Oklahoma Legislature adjourns on time as budget fight fizzles

Friday, May 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The 2003 Oklahoma Legislature adjourned on time Friday as a budget fight fizzled and time ran out on a bill to expand Indian casino-type gambling to horse race tracks.

Lawmakers wrapped up a $5 billion budget that contained deep cuts for most agencies as they erased a $678 million revenue shortfall.

There was speculation that lawmakers would return later this summer at a special session to appropriate more than $200 million in federal funds, but Gov. Brad Henry said that was in doubt.

``I would prefer that we conduct our business in the regular session,'' said the first-year Democratic governor, who earlier expressed reservations about spending the money this year.

The Legislature was required to adjourn by 5 p.m. and did so.

One of the Legislature's final acts was passage of a bill doling out $14 million in tax rebate funds to schools and local governments.

The bill had been tied up in a conference committee after Republicans balked Thursday at approving an unrelated bill to capture more than $40 million by speeding up natural gas tax collections.

That dispute ended when Office of State Finance officials decided the emergency clause was not needed to allow the state to collect the money. Without an emergency, a bill is delayed from taking effect for 90 days.

The fuss led one House member to display handcuffs in a floor speech, calling on leaders of both parties to end their fighting and release the school funds.

``Folks, Senate Bill 201 is being held hostage and I'm tired of it _ please uncuff me,'' said Rep. Bill Case, D-Midwest City. ``You guys quit sitting on your cuffs ... Let's get this deal done.''

House leaders said time constraints precluded them from taking up the gambling bill.

``We ran out of time to discuss and debate the bill,'' said Rep. Larry Rice, D-Pryor, majority leader. He also said the bill was several votes short of the number needed for passage.

Proponents said the bill would have produced almost $40 million in revenue for the state, including $30 million from Indian casinos that now are not taxed.

The bill was strongly opposed by Republican members of the House.

Earlier in the session, Henry won over some GOP defectors in the House to pass a bill calling for a vote of the people on a state-run lottery. That was a mainstay of his legislative program, along with balancing the budget.

Another major achievement of the session was passage of a bill backed by Henry and Democratic legislative leaders that outlaws smoking in the workplace and most other public areas. Restaurants will not come under the ban until March of 2006.

In other final-day action, lawmakers sent the governor bills raising a variety of fees.

The House gave final approval to a bill that raises $10 million by increasing numerous court fees and traffic fines.

The legislation doubles the marriage license fee from $25 to $50, unless a couple submits to premarital counseling. It also adds $58 to the cost of filing for divorce.

The measure increases fines for minor traffic offenses. The fine for traveling one to 10 miles over the speed limit will go up $20 and fines for other minor violations will go up $15.

Henry announced Thursday he would sign a bill raising $6.6 million by temporarily increasing the fee for car tags by $2. The bill will avert plans to put state troopers on unpaid furloughs of 23 days.