WILL the Legislature be called back to the Capitol before the 2014 session begins in February? Unfortunately, that's beginning to look like a real possibility.
Gov. Mary Fallin is considering calling a special session to deal with lawsuit reform. In June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a 2009 tort reform bill, saying it violated the state's single-subject rule. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the issue needs to be addressed “as soon as possible” and House Speaker T.W. Shannon said he would support Fallin if she made the call.
The court's rejection of the 2009 law was highly disappointing. Republicans had worked a long time for a strong tort reform bill and believed they had one; current GOP leaders have good reason to want to get one back on the books.
But a special session would be expensive — as much as $30,000 per day to cover employee costs, per diem and mileage reimbursements to lawmakers, etc. A special session would likely last a week, and that's provided agreement could be reached quickly on the many separate bills needed to address the court's concerns about lawmakers painting with too broad a brush the first time around. That's also assuming no other issues are placed on the session docket; if that were to change, then the timeline (and price tag) would too.
Better to take the time needed to get lawsuit reform right, and do so during the regular session.
Saluting our cities
Oklahoma's two major metropolitan areas are among the nation's most military friendly. According to militaryfriendly.com and G.I. Jobs, Oklahoma City is the nation's second-best city for military personnel. Tulsa is ranked eighth (No. 1 was San Antonio.) The list scores cities on the number of job openings at military-friendly employers, military-friendly schools and the number of registered veteran-owned businesses in the region. The report shows there are 240 businesses owned by veterans in the Oklahoma City area and 86 in the Tulsa area. Cost of living and the unemployment rate are also considered, which benefits Oklahoma since both local rates are far lower than national norms. Oklahoma cities' high ranking won't shock most people. Oklahomans have a proud tradition of military service, and this state is home to several military bases. Even if it's not a surprise, the ranking should be a source of pride.
We're from the government ...
Under Obamacare, health insurance prices are increasing dramatically in the individual market. Citizens face fines for failure to buy insurance at those higher prices. Now, the Obama administration plans to spend $1.7 million in Oklahoma alone to “help” citizens go through the process required to buy the expensive insurance. Apparently, the administration was concerned that up to 44,000 Oklahomans wouldn't sign up for insurance without government pressure. The money that will fund the hiring of 38 government workers to “assist” Oklahomans in the enrollment process comes from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, which focuses on the uninsured and medically vulnerable. It's telling that Obamacare is so expensive and complicated that even its backers believe that people without insurance will choose not to get any — unless some federal worker prods them along.
Et tu, Barack?
President Barack Obama often bemoans the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. The Obama administration recently announced it was delaying the employer mandate in Obamacare for a year. Republicans agree with the move and have advanced legislation to put the delay into law. So how has Obama responded? With a veto threat, of course. He called the bill delaying the employer mandate “unnecessary.” Congressional Republicans have also filed legislation to delay the individual mandate, arguing it makes no sense to penalize working families while exempting large employers. Obama vows to veto that as well. The administration even claims Obamacare “has already improved many aspects of the nation's health care system.” This claim doesn't pass the laugh test. So Obama is for bipartisanship until the moment that Republicans agree with him. Then he's against bipartisanship, even if requires calling his own actions “unnecessary.”
Not music to his ears
Were you hoping to someday see Stevie Wonder perform in Oklahoma? You're out of luck. Angered over the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, Wonder said he wouldn't perform in Florida or any other state that has a “Stand Your Ground” law. “Wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world,” Wonder said. He can cross Oklahoma off his list, along with Texas, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Georgia and several other U.S. states that have some form of the law on the books. These laws allow people to use deadly force if they believe their life is in danger. The man who shot Martin, an unarmed black teenager, said he did so in self-defense. A jury acquitted him of second-degree murder. Wonder's reaction is misguided but much tamer and certainly more principled than some in the black community. Jesse Jackson, for example, called the verdict “Old South justice.” That's an affront to the jury, which followed the law, but not at all surprising coming from Jackson. He's made a career of attaching “Old South” motives to what he sees as racially unjust outcomes.
Payback or proper punishment? Depends on who you talk to in Iowa, where a senior criminal investigator is out of a job. Agent Larry Hedlund, a 25-year veteran of the state agency, got into trouble after complaining about a speeding SUV. Turns out the vehicle was carrying the governor and lieutenant governor on their way to an engagement. Hedlund started a pursuit in his state-issued car. A trooper who assisted eventually saw it was another trooper at the wheel and didn't make a stop. Hedlund complained to superiors that the speeding and chase put others at risk. He said the governor shouldn't be above the law. Following an investigation Hedlund was fired, reportedly for driving his government vehicle on a vacation day, making “negative and disrespectful” comments about his agency director in emails, and addressing the man “in a disrespectful tone” during a conference call. Hedlund says most of the things cited happened before his complaint about the governor. Once he did that, “everything changed,” he said. The story isn't over. Hedlund's attorney promises to file a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Quite a coincidence
Democratic State Rep. Mike Shelton says Oklahoma's open-carry and Stand Your Ground laws have “been on my heart for some time.” So apparently it was just a coincidence that Shelton chose this week — four days after the George Zimmerman verdict — to announce he will meet in November to review the issues. A House news release calls it an interim study, but it's not really. Formal requests for interim studies must be submitted to the House speaker; neither Shelton nor any other Democrat did so on this issue. The verdict in the Trayvon Martin case offered an opportunity to pander. Shelton jumped on it: “We need to study in-depth the successes and shortcomings of these laws, what these laws do to increase or decrease Oklahomans' sense of security.” Shelton would do his constituents in northeast Oklahoma City a greater service by continuing to look for ways to reduce the crime rate or keep students from dropping out — real and lingering concerns in the district.