Oklahoma Senate Co-President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee graded the 2007 legislative session a “B+,” but said the session could have gotten an “A” if Gov. Brad Henry had signed a bipartisan lawsuit reform bill passed by the Legislature.
“This was a ‘B+’ session that could have been an ‘A’ if Gov. Henry had signed the lawsuit reform bill,” stated Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. “But we still accomplished a lot for the people of Oklahoma, and the Senate finished the people’s business early and in an orderly fashion.”
“The tie in the Oklahoma Senate has changed everything at the State Capitol,” Coffee said about the Legislature’s evenly divided upper chamber. “Under Democrat control, the Senate was known as the place where good bills go to die. Now that Republicans have an equal say here, we have made the Senate a place where good ideas can thrive.”
Coffee noted that Senate Republicans used their new authority in the Senate to pass nearly every major component of their legislative agenda.
“This was a very successful legislative session for Senate Republicans. We passed new tax relief for Oklahoma families and small businesses. We enacted new protections for the unborn. We developed a long-term fix for the Teacher Retirement System, and passed a major immigration reform bill. We held the line on spending by enacting a state budget that actually spends less money than the current budget,” Coffee said. “And, for the first time ever, a meaningful lawsuit reform bill passed the state Senate and reached the governor’s desk.”
Highlights of Senate Republicans’ accomplishments in 2007:
Lawsuit reform: Although it was vetoed by the governor, this was the first time a meaningful lawsuit reform bill passed the Senate and made it to the governor’s desk.
Tax relief: Senate Bill 861 speeds up an income tax cut and includes a back-to-school sales tax holiday.
Held the line on spending: The FY 2008 budget agreement spends less than total spending for FY 2007 – and leaves money on the table for future needs.
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Government accountability: SB 1, the Taxpayer Transparency Act, places the state budget online in a searchable database.
Merit pay for teachers: A portion of the teacher pay increase was weighted toward veteran teachers and those with advanced degrees – a first step toward merit pay. Funding was also increased for the Academic Achievement Awards, a bonus program for teachers.
Pro-life: Two bills (SB 714 and SB 139) prohibiting the use of taxpayer funds for abortions made it through the Senate, and the second one became law.
Teacher Retirement System: Senate Republicans helped push through a permanent increase in funding that will help make the system more solvent in the long-term, and we insisted that a downpayment on the plan ($10 million) be made in the FY 08 budget.
Access to Health Care: Senate Republicans helped increase access to healthcare for thousands of Oklahomans by increasing Medicaid payment rates to doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes to ensure greater participation in the program.