LAWMAKERS adjourn session early

Thursday, May 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Legislature adjourned Thursday after appropriating the final $100 million in state revenue and removing the last stumbling block to an early end to the session.

The Legislature wrapped up work one day before its constitutionally mandated deadline for the first time since the length of the legislative session was shortened 12 years ago.

``I can never remember adjourning early. We've always worked frantically until the last minute,'' said House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.

Gov. Frank Keating described the four-month-long regular session as progressive and significant.

``It continued to advance a conservative, pro-growth agenda,'' Keating said.

Among the accomplishments cited by Keating was the passage of an income tax cut and an earned income tax credit opposed by some legislative Republicans that will help low-income Oklahomans.

Keating also praised the passage of a right to work bill that calls for a public referendum on whether to prohibit labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues or fees.

A statewide election is scheduled Sept. 25.

``It's very important for the people now to take the baton we have given them,'' Keating said.

Lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol after July 1 for a special session. Keating has called them back into session to deal with congressional redistricting, tax reform and possibly workers compensation reform.

Senate President Pro Tem Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, gave the session an ``A-minus'' and said he wished more money could have been appropriated for education.

Education spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1 increased by $109 million for public elementary and secondary schools, higher education and career and technology education.

``It was a tight budget year and given the circumstances we did about as good as could be done,'' Taylor said.

Taylor described Adair as ``the true hero of the session.'' House members, almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, voted 50-50 last week to unseat Adair and declare the speaker's job vacant.

Two Democrats joined the House's 48 Republicans in voting to replace Adair.

``I don't know of any speaker in the history of Oklahoma who has had to deal with the numbers that I have had to deal with,'' Adair said.

``I don't think people were at my throat. I think people were testing, trying to find out what Larry Adair is made of,'' Adair said.

House Minority Leader Fred Morgan, the GOP's likely choice for speaker, praised Adair for his efficiency and said he had ``allowed us to get out early and get back to our families and jobs.''

Adair said passage of legislative redistricting plans for the House and Senate and a balanced budget were major hurdles.

``We've been very responsible in dealing with the appropriations process,'' Adair said. ``We need to be very careful about eliminating tax sources.''

Lawmakers went home after passing a $26 million reconciliation appropriations bill and a measure spending $78.7 million from the constitutional Rainy Day Fund.

The House passed the reconciliation bill 66-34 after Republicans charged that the form of the measure was unconstitutional because it rolled appropriations for many different purposes into one bill.

``This is a matter of process,'' Morgan said. ``We are getting better. We are doing it better. Sadly, this is the old-fashioned way.''

The Senate later passed the measure 38-10 with no debate.

The House approved the Rainy Day Fund appropriation 94-6. The measure was previously passed by the Senate.

The reconciliation measure made minor adjustments to the budgets of several agencies whose principal funding was approved earlier in the General Appropriations Bill.

``This is an extension of action we have already taken,'' said Rep. Don Ross, D-Tulsa. ``This is the process of getting it done.''

But some House Republicans charged that the measure violated the state constitution, which requires all acts of the Legislature except the General Appropriations Bill to involve only one subject.

``It's an unfair position that you've put us in to put all of these things into one bill,'' said Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond.

Rep. Frank Davis, R-Guthrie, said the state Supreme Court has ruled that supplemental appropriations bills must be limited to single subjects.

``Here we are again, headed right for the doors of the Supreme Court,'' Davis said.

Rep. Mike Mass, D-Hartshorne, chairman of the powerful Appropriations and Budget Committee, said reconciliation bills have been passed routinely by previous Legislatures without objection.

``There's nothing sinister in it,'' Mass said. ``We have done everything that we can to open this process up.''