There were few surprises when Republicans released their agenda today that included lawsuit reform and calls for fiscal responsibility. What makes this year’s agenda different is that Republicans might actually have a chance to push some measures through. If Tuesday’s organizational meeting in the Senate is any indication of party cohesiveness, expect to see a lot of 26-22 votes.
While charged with partisan rhetoric, every vote in the Senate Tuesday on amendments to Senate rules fell on party lines. Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, had perfected his intonation as he said, “Move to table,” each time the Democrats emphatically pleaded for an amendment.
To most outside these halls, the Senate rules are reading material to cure insomnia.
As Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said during his debate against a rule that requires fiscal study of insurance-related bills before they can be heard, “Most people don’t give a hoot about the senate rules, but what we do here flows out and impacts Oklahoma families.”
The 35 pages of rules govern how the Senate will work, how bills will proceed and which Senators will have an opportunity to speak. They also limit how bills that increase insurance coverage for state employees are heard. Under rules passed on Tuesday, lawmakers must get a fiscal study before the bill can be heard. The fear is state agencies will drag their feet and bills won’t be heard.
In all this debate and legalese, is the question: “What happens to Nick’s Law?” The bill was proposed last session and revitalized this session would expand insurance coverage for children with autism.
A day after Gumm’s impassioned pleas, the House of Representatives released an actuary study of what it would cost if coverage was expanded. The study says covering autism could cost at least 7.8 percent more for insured Oklahomans.
Republicans want more people to get health insurance. They say mandates that require coverage increase premium costs and could cause some to drop their insurance coverage. Gumm has his own study that says states that expanded coverage didn’t see major increases in premiums.
Expect to see more of Nick’s Law, it’s an emotional issue and it’s hard one to ignore. But for now, Republicans have the upper hand.
They want small businesses to participate in health insurance programs and they want more Oklahomans to help offset their health care costs, as Coffee explained Wednesday morning.
“Until we make it affordable for small business owners to provide health insurance, we’re going to continue to have that problem (high rate of uninsured)” Coffee said. “Contrary to discussion yesterday, mandates are part of that issue. We want a quality health care system for everybody. But placing mandate after mandate and increasing the cost of the system makes no sense. That’s why we proposed that rule that you at least have to know the cost. If we’re going to get the cost under control in state government and keep the uninsured population from growing, we’ve got to find an answer to those questions.”