A Democratic lawmaker used Thursday's swearing-in ceremony of newly elected and re-elected members of the state House of Representatives to call for a special session to deal with whether Oklahoma will form a state electronic health insurance exchange.
Rep. Joe Dorman didn't get far in the process.
Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, gaveled down the Rush Springs Democrat, telling him the time to speak on the House floor after most of the 101 members took their oath of office was restricted to introductions and announcements.
Dorman said a special session “is the only way that we are able to come in and address this and not allow the executive branch or the federal government to dictate how we will handle the health care exchange.”
“The governor indicated earlier that she did not want to call us back to a special session for any reason,” Dorman said. “So this was our opportunity provided to the Legislature to call ourselves back into special session.”
Dorman needs to get signatures from two-thirds of the House and Senate members in order to get a special session seated. He acknowledged it would be difficult to reach that mark; Republicans have a 71-29 majority in the House and a 36-12 advantage in the Senate. He had five signatures — all from Democratic House members. He would like a special session to be held by Dec. 1 so lawmakers would have two weeks before the Dec. 14 federal deadline to submit a plan to develop an insurance exchange, which would match up the uninsured with insurance providers.
Dorman said the GOP-controlled Legislature gambled that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down the national health care law, which calls for establishing the exchange, and that President Barack Obama, who championed the federal legislation, would be defeated by Republican Mitt Romney. Oklahoma is one of several states that have not developed a health insurance exchange, as required under the federal Affordable Care Act.
“That has left us, as far as a state, in a lurch,” he said.
Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor administered the oath of office to just about all the newly elected and re-elected members.
Of the 101 members, 88 received oaths of office during a ceremony in the House chamber as about 200 family members and friends packed the overhead gallery.
Eleven were sworn in earlier and two will be sworn in later. Rep.-elect Dan Fisher, R-El Reno, was out of state and will be sworn in next week and Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, is involved in an election recount.
The recount, requested by Democratic challenger Paula Roberts, who lost last week's election by 18 votes, is scheduled to take place Thursday. Roberts also has a filed a petition alleging election irregularities occurred; the petition is scheduled to be taken up Thursday.
The year's session ended with 67 Republicans and 31 Democrats. The House now has 16 freshmen — 13 Republicans and three Democrats.
The terms for newly elected and re-elected members begin Wednesday. Current House terms expire Tuesday.
The swearing-in of House members took just a couple minutes. Then for more than an hour, House members introduced family members and friends.
Shannon, presiding in the speaker's chair for the first time, said there is no need for a special session. A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said earlier that the governor is exploring the state's options on the health insurance exchange system.
“We're going to wait to hear the governor's announcement,” said Shannon, who was selected last week as House speaker-elect by House Republicans and is in line to be elected speaker when the House holds an organizational day Jan. 8. “Certainly she's going to lead the discussion. The ultimate decision is going to be hers about how we proceed, but there will be time during session for the Legislature to weigh in on this important issue and to push back against the federal government's intrusion.”
Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, said a special session would be time-consuming and expensive. Estimates are that a weeklong special session would cost about $115,000.
“My constituents do not want me to move forward on that,” said Enns, chairman of the House Public Health Committee. “We're kind of being put in a hard position because you have your constituents who you're supposed to represent saying don't do it and on the other hand you've got the federal government saying it's federal law — you've got to do it.”
New legislators, meanwhile, said they were excited and humbled to take on state challenges.
Rep.-elect Charles McCall, R-Atoka, resigned late Tuesday as Atoka's mayor.
“So far it's been really surreal,” said McCall, a third-generation banker who would like to work on budget or finance committees or subcommittees.
Rep.-elect Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said House Democrats, despite having their lowest numbers, can be effective.
“There are Republicans out there that want to work with Democrats and there are Democrats that want to work with Republicans,” Floyd said. “I think we've all seen that partisanship just doesn't move Oklahoma forward.”
Rep.-elect David Perryman, D-Chickasha, also is optimistic.
“Hopefully we can overcome some partisan bickering and come together to address some real issues,” he said. “We've got to determine what we're going to do with regard to the federal mandates on health care and we've got real needs in Oklahoma in regards to our educational systems.”
Rep.-elect Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, who lost her bid for a House seat by three votes in an April special election and won by one vote in a recount that eventually wasn't counted, said she was glad to be a member of the House.
“I'm thrilled to be not campaigning anymore,” Henke said. “I'm ready to get to work.”