Oklahoma Republicans celebrate end of power sharing

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT AND JULIE BISBEE Published: November 9, 2008
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photo - Gov. Brad Henry addressed a joint session of the Oklahoma legislature in the House chamber Monday afternoon, Feb, 4, 2008. This marks the opening session of the second session of the state's 51st legislature. By Jim Beckel
Gov. Brad Henry addressed a joint session of the Oklahoma legislature in the House chamber Monday afternoon, Feb, 4, 2008. This marks the opening session of the second session of the state's 51st legislature. By Jim Beckel
More Republican-backed measures — including lawsuit reform legislation — will make it to the governor now that GOP lawmakers have made historic gains in the Senate and House of Representatives, ranking Republicans say.

Lawsuit reform, education reform and anti-abortion legislation could come to the forefront with Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate. Although lawmakers say they’ll work to find common ground, they could clash on key issues.

"For the first time in Oklahoma history we’re going to be able to send Republican legislation to the governor’s desk,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "I like that scenario. That should play well for us. I sense that we have the momentum.”

Republicans captured the Senate for the first time in state history and increased their advantage in the House. The GOP picked up two seats in the Senate to take a 26 to 22 advantage and four seats in the House, giving Republicans a record-high 61 in the 101-seat body.

Senate President Pro Tempore-designate Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, joked last week that key Republican bills will finally get heard. For the last two years, GOP senators have shared power with the Democrats.

"In the past we had to deal with the triangle symmetry to get things done,” Coffee said. "I think having one less person in the mix will make it easier.”

However, Republicans will have to push their measures past Gov. Brad Henry, a popular Democrat who won a landslide re-election in 2006. The governor has stressed his ability to work with both parties, but at the same time Henry has not shied away from vetoing key Republican measures.



KEY FACTS

What a GOP majority means

With a Republican majority in the House and the Senate, measures coming from the Legislature will likely be pro-business and anti-abortion.

PRO-BUSINESS

Republican House members earlier this year tried to resurrect a lawsuit reform measure — sometimes called tort reform — which Gov. Brad Henry vetoed in 2007. The proposal included capping non-economic damages — those usually awarded for pain and suffering — at $300,000. It also would limit cases in which juries could award punitive damages. Punitive damages could only be awarded if a jury found, by clear and convincing evidence, that there was intentional or gross negligence. Republicans say the measure would limit frivolous lawsuits and would attract businesses to the state.

ANTI-ABORTION

Republican lawmakers led the charge last year in passing legislation and overriding Gov. Henry’s veto of a measure to require women to view an ultrasound of their unborn babies before having an abortion. A group has challenged the law; an Oklahoma County district judge likely will issue a ruling next year.

"We’re a pro-life party,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "Social values are very important to House Republicans, and we believe that a strong family is vital to allowing your state to flourish and to be successful.”

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