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PSN on June 16, 2008 - 8:37am
The Oklahoma State Legislature adjourned late Friday, May 23, a week earlier than constitutionally-mandated. Lawmakers closed the session with an agreement on a $7.1 billion state budget for the next fiscal year. Overall the short 16 week session led to a mix bag of results.
Education: Legislators showed a commitment to education by passing a bill that earmarks $2.3 billion for schools, a $185 million increase over last year. This includes a $3,000 across-the-board pay raise for all state teachers.
Ethics: Lawmakers also passed a significant ethics reform bill, HB 2196, which bans lobbyists from making campaign contributions during a legislative session. The bill prohibits contributions from lobbyists to legislators - both incumbents and challengers - from the start of legislative sessions to five days after adjournment.
Infrastructure Improvements: Legislators also passed a $475 million bond package largely dedicated to infrastructure improvements. A majority of the bond funding is earmarked to help with the state’s roads and bridges. The bond package, however, also includes $100 million in state matching funds for the endowed chairs programs at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. Additionally, $25 million will go to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to repair and replace flood control dams in rural Oklahoma, $25 million for the construction of a low-water dam project on the Arkansas River in Tulsa, and $25 million to help finish construction of the Native American Cultural Center in Oklahoma City.
Healthcare: HB 3060 provides for the establishment, operation and maintenance of a public umbilical cord blood bank and establishing an education program for maternity. Unfortunately, legislators were unable to pass healthcare legislation which would have mandated health insurance coverage for autism diagnosis and treatment.
On a positive note, some negative bills were not passed, including voter identification provisions and an attempt to mandate English as Oklahoma’s official language.
- Progressive lawmakers were able to block SB 1150, which would have required individuals to show ID every time they vote. The legislation did allow a person who was unable to provide ID to vote after affirming his identity under penalty of a felony for misinformation.
- HB 3349 would have declared English the official language of Oklahoma and prohibited actions that would diminish or ignore the role of English in the state.
Further, Governor Henry once again vetoed a "tort reform" bill, HB 2458, which would have undercut consumer rights and gutted corporate accountability for injuries to the public.