Gov. Mary Fallin announced special legislative session will begin Sept. 3, 2014. Fallin’s executive order designating the session limits it to lawsuit reforms enacted in House Bill 1603, an omnibus package enacted in 2009 with bipartisan support. The Oklahoma Supreme Court in June ruled the legislation violated a state constitutional “single-subject” rule.
Nearly every state legislator with a prison in their district has signed onto a petition calling for corrections funding to be addressed if a special session is called, according to state Rep. Gus Blackwell.
As of Aug. 5, the state corrections system is at 97.7 percent capacity, or has filled 25,348 or the 25,946 state and contract beds available. There are 1,672 inmates in county jail that are awaiting transfer to the state corrections system, with a typical wait time of approximately 8 to 10 months. As of July 1, 61.68 percent of the correctional officer positions are filled.
According to the Department of Corrections, there is approximately $7 million remaining in the revolving funds referenced by Governor Mary Fallin when she rejected a supplemental appropriations request of the agency. Nearly $5 million in the revolving funds cannot be used by the agency unless they receive specific authorization from the Oklahoma Legislature, which they have yet to receive.
“Public safety is the number one legitimate core function of government,” Blackwell, R-Laverne. “It’s essential that we make sure that the officers and staff of the Department of Corrections are able to perform their jobs in an atmosphere of safety and that the citizens of Oklahoma are kept safe from the danger inherent in overcrowded prisons. The continued low number of officers coupled with the high incarceration rates is producing a situation that is conducive to extremely problematic scenarios in the DOC facilities.
In response to Governor Mary Fallin’s call for a special legislative session to revisit tort reform in Oklahoma, Senate Democratic Leader Sean Burrage stated “If the governor believes that tort reform is such a pressing issue that she must call a special session, then surely the safety and protection of DOC employees ought to also be on the agenda."
“The Democrats in the State Senate believe that a special session to revisit this issue is a waste of both time and taxpayer dollars,” said Burrage, D-Claremore. “At a cost of $30,000 per day, we are looking at spending close to $250,000 to fix a problem.”
“But, if this is a done deal, let’s make this special session worth the time and the cost and handle the critical issue of the December 31 cutoff date on Insure Oklahoma. If the Governor and the legislature stand idle on this issue, 30,000 hard working Oklahomans who have access to health care through Insure Oklahoma will lose that coverage as they ring in the New Year.
Because of that deadline, this is something we literally cannot wait until 2014 to address. The Republican leadership here at the Capitol clearly has its priorities wrong if they believe that addressing lawsuit reform in a special session is more important than finding a solution to providing access to healthcare for these hard working Oklahomans.”
Fallin didn’t extend her legislative call explicitly to health care. Many legislators had hoped she would so the looming demise of Insure Oklahoma could be addressed but majority Republicans likely have the votes to move a dozen or more bills through the pipeline three weeks from now.
Fallin’s Executive Order 2013-30 specified that “any legislative should be drafted in such a way to ensure that Article 5, Section 57 of the Oklahoma Constitution, or any other Constitutional provision, is not violated.”