State Senators reconvening, state House still balking on special session

Saturday, August 27th 2005, 12:08 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Democrat-controlled Oklahoma Senate will reconvene a special session Tuesday to consider beefing up prison funding, a move House Republicans called a publicity stunt.

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, on Friday said senators cannot ignore a public safety threat posed by staff shortages at prisons.

``The Senate has a plan to address the public safety crisis created by a shortage of correctional officers in our state prisons. We have the money to fund the plan and we are going to act,'' Morgan said.

As a practical matter, however, anything approved by the Senate must be passed by the House to become law.

Gov. Brad Henry's amended special session call includes funding for prisons and centennial projects. The special session is in recess after approving a workers' compensation reform plan in late May.

Senate Democrats have proposed appropriating $10.6 million at a special session to hire more prison guards and upgrade their pay.

House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, agrees more money is needed for prisons and centennial projects, but has suggested stopgap measures to take care of problems until the Legislature convenes in regular session in February.

``As I've said, we can address prison issues without wasting money on a special session,'' Hiett said Friday in a statement.

He said the Senate Democratic plan has only two planks: ``Spend first, think later.''

Morgan said the Senate will meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday and at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

``Others may choose to sit on the sidelines while violence threatens to reach beyond our prison walls and into our communities, but we will not let their inaction deter us from our duty to protect Oklahoma families,'' Morgan said.

Senators will meet a day before the House was to release a new proposal to deal with the prison issue. After the Senate announcement, House Republicans said they would announce their prison plans on Monday.

Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, said the plan will have long-term changes and ``make a lot of DOC employees happy.''

Hiett said it was obvious Senate Democrats were trying to upstage House Republicans and just wanted ``a taxpayer funded vacation in Oklahoma City.''

Robin Maxey, spokesman for Morgan, said it will cost $5,500 to pay per diem and other expenses over the two-day Senate meeting.

Morgan said ``unveiling a plan and enacting one are two different things and that's why I think action by the Senate is necessary to break the logjam. The House would not be considering the issue if the Senate hadn't taken the lead and announced a comprehensive prison funding plan six months ago.''

The Senate leader said addressing prisons was his top priority, but senators also plan to act on funding for centennial projects.

Senate Republican Leader Glenn Coffee said GOP senators will ``do the jobs our constituents elected us to do by reporting to work next week for the special session.''

He said his caucus members ``look forward to finding the best possible solution to the chronic underfunding that has plagued public safety agencies'' for many years.