Senate Judiciary Chairman Charlie Laster said Wednesday he’s concerned the decision by Senate Republicans not to go forward with a floor vote on House Bill 2046 could make reaching a workers compensation reform agreement difficult before the constitutionally-mandated May 27 Sine Die adjournment date.
“First Speaker Hiett wouldn’t participate in negotiations and now the Senate Republicans appear to be walking away. It’s going to be tough to negotiate compromise when there’s nobody to negotiate with,” Laster said.
Wednesday afternoon, Democrats accommodated Senator Scott Pruitt, author of HB 2046, by waiving Senate rules and allowing him to introduce a new floor substitute for the measure. It was the only time this session the rule requiring that a floor substitute be distributed the day before it is considered has been waived.
Despite the accommodation by the Democrats, Pruitt attempted to prevent any further amendments to the bill. When that effort failed, Pruitt chose not to move forward with the legislation. Laster said Democrats had hoped to amend the bill by striking the title to ensure the measure would remain alive and be considered by a joint Senate-House conference committee.
“At this point in the session, the only way to keep the talks going is to send this bill to conference. I have been very hopeful we would be able to come to an agreement before tomorrow’s deadline and I honestly believe that if we had another week we could have gotten there without having to send this bill to conference,” Laster said.
Laster, a Democrat from Shawnee, praised Pruitt’s willingness to join he and representatives of Governor Brad Henry in negotiating “in good faith” on the issue in recent weeks.
“I can honestly say that all parties involved in the talks have been seeking a workable solution,” Laster said.
Hiett has refused from the beginning to take part in the talks. He has publicly accused Senate Democrats of standing in the way of passage of meaningful workers’ compensation reform this year.
“I’m sure the Senate Republicans will try to blame us now, but they’re the ones who have walked away,” Laster said. “I am hopeful the Republicans will join us in seeking a workers’ compensation reform compromise in the four short weeks we have left.”
Laster noted that the House could still pass Senate Bill 846 and keep talks alive.
“The ball is definitely in their court, I guess we’ll find out tomorrow if they are really interested in passing a workers’ compensation bill this year,” Laster said.