Area legislators discussed various “misunderstandings” experienced between the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Brad Henry during this year’s legislative session during the Woodward Chamber of Commerce’s final eggs and Issues conference Friday morning.

Sen. Owen Laughlin and Reps. Gus Blackwell, Jeff Hickman and Rob Johnson participated in the conference which was held at Northwestern Electric’s Medallion Room.

All four legislators agreed that one of the biggest misunderstandings has been over the state’s general appropriations budget.

Blackwell, R-Goodwell, said that in the past the Senate was known as the place where all good bills go to die, but that was not the case this year. He said the Senate worked amazingly well, especially considering the 24-24 tie in that chamber, and that instead the Governor’s desk was treacherous ground for bills, especially for the state budget.

Johnson, R-Kingfisher, explained that for once the legislature had the budget ready for approval before the April 1 deadline, but after returning from a month long vacation the governor vetoed it.

Hickman, R-Dacoma, said Henry only expressed problems with about 10 percent of the budget, but he vetoed 100 percent of the budget even though he had line item veto authority.

The legislature then tried to pass portions from the budget Henry proposed in his State of the State address, he said, but those were vetoed as well.

“He doesn’t want to play well with others,” Johnson said of the governor’s behavior.

Hickman added that he believes “the governor has been completely unreasonable.”

Johnson said Henry has refused to compromise and continues to stick to his original budget plan, which according to Johnson and Hickman, was based on old numbers and flawed projections.

“We can’t do much if the governor isn’t willing to work with us,” Johnson said.

And with only nine days left in the session, it does not look like they have enough time to get everything accomplished that they need to, the legislators said.

Blackwell said it is likely that the legislature will have to go into a special session before they can finally pass a budget.

“We will have a budget,” he promised. “When, I’m just not sure.”

Johnson claimed the delay was an attempt by the governor to get the legislature to pass the budget that he wants, which will spend more money than he said the state can afford. He also claimed that the governor was also trying to take some of the heat off himself by making it look like the legislature failed in accomplishing what they needed to in the regular session.

Hickman agreed saying “it’s about spreading the blame.”

Laughlin, R-Woodward, said another big misunderstanding revolved around lawsuit reform, which also ended in a vetoed bill.

He discussed how the governor claimed to be for tort reform, but then vetoed the tort reform bill which the legislature had worked hard to develop.

Johnson said that like the budget, the lawsuit reform bill was “a compromise piece of legislation,” which many within both parties and even within the professions which the legislation would have affected worked together to develop.

He said by his veto the governor showed that he does not really want tort reform, because “if he did, he could have had it.”

Hickman explained why lawsuit reform is so important, saying that it would help to fight against the “crisis” of rising health care costs.

Lawsuit reform is also important, Laughlin said, because it can help bring higher paying jobs to Oklahoma.

Johnson said that because it is so important, the legislature will probably send the bill back again, although he is not confident that it will do any better next year.

While the legislature does not have the votes to override Henry’s vetoes on the budget or on lawsuit reform, Laughlin said they are working hard to get the votes to override his veto on a bill that would bar the use of public funds for abortions.

Hickman reminded everyone that the governor did not veto everything.

He noted how Henry had signed a bill which put over $200 million into the teacher’s retirement system and allowed for an additional $60 million to be added each year for the next several years, so that by 2026 the system will be 80 percent funded, where at it is only 49 percent funded today.

Another important bill that Henry approved was an immigration reform bill which focuses on immigrants’ work eligibility, helps prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining benefits and also allows state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, Hickman said.

Laughlin said another successful bill will provide ad valorem tax breaks to help the new assisted living center which is being built in Woodward.

Other issues that were dealt with during this year’s legislative session were also discussed during a question and answer period which ended the Eggs and Issues conference.

These other issues included the governor’s plan to place three-year-olds in the classroom, the performance audit planned for the Department of Corrections, and even more about lawsuit reform.

Also during the question and answer period, Mayor Bill Fanning publicly thanked Blackwell, Hickman, Johnson, and Laughlin for how well they supported Woodward throughout the session.

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