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State Senate standoff expected to continue

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin says she'll again attempt to preside over the Senate on Monday in a continuing a battle with Democrats over state Senate control and a GOP workers' compensation reform bill.

Fallin said Friday the Oklahoma Constitution clearly gives her the authority to preside over the state Senate and she intends to do that until a vote is held on the workers' comp plan, which she said will save employers $160 million a year.

On Thursday, Fallin presided over the state Senate until midnight at the request of GOP senators, who were seeking an up-and-down vote on the measure before a legislative deadline expired.

However, no state Senate action was possible because Democrats, who hold a 26-22 majority, refused to attend the session.

Democrats accused Republicans of an orchestrated ``political stunt'' aimed at furthering Fallin's anticipated race for governor. Fallin is considering running for governor next year, but has not announced.

Republicans responded by accusing Democrats of shirking their duties by not attending the Senate meeting.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, who says the Constitution makes him the Senate's presiding officer, said he was disappointed in Fallin's latest decision and hoped to avoid a confrontation.

``I'm not going to go in there and seize the gavel from her,'' said Morgan, D-Stillwater.

Morgan did not say what steps Democrats would take, but said ``we'll deal with it.'' He said legal action was one option.

The state Senate fight developed a day after Sen. Scott Pruitt withdrew his workers' comp bill from consideration when Democrats moved to amend the measure to send it to a joint conference committee for further work.

Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, wanted the bill passed intact, saying it would be watered down in conference.

Sen. Charles Laster, D-Shawnee, said the bill was unfair to workers. For example, he said a firefighter burned on the job now can get benefits as long as he is receiving medical attention. He said the Pruitt bill would end the firefighters' benefits in six weeks.

Laster also criticized a provision that would eliminate injured workers' ability to choose their own doctors.

Senate Republican leader Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said Democrats were taking a stand against jobs, while ``protecting the trial lawyers'' who make their living off workers' comp cases.

Republicans say workers' comp costs in Oklahoma are higher than other states in the region and that is hurting the state's ability to attract jobs.

Morgan said there is plenty of time to work out differences on workers' comp and pass a strong reform measure.

He said two House-passed workers' comp bills have been sent to the Senate _ Speaker Todd Hiett's package, which is similar to the Pruitt bill, and a proposal backed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.

The Hiett and Pruitt plans are geared to reducing the legal costs of the workers' comp system by limiting lawyers' pay to the amount they obtain for an injured workers that is above a settlement offer.

The Henry proposal seeks to reduce medical costs, which supporters say is by far the most costly component of the system.
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