THE 2013 legislative session is just weeks away. What do Republican leaders plan to get done, particularly with GOP supermajorities in both chambers? Speeches given Tuesday by House Speaker T.W. Shannon and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman give us some insight.
Bingman, R-Sapulpa, outlined a handful of broad policy goals. But Shannon was more thematic than policy-specific, mounting a vocal defense of federalism rather than unveiling a detailed vision for legislative action.
Bingman placed workers' compensation reform on the front burner, having previously endorsed a shift to an administrative system. “Our business leaders say the number one roadblock to growing jobs and economic prosperity in Oklahoma is clear,” Bingman said. “It's a big roadblock — an adversarial, out-of-control workers' compensation system.”
He noted the current system is “inefficient, ineffective, adversarial” and “doesn't do a very good job” of helping injured workers. If lawmakers are serious about jobs and economic growth, Bingman declared, “it has to begin with meaningful, wholesale reform of our workers' compensation system.”
Those comments show a commitment to tackle one of Oklahoma's greatest economic challenges. It's a big goal worthy of a big legislative majority. Should Bingman succeed, the benefit will accrue to employers and the Oklahomans hired as a result. We salute Bingman for his leadership on this issue.
He also made clear that he wouldn't be an ally of those seeking to roll back education improvements, vowing to “remain faithful to the reforms we've passed.” As part of this mission, he urged lawmakers to “faithfully commit to narrowly targeting increased dollars to fund historic education reforms” and ensure additional school appropriations go to the classroom.
This may disappoint those hostile to graduation tests, A-F grading of schools and reading standards that end social promotion of third-graders, but it's good news for the children of the state. Bingman clearly understands that both education reform and funding are important; that how you spend money is as important as how much you spend.
Bingman called for a “thoughtful, reasonable and cautious tax cut,” which suggests that this year's tax-cut debate will involve a more modest — although possibly more achievable — rate reduction than those proposed last year without success.
Shannon, R-Lawton, vowed to make increased opportunity and state prosperity his chief goal. Yet he provided few policy specifics regarding how he would achieve that objective. Like Bingman, Shannon called for comprehensive workers' comp reform. He also endorsed tax reform, continued improvement of state pensions, better management of state assets and modernizing education. We'd like to hear more detail about these issues.
Bingman gave the broad outlines of a meaningful, although limited, policy focus, which suggests the Senate is prepared to ride point on the major issues of workers' comp, education reform and school funding. We're still not sure what specific legislative initiatives will truly be championed by House leaders.
Shannon's strongest comments were directed at the incompetence of the federal government. Few would disagree with his critique, but lecturing Washington isn't where the rubber meets the road in state government. Passing legislation in Oklahoma that benefits Oklahomans is what matters.
The Senate appears focused on that goal. For House lawmakers to do the same, Shannon should unveil a clear, specific agenda.