Autism insurance plan remains contentiousOklahomans might pay 5 percent more for insurance coverage if treatment for autism is required as proposed in pending legislation, a legislator said Thursday. Rep. Ron Peterson, a House chairman who twice blocked an autism measure from being heard in his committee, said his findings dispute a study released this week that showed mandating insurance coverage for autism would increase rates less than half of 1 percent. Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, said insurance companies set prices based on actual exposure instead of assuming no one with a disease will ever file a claim. Statistics indicate 6,289 Oklahomans between the ages of 2 and 20 have autism, but just 1,894 would be guaranteed autism coverage under Senate Bill 1537, which is authored by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm. Peterson said if all 1,894 autistic children received the full $75,000 in annual benefits proposed under Gumm's measure, Oklahomans could pay an additional $142 million per year for insurance. That amounts to a 5.2 percent increase, Peterson said. Gumm, D-Durant, said Peterson's comments show "a serious lack of understanding” about the autism situation. "Every autistic child is different with different needs,” Gumm said. "To suggest that every autistic child presents the same exposure to the insurance industry is flat wrong and not born out by the experience in other states — or the experience of parents of autistic children.”
Lawmakers uphold veto of trespassing billThe Oklahoma House sustained another of Gov. Brad Henry's vetoes Thursday, falling short of overriding Henry's rejection of legislation supporters said strengthens landowner rights against trespassers. The House's Democratic minority largely supported the Democratic governor in sustaining the veto although six Democrats, mostly from rural areas, voted with Republicans to override Henry's veto and allow the bill to become law without his signature. The House voted 62-35 to override, six votes short of the number needed. It takes two-thirds of the 101-member House, or 68 votes, to override a gubernatorial veto. It was the second time in less than a week Democrats blocked Republican attempts to override Henry's veto. On Monday, an attempt to override Henry's veto of legislation to make it harder to file some lawsuits failed on a 55-42 vote, with Democrats again supporting the governor. In his veto message, Henry said the bill is poorly drafted and conflicts with a trespass law he signed earlier this year and creates a situation that would penalize honest sportsmen. Henry's veto message said the measure provides no cap on the amount of a fine for a first trespassing offense. The measure ratcheted up the fine for trespassing from a minimum of $50 to $500 and states the court may revoke the offender's hunting and fishing license for up to one year. It also prohibits hunting or fishing without permission on land that is primarily devoted to farming, ranching or forestry without the requirement that the owner post the land.
House approves ethics budgetThe House of Representatives approved a 30 percent budget increase for the Ethics Commission, despite a complaint from a House member that the allocation includes money for the wrong computer software. Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, said $50,000 of the $150,000 increase for the Ethics Commission is for software that the commission did not request. Rep. Ken Miller, R-Edmond, House budget chairman, said the software request came from Senate Republicans during budget negotiations. Senate Republicans sought $150,000 to buy, modify and implement the Federal Election Commission campaign reporting software so it can beused at the Ethics Commission, said Paul Ziriax, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. While $50,000 won't be sufficient to bring the software online in the next fiscal year, it should be enough to fund the first phase, he said. Senate Republicans will seek funding next session for the next phase, he said. Marilyn Hughes, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said she was not involved in discussions about the system. Members of the Ethics Commission earlier this session said the $667,000 proposed budget is insufficient, saying it needs $906,000 to be adequately funded. The Ethics Commission budget bill, House Bill 2286, passed, 96-2. It now goes to the Senate. From Wire Reports and Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau