With three key issues passed and the state's $7.1 billion budget bill halfway through the Legislature, lawmakers are on pace to finish up several days earlier than the May 31 deadline.
Several lawmakers hinted, perhaps hopefully, they could finish their work by Friday, but legislative leaders believe that may be too ambitious.
“Realistically anywhere from the 17th to the 24th is very reasonable to expect,” said Senate President pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “We still have some unfinished business, but all our major items have all been agreed to.”
Leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature reached an agreement with GOP Gov. Mary Fallin in late April on three major issues: an income-tax cut, an overhaul of the workers' compensation system and a long-range plan to repair the state Capitol and other state buildings.
They reached an accord on the budget in early May. It was one of the quickest budget accords reached in recent years.
All but the tax-cut measure, House Bill 2301, have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate and have been signed by Fallin. Fallin has yet to sign HB 2301, which would reduce the top rate of the personal income tax from 5.25 percent to 5 percent in 2015 and provide $120 million over the next two years to repair the nearly 100-year-old Capitol.
The House last week passed House Bill 2301; the Senate is to take it up early this week and the measure should be to the governor by the end of the week.
Lawmakers aren't tackling two issues that could bog them down — consolidating the staff, boards and offices of several pension plans into one and developing a plan to provide health insurance coverage to uninsured Oklahomans.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, believes the progress lawmakers have made on key issues “does open the door for us possibly getting out early,” said his spokesman, Joe Griffin.
“Any time we can get things done efficiently and save the people of Oklahoma money, that's a good thing,” Griffin said.
The Legislature meets from the first Monday in February to the last Friday in May. Usually sessions last 16 weeks, but because of the way the calendar worked out this year the session could run 17 weeks. Lawmakers have rarely gone that long the past several years.
Ahead of schedule
Legislative leaders were hoping all along to finish by May 24, but the speed in which agreements were reached on the budget and the three major items make it likely lawmakers will wrap up their work before then.
Early adjournment would result in legislative savings, mostly from travel reimbursements and per diem for members who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol.
In the 101-member House, per diem and mileage reimbursement total more than $10,500 each day; other cots such as session-only employees increases it to nearly $20,000 a day. In the 48-member Senate, the session costs about $7,600 each day, most of which, about $5,200, is per diem and mileage reimbursement.
Lawmakers would be assured of staying in session longer had they taken up the pension and Medicaid issues.
Earlier, state Treasurer Ken Miller, who with Fallin backed the concept of combining the pension boards, said not enough time remained in this year's session. Heavy lobbying in late April by firefighters and public school teachers opposed to the legislation led to tabling the issue. The federal government last week denied the state of Oklahoma's request for a waiver that would have extended the Insure Oklahoma program, which provides state funds along with Medicaid funds that are matched by small businesses and their employees to buy private health insurance coverage.
A late bill
A group of Republican lawmakers were working on Senate Bill 640, which among other things would privatize the Medicaid system in the state by allowing participants to buy private insurance, put in cost-saving measures and reward people who take up healthy behaviors. It also would encourage people to set up health savings accounts, and require that some participants be working or seeking employment.
Bingman said he would like to see a plan being pursued by Fallin and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to provide health coverage to 200,000 uninsured, working-class Oklahomans without expanding Medicaid. A final report from Leavitt Partners isn't expected until June.
“That bill is coming out so late, you've got the Leavitt report coming,” Bingman said. “You've got all these changes coming right now. I don't think we've given our members a chance to properly vet the bill.
“Throwing some language out at the last week of session is not a good approach,” he said. “Then you do rile people up who haven't time had to look at the language and properly vet it. They become suspicious when something shows up at the last of session. It didn't go through a committee so we didn't have any hearings on it.”