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New cast set to deal with Oklahoma issues

Adding jobs, making government more efficient, redrawing legislative lines and shoring up the state's pension systems are challenges facing Oklahoma lawmakers, who return to work Monday.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT AND JOHN ESTUS Modified: February 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm •  Published: February 6, 2011

Republicans for the first time in state history will hold all the cards of governmental power when the legislative session begins Monday.

Facing significant and diverse budget challenges in the upcoming fiscal year, Republicans are banking on producing savings by making government more efficient and generating revenue by jump-starting the economy using reduced business costs through workers' compensation and lawsuit reforms.

They will be aided by record majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In the House, where Republicans gained control after 2004 elections, the GOP outnumbers Democrats 70-31. Senate Republicans, who took over the chamber after the 2008 elections, have increased their majority to 32-16.

For the first time in eight years, a Republican, Mary Fallin, occupies the governor's office.

So far, Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate Pro Tempore Brian Bingman have agreed that a major focus this session is revitalizing the state's economy.

The best way to do that is through adding more jobs, they say.

They also have to deal with a budget hole that could be as much as $600 million for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Other key items are redrawing legislative districts, considering prison and sentencing reforms, addressing underfunded pension systems and dealing with social issues favored by some conservative Republican lawmakers, such as gun rights, illegal immigration and prohibiting embryonic stem cell research.

Lawmakers also will be reviewing tax credits, and the governor wants to look at the entire tax structure.

New leadership

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