By Sean Murphy
The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma lawmakers adjourned the 2013 Legislature on Friday one week earlier than required, wrapping up a session that saw Gov. Mary Fallin advance her agenda to reduce taxes and overhaul the state workers’ compensation system.
The presiding officer in the House dropped the gavel at 7:33 p.m. and adjourned Sine Die, a Latin phrase that literally means “without day.” The Senate had adjourned at 12:23 p.m.
By adjourning a week early, the Legislature saved about $140,000 in expenses for lawmakers and other session costs.
In response to the deadly twister that tore through the Oklahoma City area on Monday, the House and Senate on Friday passed a bill to provide tax breaks to property and vehicle owners who suffered losses from the storm. Fallin indicated she would sign the measure. The Republican governor also signed a measure on Friday approved unanimously by the House and Senate to tap $45 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help communities recover from tornado damage. The bill allows the state to use the money to match federal disaster funds and help cities and towns pay for storm-related costs.
“We did have a very productive legislative session, and we are ending on a high note,” Fallin said. “Thank goodness we have a nice, historic high in the savings account.”
The session was a successful one for Fallin, who got many of the priorities she outlined in her State of the State address to lawmakers in February, including an income tax cut that has been a priority of hers since she was elected in 2010. The tax cut will drop the state’s top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, beginning Jan. 1, 2015, with a second cut to 4.85 percent scheduled to take effect in 2016 if state revenues increase enough to pay for it.
Several of the funding priorities outlined in Fallin’s executive budget also were included in an agreement reached with leaders of the Republican-controlled House and Senate on a $7.1 billion state budget, including increased spending on mental health programs, child welfare services and health care.
“I felt really good about this session,” Fallin said. “We got our priorities done this year. We proposed different things in our budget that I was very pleased that we were able to get funding for.”
Fallin praised the Legislature’s passage of a major overhaul of the state’s workers’ compensation system, saying the conversion from a court system to an administrative one will benefit businesses by lowering workers’ compensation insurance premiums, but Democrats and those who represent injured workers argue those savings will come at the expense of employees injured on the job.
But not all of Fallin’s proposals came to fruition. A proposal she supported to allow cities and towns to enact stricter smoking bans than currently exist in state law was shot down early in the session, prompting Fallin to announce plans to spearhead a signature drive to circumvent the Legislature and place an anti-smoking initiative on the ballot.
Fallin also expressed disappointment that a plan to consolidate the administrative operations of the state’s pension systems failed to get traction in the waning days of the Legislature.
Democrats complained that while the 2013 session was a good one for some businesses and wealthy individuals, there wasn’t much to benefit the average working Oklahoman. The Legislature’s failure to approve pay hikes for teachers and other state workers, while at the same time passing tax cuts that disproportionately benefit wealthy taxpayers, was a disappointment, said House Democratic Leader Rep. Scott Inman
“There are major losers in this legislative session,” said Inman, D-Del City.