OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Newly elected and re-elected members of the Oklahoma Legislature took their oaths of office on Wednesday, with most new members saying their top priorities when the session begins in February will be improving the state’s economy and jobs climate.
Nearly all of the 101 House members and 24 Senate members who filed for office this year were sworn in by Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor during separate ceremonies in each chamber.
Republicans extended their majorities in both chambers, and they now have a 36-12 advantage in the Senate and a 72-29 edge in the House. Although a recount has been requested for one Republican-held seat in eastern Norman that the GOP incumbent won by just 18 votes, both Republican majorities are the largest in state history.
Wednesday’s swearing-in was largely ceremonial, with both chambers packed with family, friends and supporters of the lawmakers.
But during the introduction of members’ families, Democratic Rep. Joe Dorman announced his plan to seek a special legislative session for lawmakers to take action whether Oklahoma should create a state-run health insurance exchange required under the federal health care law.
It’s unlikely Dorman would be able to get signatures from two-thirds of the members in the House and Senate needed to convene a special session, and incoming Republican House Speaker T.W. Shannon had Dorman’s microphone cut off during his announcement on the House floor.
“The only way the Legislature will have any say officially on what would happen to Oklahoma as far as a health care exchange is for us to return in special session,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has until Friday to notify federal health officials if the state plans to set up its own exchange or whether it plans to take no action and allow the federal government to establish an exchange in the state.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, who was formally elected by the Senate GOP caucus Wednesday to another term as the Senate leader, said he hasn’t conveyed to Fallin the Senate’s position on the issue since he hasn’t had time to reach a consensus among his new 36-member caucus.
“It’s the governor’s decision, so I don’t want to put her in a tight spot,” Bingman said. “We’ll support her with whatever decision she makes.”
After the ceremonies, Senate Republicans held a private caucus to elect leadership positions for the upcoming session.
Bingman named Sen. Mike Shultz, R-Altus, to again serve as the Senate floor leader. Shannon, R-Lawton, also was expected to name new members of his staff.
Although Oklahoma enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at 5.2 percent, many of the newly elected members said finding ways to bring more jobs to the state was their top priority.
“Our issues are what they’ve always been – jobs, jobs and jobs,” said Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Red Oak, who took over a seat in southeast Oklahoma held by Democrats for more than 50 years.
Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, who took over an open Senate seat in south Oklahoma City without any opposition, said he planned to focus on the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum located in his district along the Oklahoma River near downtown Oklahoma City.
The Legislature already has issued more than $60 million in bonds for the project, but needs another $40 million to complete the project. A proposed bond issue to fund its completion failed in the Senate last year by a single vote.
“This is an obligation that we, as a state, have made,” Loveless said. “It’s fiscally irresponsible to just let it sit.”