Okla. Senate Continues to Spar Over Workers’ Comp Reform

May 3, 2005

The Oklahoma Senate Communications Office reported that Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan cited his constitutional authority and presided over the Oklahoma State Senate on May 2 while standing beside his desk on the Senate floor, reaffirming his control over the day-to-day business of the legislative body after Lt. Governor Mary Fallin’s second failed attempted to hijack it.

“What happened today on the Senate floor was a victory for the Oklahoma Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers,” Morgan said. “The Constitution clearly intended Oklahoma to have three distinct and separate branches of government. Today, the Legislative branch asserted its Constitutional authority to conduct its own business without interference from the Executive branch.”

Fallin, a Republican, took control of the chamber on April 28, causing Senate Democrats to walk out on a vote on the House version of workers’ comp reform legislation, House Bill 2046.

Morgan insisted that his stance would have been the same regardless of the lieutenant governor’s party affiliation. During the short session, in which the Senate simply convened and adjourned, Fallin sat behind the podium at the front of the Chamber.

Shortly after the session, Morgan cited four specific passages in the Constitution and said research done five years ago and again in recent days has convinced him that he not only has the authority to preside over the Senate but a duty to do so, as well.

In particular, Morgan noted, Article 5, Section 28, of the Oklahoma Constitution says: “The Senate shall… elect one of its members President pro tempore, who shall preside over its deliberations in the absence or place of the Lieutenant Governor.” Morgan was elected President pro tempore on March 23.

Morgan said his decision to preside from the floor, is based on advice from attorneys that the phrase “or place of” gives him the authority to rule over the Senate instead of the lieutenant governor and not just in her absence.

Citing several other instances in the Constitution that support his actions, Morgan said, “It’s clear to me that the Constitution, in whole, intends for the President Pro Tempore to be the presiding officer of the Senate. And you can’t pick and choose sections or single phrases within a section and ignore others when considering an issue of this importance.”

Senate Republicans disagreed with Morgan and accused him and his fellow Democrats of flagrantly disregarding the Oklahoma Constitution by ignoring the lieutenant governor’s presence in presiding officer’s chair.

“Monday afternoon Senate Democrats again refused to vote on a real and meaningful workers’ compensation reform bill, which if passed would be a landmark job creation measure,” Fallin stated.

“By ignoring today’s quorum call, Senate Democrats again demonstrated their allegiance to trial lawyers over the concerns of Oklahoma workers and small businesses,” she stated.

The Senate Republicans maintain that the Oklahoma Constitution clearly names the lieutenant governor as “the president of the senate.”

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