GOV. Mary Fallin said last week that she's mulling the idea of a special session to deal with lawsuit reform and “maybe some other issues.” Say it isn't so!
Fallin is understandably miffed that a lawsuit reform bill signed into law in 2009 was spiked last month by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Although the bill dealt with one overarching issue — tort reform — the court said lawmakers violated the state constitution's proscription against logrolling.
The court's decision rankled Oklahoma business groups that had been trying for years to get comprehensive reform legislation through the Capitol. Fallin made her remarks to an audience of businessmen and women at the Tulsa Regional Chamber. “A special session is an option I am looking at,” she said. The aim would be “to fix what I consider one of our most important pieces of legislation.”
The “other issues” that may require attention, Fallin said, are workers' compensation reform, repair of the Capitol building and tax cuts. (As the 2013 session ended, she had hinted that a special session could be an option to address health insurance coverage for low-income Oklahomans.)
We're no fan of the state Supreme Court's decision on tort reform, either, but using a special session to make things right isn't the way to go. For one thing, special sessions aren't cheap — it would cost roughly $20,000 per day to have lawmakers return to NE 23 and Lincoln. For another, by the time a special session could be convened, it would only be a few more months before the 2014 regular session gets underway. There's also a chance that a bill combining Capitol repair funds and a tax cut could be challenged on constitutional grounds; the same could happen to the workers' comp reform bill approved this year. Why not let the dust settle?
And then there's this: Lawmakers have plenty else to keep themselves occupied between now and the start of the regular session as they work on interim studies. Last week, House Speaker T.W. Shannon approved 68 of these rites of summertime.
A group of lawmakers got the go-ahead to study funding and policies for storm shelters in schools. This issue took on added significance following the tornado in Moore that demolished two elementary schools, including one in which seven students were killed. The head of the state's Department of Emergency Management is among those calling for safe rooms or shelters in every school.
Shannon, R-Lawton, said yes to Republican Rep. Paul Wesselhoft's request to study privacy issues related to the use of drones. Shannon also greenlighted Rep. Leslie Osborn's request to study state employee pay and a system of awarding merit-based raises. That's a worthwhile pursuit, as is Osborn's study into restructuring classifications of violent and nonviolent felonies.
Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, may be on to something with his study on requiring training for elected county officers. County commissioners, he noted, deal with multimillion-dollar budgets. “The importance of managing the office and resources of the county and the taxpayers should merit more training for these officers,” he said.
Many of the requests for interim studies provided no names of citizens or groups that might need to be notified about their meetings. Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, offered five names in her request for a study into a ban on text-messaging while driving. Among them were state Health Commissioner Terry Cline and a doctor from the OU College of Medicine.
McDaniel's request met the same fate as every legislative effort to halt texting for all drivers. It was rejected.