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. Bills also seek to crack down on party bus companies by making it illegal for them to haul minors who were drinking or possessed alcohol, and to implement the first step of a four-year plan to repeal Oklahoma’s death penalty by forming a commission to review wrongful convictions.
Some issues back→Requiring insurance companies to provide coverage of treatment for children with autism, an issue that Democratic and Republican leaders have butted heads over the past two sessions, is back. A House committee last year on the second day of the session killed a proposal named "Nick’s Law” for an 11-year-old boy from Edmond who suffers from autism. Under legislative rules, the issue isn’t to be brought up again until the legislative session starting in 2011. However, Democratic floor leader Mike Brown, of Tahlequah, has filed a resolution that if approved would put the idea to voters. →A proposal to require pre-marital counseling is back, and Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who irked homosexuals two years ago by saying homosexuality is the biggest threat to the nation may aggravate some married heterosexuals. Her proposal would make it harder to get a divorce. →How about an official state cowboy song? Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, has filed a bill that would allow the Oklahoma Historical Society to hold a statewide contest to designate a song, similar to a contest last year to come up with an official state rock song. The House defeated awarding the designation to a tune by The Flaming Lips largely because some were angered when a band member entered the state Capitol wearing a T-shirt bearing a symbol associated with the Communist Party. The governor signed an executive order making "Do You Realize??” the state’s rock song. →If a measure by Sen. Bryce Marlatt passes, Oklahomans would know whether lawmakers were drug free when they took office. Senate Bill 2112 by Marlatt, R-Woodward, would require drug tests for legislators and the governor before taking office.