By Janelle Stecklein
CNHI state reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY — In what critics describe as an attempt at political manipulation, Gov. Mary Fallin took a swing at legislators Tuesday, announcing she would be rejecting their bills that were awaiting her signature until they tackle the state’s “major issues.”
By noon Tuesday, Fallin rejected 15 of 16 House bills awaiting her signature that she claimed didn’t have “substantial” benefits, are “redundant” or are “just bad policy.” At a press conference announcing her decision, she pledged the vetoes of House-proposed bills would continue until the House tackles issues that she believes are important to Oklahomans rather than special interest groups.
“Lawmakers continue to find ways to avoid passing meaningful legislation,” she said. “We cannot continue to ignore the big issues facing the state.”
Fallin said the House needs to pass legislation dealing with storm shelters at schools, set the budget for this coming year, look at funding Capitol improvements, fix the pension system and improve the health of Oklahomans.
“I’ve used my executive power, my executive authority to set aside ‘minor issues’ so that we can have more time to deal with major issues here at the Capitol and hopefully get the attention to get those things done,” she said.
Among the causalities of Fallin’s pen were bills that came from legislators across the state. They dealt with issues like expungements, regulating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, liquor industry regulations and a bill that she claims makes it easier to sell stolen watches.
"Gov. Fallin developed an aggressive agenda this session to move Oklahoma forward, however moving that agenda through the legislative process requires developing relationships with legislators across the state,” said House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, in a statement.
He said legislators have passed an income tax cut, pension reform measures, and a ban on youth access to e-cigarettes, which were all part of the governor’s agenda.
"The members of this body are closest to the people and have listened to their constituencies on issues such as common core, school testing and bond proposals. We know there are serious issues left to resolve and the House intends to work every day, regardless of political rhetoric, to have a successful session for the people of Oklahoma,” he said.
Rep. Cory T. Williams, D-Stillwater, said Fallin’s move was simply one of “political gamesmanship” and illustrated intraparty bickering among Republicans, who control the House, the Senate and the governor’s office.
Fallin vetoed the bill authored by Williams and Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, which would have made it easier for people to get crimes expunged off their records. The bill had bipartisan support, and Williams said it was frustrating to lose a substantive bill “on the 1-yard line” because Fallin needed to pad her veto list for the day. He predicted her move would “infuriate” people, and hopefully lead to moves by the legislature to overturn her vetoes.
He said such behavior by an Oklahoma governor is unprecedented and “politics of pride.”
“She does not believe the House has addressed her set of priorities so this is our punishment,” he said. “I don’t like being used in this manner. My constituents don’t like being used in this manner. I don’t think there’s a constituent out there that would support her in a move like today.”
Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, said he didn’t understand why the governor Tuesday vetoed two of his bills that he said were requested directly from her office.
He said one of the bills was designed to save tax dollars by allowing state agencies to better use their purchase card authority.
“The governor is essentially vetoing her own request bill,” Murphey said. “It makes no sense.”