REPUBLICANS, Democrats disagree on need for special session

Saturday, September 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Democrat and Republican lawmakers are divided over the need for a special session that is scheduled to resume in less than one week.

Gov. Frank Keating has issued a proclamation to expand the special session's agenda, but Keating excluded two items that were requested by House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, and Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore.

Adair and Taylor wanted Keating to include financial problems in the state's Multiple Injury Trust Fund and a $70 million budget bill that is being challenged by Republicans in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The Democratic leaders said they see little need for a special session if Keating does not include the items. But Republican lawmakers said there is still much to be done in the special session, which is set to resume on Friday.

``To say that a special session is unnecessary trivializes the people's business that remains to be done,'' said Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City. ``For example, my constituents do not take tax relief as light as does the Democrat leadership, apparently.''

The Multiple Injury Trust Fund provides weekly payments to more than 1,800 permanently disabled Oklahoma workers.

Legislators and officials of the fund say it will run out of money by mid-September, adding that lawmakers need to find a way to continue those payments to disabled workers.

The budget measure, House Bill 1570, was passed in the regular session, but Republicans said it violated the state Constitution because it dealt with more than one subject.

Keating said he wanted to tie the Multiple Injury Trust Fund to workers' compensation reform. Forrest Claunch, R-Midwest City, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, agreed with Keating.

``We must deal with these two important issues hand-in-hand if we are ever to find viable and comprehensive solutions,'' Claunch said.

Keating expanded the special session agenda to consider legislation that would open the way for an earlier election to fill U.S. Rep. Steve Largent's 1st Congressional District seat after he resigns Nov. 29 to run for governor.

The legislation would reduce the time Largent's seat is empty after he resigns. Otherwise, it could be sometime in January or, more probably, in March before a special election could be held to fill the vacancy, Mike Clingman, state election board secretary, said.

Keating also added legislation to exempt distributions from the Oklahoma College Savings program from the state income tax, to extend the 50 percent unemployment insurance tax-rate cut for two years and to provide state matching funds for the federal welfare-to-work block grant program.

Already on the agenda was a proposal to change state law to prevent federal income tax rebates from increasing the amount of state income tax Oklahomans pay.

Proposals to overhaul Oklahoma's tax system and to draw new congressional districts likely won't be considered until later in the year.