The Associated Press March 15, 2010, 10:54AM ET

Bills fall by wayside in Oklahoma Legislature

As lawmakers passed another deadline last week, several legislative proposals fell by the wayside, including a plan to privatize Oklahoma's workers' compensation insurance agency and allow the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores.

Thursday was the deadline for passing bills in the chamber of origin. This week, Senate committees will begin hearing House bills and vice versa.

Among the proposals that appear to be dead this session is a plan to authorize the sale of CompSource Oklahoma. The state agency serves as an insurer of last resort for providing the required workers' compensation insurance to employers that private insurers won't accept.

Supporters said the state shouldn't be in the business of writing insurance, but opponents feared that privatization could lead to dramatic rate increases. One study determined CompSource could be worth up to $350 million if sold to a private insurer.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said any broad reform was unlikely this year.

Also killed in a Senate committee was a proposal to let voters decide whether to allow the sale of strong beer and wine in grocery stores.

The Senate last week narrowly derailed another resolution that called for a public vote on freezing property tax valuations for seniors, regardless of income. The measure by Sen. Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, fell one vote shy of the 25 needed for passage.

In the House, two bills that would make it harder to get a divorce in Oklahoma were voted down, but one requiring premarital counseling and pre-divorce counseling for couples with children narrowly passed and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Among the bills still alive are proposals to overhaul the state's workers' compensation system, place additional restrictions on abortion, expand charter schools, implement a performance-pay pilot program for teachers, increase math requirements for high school students and exempt groceries from sales tax once the state economy rebounds.

With a fix for the current year's budget already signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry, legislative leaders said they were in the preliminary stages of crafting a budget framework for the next fiscal year that begins July 1. For that budget, lawmakers will have about $1.2 billion less to spend than they did last year.

"We're still in the very early stages in terms of our discussions on the 2011 budget," Henry said. "Those discussions are occurring on the staff level at this point."

Without any new sources of revenue, additional budget cuts between 10 percent to 12 percent are expected across state agencies.


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