OKLAHOMA CITY – According to six House Democrats, Republican leaders have “for the first time in state history,” shut the minority party out of floor consideration for measures qualified for floor votes after committee consideration.
The result, House Democratic leadership contends, is to “shut out more than one million Oklahomans from the legislative process.” Democrats are promising to use parliamentary maneuvers to block consideration of budget bills if their concerns are not addressed.
In a Thursday, February 25, press conference, House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said maneuvers to prevent floor votes on proposals sponsored by Democrats amount to “an unprecedented act of partisanship.”
At that event, Inman asserted, “Not one House Democrat has had a bill placed on the House calendar, much less debated and voted on by the entire House membership. The people we represent have been deprived of their constitutional right to a voice in the legislative process.”
The 30 House Democrats and the 1.1 million Oklahomans they represent – Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike – are being “stonewalled,” Inman said. “This is the most partisan Speakership in the 108-year history of this state.”
House Democrats filed 215 bills this year. Of those, 42 have been approved by House committees “and many of those passed unanimously,” Inman said.
Joining Inman for the press briefing were state Reps. Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, Claudia Griffith of Norman, David Perryman of Chickasha, Shane Stone of Oklahoma City and Jerry McPeak of Warner.
A listing provided by House Democratic staff included a wide range of topics, including worker rights, reducing mandates imposed on public schools, assisting victims of domestic violence, increasing the statute of limitations for children who have been victims of crime, granting courts the power to consider post-traumatic stress disorder as a mitigating factor when sentencing a combat veteran convicted of a crime, and enabling victims who prevail in asset forfeiture proceedings to recover attorney fees, court costs and interest.
However, “not one of those 42 measures has been scheduled on the House calendar for a floor vote,” Inman said. “This is unprecedented and unconscionable.”
Inman declared Republicans won’t slot the bills for floor debate because, “We are opposed to raising taxes on middle-class Oklahomans while the governor and the Republican leadership refuse to roll back that fiscally irresponsible income-tax cut, refuse to index the gross production tax, and refuse to even discuss accessing federal funds to cover hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans who are uninsured.”
Inman and other Democrats expressed support for Senate Bill 1073, sponsored by Sen. Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa. That measure would rollback a one-quarter of one percent income tax rate reduction that went into effect on January 1. “I would much rather delay a tax cut than vote to increase taxes and start new taxes,” Mazzei said.
In wake of a 70 percent drop in oil and gas prices, Oklahoma faces a revenue squeeze of several hundred million this year, and $1.3 billion or more next year.
One of the initial budget steps the Republican majority has taken would trim state Medicaid rolls by about 111,00 people. Inman believes, “Virtually all of those people who would be thrown out of the Medicaid program will inevitably wind up in hospital emergency rooms, putting even more pressure on our health-care system.”
Under legislative rules for both the House and Senate, March 10 is the deadline for House and Senate bills and joint resolutions to be voted on in their house of origin.
Inman said that what he characterized as “partisan obstructionism from Republican leaders” is unjustified because his caucus has spent the first month of the session working in “a bipartisan fashion, without rancor,” on issues such as criminal justice reform.
Inman said House Democrats want the majority party to “treat our members, our legislation, and our constituents with the respect and consideration they deserve.” If the measures he pointed to do not get floor time, “House Democrats will use every available legislative procedure at our disposal to ensure our citizens’ voices are heard.”