Legislature in limbo as Fallin delays calling second special session

Kieran Steckley/Stillwater News PressRep. Cory Williams makes a joke at the Legislative Forum put on by the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers and their families are living in a state of limbo as Gov. Mary Fallin continues to delay calling a second special session.

Family trips have been postponed or are on the chopping block and outside jobs are stalled as Oklahomans wait on Fallin to announce when she’d like lawmakers to return to the Capitol to hash out a new budget agreement.

“Honestly, it’s frustrating,” said state Rep. John Paul Jordan, R-Yukon. “It makes it very difficult planning-wise. We’re hopeful that the dates for special session get called with a plan in place this time.”

Fallin had publicly promised to announce the start of a second special session by the end of last week. But on Friday she postponed that, saying discussions continued with lawmakers and Oklahomans to develop a plan to fix the budget and fund core services.

“It is taking longer than anticipated to develop budget plan estimates and gauge support for various revenue proposals,” she said in a statement. “That information should be available for my review in the days ahead. I’ll announce very soon the start date of the second special session.”

Lawmakers have been waiting for Fallin to set a date for a new special session for a little over two weeks now — ever since the Republican governor vetoed most of a House and Senate budget plan that called for using one-time money and cuts to most state agencies to fill a $215 million shortfall.

Legislators had already met in special session for eight weeks as they failed to pass new taxes in an effort to fill a void they created by passing an unconstitutional cigarette tax that was supposed to fund health care, social services and mental health programs.

State Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said while he appreciates that Fallin is trying to hash out a budget plan before calling lawmakers back, it’s time for the governor to give legislators a firm timeline to plan accordingly.

“It’s making it nearly impossible for us to do our jobs outside the Capitol,” he said. “It’s not just jobs, it’s life. I’d like to be able to plan things with my children that will take us out of town.”

Williams, who is an attorney, said he had to cancel two trials, a trip and a couple of hearings during the last eight-week special session that ended with the Fallin veto.

“Right now, I’m in a holding pattern, and I assume there are many similarly situated,” he said. “I serve at the pleasure of the constituents of District 34, but now I’m also starting to feel I also serve at the pleasure of the governor.”

Even letting Oklahomans know legislators won’t be back until the new year would be helpful, Williams said.

“You’re just kind of held in limbo,” said state Rep. Casey Murdock, R-Felt.

Murdock lives 350 miles — or nearly six hours — from Oklahoma’s Capitol. He needs at least a day’s notice so he can travel to Oklahoma City. The statehouses in Denver and Santa Fe, N.M., are actually closer to his Oklahoma Panhandle home.

“It’s a sacrifice that not only legislators have but also their family,” he said. A planned trip to visit his in-laws this holiday season is also on hold until Fallin acts.

“My first job is as representative,” he said. “I will be there for any business that’s going on at the Capitol. The people of Oklahoma are counting on us to fix this, and we have the responsibility to fix this.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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