House Speaker Bars 1.1 Million Oklahomans From Legislative Process, Inman Charges
OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 25, 2016) – For the first time in state history, a Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and his leadership team have shut out more than one million Oklahomans from the legislative process.
As the first quarter of the legislative session comes to an end, in an unprecedented act of partisanship, House Republican leaders have refused to allow any legislation authored by a House Democrat to be brought up for a vote on the House floor.
“Not one House Democrat has had a bill placed on the House calendar, much less debated and voted on by the entire House membership,” Minority Leader Scott Inman said. “The people we represent have been deprived of their constitutional right to a voice in the legislative process,” the Del City Democrat said.
The 30 House Democrats and the 1.1 million Oklahomans they represent – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike – are being “stonewalled,” Inman said. “This is the most partisan Speakership in the 108-year history of this state.”
House Democrats filed 215 bills this year. Of those, 42 have been approved by House committees “and many of those passed unanimously,” Inman said.
The Democrats’ bills have focused on topics such as protecting worker rights, reducing mandates imposed on public schools, assisting victims of domestic violence, increasing the statute of limitations for children who have been victims of crime, granting courts the power to consider post-traumatic stress disorder as a mitigating factor when sentencing a combat veteran convicted of a crime, and enabling victims who prevail in asset forfeiture proceedings to recover attorney fees, court costs and interest.
Yet not one of those 42 measures has been scheduled on the House calendar for a floor vote,” Inman said. “This is unprecedented and unconscionable.” At no time in state history has the majority party completely excluded the minority party – and with the exception of one two-year term, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives from statehood in 1907 until the general election of November 2004, a period of almost a century.
House Democrats have been shut out because, “We are opposed to raising taxes on middle-class Oklahomans while the governor and the Republican leadership refuse to roll back that fiscally irresponsible income-tax cut, refuse to index the gross production tax, and refuse to even discuss accessing federal funds to cover hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who are uninsured,” Inman said.
Delaying the income-tax cut that went into effect Jan. 1 has bipartisan support in the Legislature, Inman noted, pointing to the Senate Finance Committee’s approval Tuesday of SB 1073 by Sen. Mike Mazzei. “I would much rather delay a tax cut than vote to increase taxes and start new taxes,” the Tulsa Republican said.
At a time when 1 of every 5 Oklahomans has no health insurance, House Republicans passed a bill this week that would throw 111,000 low-income Oklahomans off the state Medicaid rolls. Meanwhile, the Sayre hospital closed its doors Feb. 1, joining seven other hospitals that have filed for bankruptcy since 2010, Inman said. “Virtually all of those people who would be thrown out of the Medicaid program will inevitably wind up in hospital emergency rooms, putting even more pressure on our health-care system.”
The rules of the Legislature decree that March 10 – two weeks from today – is the deadline for House and Senate bills and joint resolutions to be voted on in their house of origin.
The “partisan obstructionism from Republican leaders is particularly troubling,” considering the fact that the Democrats spent the first four weeks of the session working with the governor and the Republican House leadership in “a bipartisan fashion, without rancor,” on issues such as criminal justice reform, Inman said.
It is in that spirit that House Democrats call upon the Speaker and his leaders to “abandon their divisive political strategy and join us in a bipartisan effort to solve the critical issues facing Oklahoma citizens,” Inman said. “Doing so requires them to treat our members, our legislation, and our constituents with the respect and consideration they deserve.”
If the Republican leaders refuse to change their position, “House Democrats will use every available legislative procedure at our disposal to ensure our citizens’ voices are heard,” Inman vowed.
“It is my sincere hope that our Republican colleagues will resume the civility and professionalism that have defined this Speaker and this Legislature the last few years. Facing a $1.3 billion budget hole, a crisis in public education, health care and public safety, the people of Oklahoma demand it and deserve it.
“All we ask for is fairness in the process.”