, one triumph on which they all agree is that they were able to get anything accomplished at all this year, contrary to the predictions of many.
Last November's election results were the cause for that skepticism about the Legislature's potential ineffectiveness this time around.
The veto pen remained in the hands of Henry, a Democrat, while Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives. At the fulcrum between the two was a historic first: a Senate split 24/24 between the two parties, leading many to expect a political logjam this session and the next, with neither side holding the upper hand.
"There are some skeptics who predict little of worth will come from this legislative session," said Henry in his session-initiating State of the State address.
"They expect to see only political gamesmanship and partisan bickering. But I don't believe that, and I hope you don't either," he told his audience of state lawmakers.
While it can hardly be said that this session didn't include the usual and seemingly inevitable cycle of political gamesmanship and partisan bickering, it didn't come from the expected corner.
Indeed, the two Senate leaders seemed bosom buddies through most of it as they shared equal control of the Legislature's upper house.
"I couldn't have asked for a better partner than Glenn Coffee," said President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, at the session's conclusion.
"The two of us recognized early on that although we, at times, had serious disagreements over policy, the people expected us to work together. I think we did that. It's been noisy at times, but partisan differences never kept us from completing the people's business," he added.
Not only did they complete the people's business, but they did it -- or a hefty portion of it, at least -- in record time by reaching the earliest budget agreement in 35 years, which passed the Senate unanimously and the House by a landslide (84-16).
It was then that the "political gamesmanship" and "partisan bickering" ensued.
Henry happened to have been on Spring Break vacation at the time, so his spokesman and chief budget negotiator, state Treasurer Scott Meacham, spoke out against the proposed budget in his stead because, he said, it had been crafted without the Governor's input.
Upon his return, Henry vetoed most of the budget proposal as he rallied the 44 House Democrats to his banner so as to prevent an override vote.
House Republicans and leaders from both sides of the Senate made their objections known in a war of press conferences that followed.
It is doubtful that the irony escaped House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, when he called Henry, Meacham and House Democrats "the Gridlock Gang" for their prevention of the agreement's passage, apparently referencing Henry's pronouncement that "there is no glory in gridlock" during his State of the State address as he appealed for bipartisan cooperation in the split Senate.
Also, the Governor was assailed with criticism for having been on vacation during what one commentator called "the most crucial week of the session."
The same commentator branded Henry "The Single Laziest Governor We've Ever Had," as reported by UTW.
The source of the epitaph was Frosty Troy, founding editor of the Oklahoma Observer, Pulitzer nominee and long-time fixture within the Capitol press corps, whose nearly 50-year-tenure at the Oklahoma state house has spanned the careers of seven governors.
Whatever his faults, though, in Troy's view, the Governor apparently isn't too proud to listen to his critics, as he stepped up his game for the rest of the session.
"He got off his butt this session and he really came out with a lot of strength after that," said the veteran newsman.
"The Governor came out a big winner, and he got almost everything he wanted from his State of the State address," Troy added, noting the exception of Henry's early childhood education program.
While Troy only gave the session "a 'C' at best," he said he was thrilled by the Governor's veto of the tort reform bill, echoing Henry's vocal opposition to the caps on monetary damage, as well as a provision that would have "given nursing homes a pass" by not requiring administrators to report injuries.
"He showed some real muscle when he vetoed that," he said.
Troy also said an important development this session was a $10 million deposit and a permanent funding increase for the Teacher Retirement System, which is currently beleaguered with $7 billion in unfunded liabilities (And, no--that's not a typo. That's a "b," as in "billion.")
"In the long run, I believe that's the finest act they accomplished this session," said Troy, who wears another hat as a nationwide speaker and advocate for public education.
Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Bixby, was Troy's primary subject of admiration for having unsuccessfully but doggedly championed measures to fix the broken system for years previously, finally accomplishing his goal this session.
"I'm really proud of them addressing the pension liability--that affects our bond-rating on Wall Street," he added.
So, why the 'C'-rating for the session then, Frosty?
Among other reasons, Troy said he isn't a big fan of the anti-abortion bill that passed after much beating-of-breasts and gnashing-of-teeth this session.
It will prohibit state funds or facilities from being used to perform an abortion.
While the bill's passage was cause for many pro-life advocates to give a much more favorable assessment of the session's work, Troy said the new law does nothing but target poor women who want abortions.
Tulsa's Sen. James Williamson and Broken Arrow's Rep. John Wright, both Republicans, authored the bill.
Henry vetoed it and two override attempts failed.
The language was then attached to another bill, but with exceptions for rape and incest, which was one of the sticking points for the bill's many opponents.
This time, it passed the Senate 34-14, which were two votes more than would have been needed for an override had it again run afoul Henry's mighty veto pen.
That wasn't the main impetus for Troy's mediocre rating, though.
"The cheapest shot of the session was Cargill's fury about the Democrats supporting the veto," he said.
In retaliation for providing the Governor the support needed for his veto of the initial budget agreement, Cargill stopped in their tracks any bills authored by any of the 44 House Democrats, Troy said, by not allowing them committee hearings.
"His nose belongs out on Lincoln Blvd. (the main thoroughfare outside the Capitol)," he said. "Lance Cargill is the worst 'Pinocchio' I've ever covered," he added.
By not allowing Democrat-authored bills to be heard and publicly voted upon, Troy explained that Cargill's act was the antithesis of the "openness and accountability" of government the Speaker so vocally espouses.
While Cargill never made any public statement that Democrat-authored bills would not heard, many Democratic House members complained that their bills weren't being heard in committee.
On the other side of the rotunda, Coffee told Republican committee chairs not "go out of their way" to help House Republicans get their bills heard.
While House Democrats might have been repressed (as is usually the case for the minority party), overall, both sides still came out of the session with some spoils of victory.
One of the major points of contention in the original budget proposal was a $600 teacher pay raise, but Henry wanted $1,000.
Eventually, the Republicans conceded and agreed to the $1,000, but not before they got some concessions of their own. The pay raise is weighted toward teachers with seniority, which Cargill said is "first step toward a merit-based pay system."
Also, the Republicans were finally successful in getting their highly-controversial Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.
Tulsa's Sen. Williamson was the Senate sponsor of HB 1804, by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, which has been commended by immigration reform advocates as "the most meaningful immigration reform legislation in the nation," but vilified by Hispanic advocates and other groups as too heavy-handed, and even "racist."
Among numerous other provisions, the new law contains provisions intended to prevent identity theft by illegal immigrants by making proof of citizenship or legal residence a condition of receiving government-issued identification cards, as well as a condition to receive public services, such as welfare, food stamps and non-emergency medical care.
It will also modify Oklahoma's laws to mirror federal immigration laws, thereby giving state and local law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce them.
The new law will also penalize employers of illegal immigrants.
Another of this session's highlights was the unanimous passage of the Taxpayer Transparency Act, which is modeled after a recently enacted federal law authored by Oklahoma's Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama: the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.
The new law, by Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, and Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore, will accomplish on the state level what Coburn and Obama's law does on the national, which is to mandate the creation of a publicly accessible website by which citizens can easily monitor all government expenditures.
While most state leaders are pleased with the outcome of this year's legislative session, the same can't be said for city leaders.
A bill failed that was a major agenda item both for Mayor Kathy Taylor and for the City Council.
It would have enabled the City of Tulsa to charge a tax for the creation of fire protection districts.
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