Sunday, May 22, 2011
Promises to pass legislation intended to improve Oklahoma's business climate that had been sought for decades by the state's business community will define this year's session, the first time ever a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled Legislature were in power at the same time.
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said passage of pro-business measures should help improve the state's economy.
“We succeeded in creating an environment where businesses can succeed and families can prosper,” Steele said. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said: “Certainly we had a pro-business agenda, but I think all the reforms that we've enacted affect everybody. Workers' compensation reform — that's good for big business, that's good for small business, that's good for the injured worker.”
Even before the session ended Friday, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America praised legislators for passing Senate Bill 878, which overhauls the state workers' compensation system. Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign it.
Legislators during the four-month session passed the first significant measure favoring alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders, and bills intended to make public schools more accountable.
A measure by Steele expands both the use of community sentencing programs and the electronic monitoring of low-risk, nonviolent inmates as well as limits the governor's role in the parole process for nonviolent offenders and requires state Pardon and Parole Board members to meet minimum qualifications.
This year's session also produced a strong anti-abortion measure that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The education measures include a bill that prohibits public schools from promoting third-grade students who cannot read at appropriate levels and a measure that creates an “A to F” grading system for public schools.
Another measure will make it easier to dismiss underperforming teachers by removing the “trial de novo” portion of due-process laws for public school teachers.
Lawmakers also passed legislation beefing up the state's pension systems by passing bills that require the Legislature to fund cost-of-living adjustment increases for those on the state's pension system. That alone is expected to reduce the state's seven pension systems' $16.5 billion unfunded liability by about one third.
Other measures increase the retirement age for judges, school teachers, elected officials and public employees. The increase in age applies to teachers and public employees hired after Nov. 1 and to public officials elected to office after that date.
But it's legislation intended to improve the state's economy that seemed to dominate the session. Fallin, who has promoted changes in the workers' compensation system and how lawsuits are treated in court cases ranging from personal injury to medical malpractice during her 20 years in public office, pitched proposals to lawmakers in her State of the State address.
Fred Morgan, president of The State Chamber, said this past session was one of the most successful ever for Oklahoma's business community.
“From the beginning of session, legislative leaders and the governor understood our state's financial predicament and worked to make this session about improving Oklahoma's business climate and economy,” he said.
“We want to thank them and the lawmakers who supported this important legislation on behalf of the entire Oklahoma business community for their efforts to make our state the best state to do business in the nation.”
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT, The Oklahoman