A freshman lawmaker who handled two key pieces of legislation, including a measure that drastically changed how Oklahomans are compensated for on-the-job injuries, received the most gifts from lobbyists so far this year, reports filed with the state Ethics Commission show.
The $1,541 that Rep. Jon Echols received in gifts from lobbyists is about $115 more than the leader of the Senate received for the first six months of this year.
Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he expected he would be among the top lawmakers receiving gifts from lawmakers because of his work on Senate Bill 1062. He presented the rewritten 284-page measure in a House of Representatives committee and helped present it on the House floor.
SB 1062 changes the workers' compensation system from a judicial system to an administrative one. It also allows businesses to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers.
It was authored by Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, who received $1,428 in gifts from lobbyists to finish second in the Jan. 1- June 30 reporting period. The four-month legislative session runs from early February through late May.
Echols also presented House Bill 1911, which required terminated employees to prove they were not fired for misconduct such as willfully disregarding regulations or chronic absenteeism in order to receive unemployment benefits. Its intent is to cut down on fraud, which would result in more benefits being available for the state's unemployed.
Both bills were backed by the State Chamber and other business interests. Critics complained HB 1911, authored by House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, would make it harder for the unemployed to get money for food and housing costs.
Opponents of SB 1062 said it was unfair to injured workers because it would reduce their benefits.
Both measures passed easily and were signed into law.
Lobbyists this year spent $61,964 on meals and gifts for legislators from Jan. through June 30, reports show. That is up slightly from the same time period a year ago when lobbyists spent $61,642.
Most of the money was spent on meals for lawmakers. About $2,823, or 4.5 percent of the total spent this year, went for Thunder tickets for legislators; 32 of the state's 149 lawmakers received tickets.
Echols said all but $100 — which was from AT&T to help pay for a ticket to the Cotton Bowl in January — were for meals. Lobbyist employers can spend no more than $100 on gifts for legislators and elected officials in a calendar year.
I don't have a background in politics so a lot of it was learning the lay of the land, learning the people in the system.”
Rep. Jon Echols,