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Oklahoma legislators ready to debate newly filed state measures

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT and JULIE BISBEE Modified: January 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm •  Published: January 17, 2010
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The state’s worst budget crisis in modern history is not getting in the way of legislators filing more than 2,200 bills for the session that begins next month.

In addition to struggling with revenue shortfalls, main issues this session will be efforts to change the state workers’ compensation system and the state’s public schools.

In addition to having about $1.3 billion less compared with last year, lawmakers first will have to deal with patching the current fiscal year budget. Revenues have come in about 25.6 percent below estimates since the fiscal year began July 1.

Lawmakers filed 2,235 bills by Thursday night’s deadline. They also have 1,051 bills carried over from last year that still may be considered. On top of those 3,286 bills, legislators this year filed 59 resolutions; 86 resolutions are still left over from last year.

Nearly 400 bills are set aside for appropriation measures to fund agencies and departments. Many other bills are so-called shell bills — they have a subject matter but no text. Those bills can be filled in with details later.

Legislators also have the option to gut bills of their entire language and replace it with other text as long as it fits under the subject heading. Interpretation is up to the presiding officers of the Senate and House.

The Republican majority has filed several bills aiming to change the state’s workers’ compensation court system.

Reforms being sought include defining the term "surgery” for compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney fee provision and capping the time for temporary total disability. Reducing workers’ compensation judges may also be considered, along with a more equitable distribution of judges between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Public schools also will get a lot of attention. Former Mayor Kathy Taylor, whom Gov. Brad Henry named as his education adviser late last year, is expected to suggest ideas as she pursues federal grants for public schools.

Republican lawmakers hope issues they touted in the past, such as performance pay and expanding charter schools, may get support. Several bills would relax mandates to free money for education without relaxing standards.