Major programs intact as deadline expires

Saturday, March 19th 2005, 12:09 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Most major programs of Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and Republican House leaders were still intact as a legislative deadline expired this week.

Thursday was the deadline for the House to act on House measures and the Senate to act on Senate bills.

In all, 529 bills and resolutions were passed by the Senate and sent to the House. The House, meanwhile, approved 551 measures and sent them to the Senate.

As the deadline expired, a tort reform proposal offered by Henry that was based on task force recommendations issued in 2004 was the most notable program to fall.

It died in the Senate when Sen. Charles Laster, D-Shawnee, chose not to bring it up. He said he had secured 23 of the 25 Democrats present Wednesday when he planned to bring up the bill but could not get a commitment for any Republican support.

Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, said the governor was pleased with how his program is being received, despite the setback on tort reform.

``Governor Henry's program is making great progress thus far with bipartisan support,'' Sund said. ``The Operation Homefront National Guard assistance program is moving ahead on a fast track. The same is true for prescription drug reform, the governor's tax rebate and tax assistance program and his school accountability initiative.

``This week, both houses also passed general appropriations bills that implemented the first phase of the governor's program to raise teacher pay to the regional average.

``On top of that, the first agenda item he announced this year, the higher education bond issue, is one vote away from coming to his desk for his signature.''

House Speaker Todd Hiett, who left his mark on the bond proposal, said the amount of bills passed by the House was an increase from the previous year and indicated new House rules are working.

Hiett listed as top accomplishments House passage of a GOP alternative the Henry's tax-cut bill and Republican bills on workers' compensation reform, lawsuit reform, education reform and road and highway funding.

The GOP tax cut bill mirrors Henry's $163 million plan for next year that includes roughly $100 million in tax rates. However, it calls for a permanent cut in the income tax from 6.65 percent to 6.25 percent beginning in 2006. Henry's program calls for rebates when there is excess revenue.

A tax-cut bill sponsored by Senate Democrats concentrates on raising the standard deduction, which has not been increased since 1971.

Republicans, in control of the House for the first time in eight decades, initiated a new set of rules that emphasizes committee work and curtails the amount of amendments that can be made on the floor.

``The new system works admirably,'' said Hiett, R-Kellyville.

Democrats have complained the new rules limit their voice in the process.