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Oklahoma Legislature Begins New Session

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As the Oklahoma Legislature kicks off its 2009 session today, one of the main issues has become whether Republicans, with majorities in the House and Senate, have the political power to pass bills over Gov. Brad Henry’s veto.

The legislature and Henry will also have to deal with an expected $600 million budget shortfall.

The House currently has 61 Republican and 40 Democratic members. The Senate has 26 Republican and 22 Democratic members. Henry is a Democrat.

It takes a two-thirds majority vote to override a governor’s veto, which translates to 68 votes from the House and 32 votes from the Senate. A bill containing an emergency clause can be overridden by a three-fourths majority vote, which translates to 76 votes from the House and 36 votes from the Senate.

Consequently, any overrides will need some Democratic support. Republicans have proposed bills critics see as religious intrusion legislation, from legislation allowing classroom attacks on the theory of evolution to establishing a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds. Republicans have also proposed a corporate legal amnesty bill that would cap the amount of damages a person could recover in a lawsuit.

Another issue that has emerged is the elimination of the state sales tax on groceries. The proposal could attract bipartisan support, but any tax cuts will meet resistance this year because of the budget shortfall. Nick’s Law, a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover the treatment of autism in Oklahoma, should draw an immense amount of public scrutiny. The Republican leadership opposes the bill.

The Oklahoma Policy Institute has issued a 2009 Legislative Overview, which is a comprehensive look at how the legislature works. It is a valuable tool for anyone who wants to know how the Oklahoma Legislature officially operates.

(This post first appeared on Okie Funk.)