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Lawmakers on pace to wrap up session early

The approval of three major issues and the quickness of a budget deal make it likely Oklahoma lawmakers will adjourn at least a week before the scheduled May 31 deadline.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: May 11, 2013 at 3:27 am •  Published: May 12, 2013
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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.”