Legislators Call Special Session to Salvage Bills

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Feuding between Gov. David Walters and the Oklahoma Legislature escalated Monday when lawmakers called themselves into a special session for the first time in state history.

The object of the move was to salvage 12 bills which became vulnerable to the governor's pocket veto prerogative when attempts to deliver them to his office last Friday were rebuffed.

Lawmakers referred to it as Walters' "contentious behavior."

But the governor said preservation of his pocket veto power was his only defense against a Legislature that was out of control. He accused lawmakers of wanting to raise taxes and give elected officials raises amounting to an average of $20,000 annually.

By special session convened Monday, lawmakers can circumvent the pocket veto. During the legislative session, a governor has five days to sign or veto legislation. If he does not act, the measure becomes law. But if the Legislature is out of session, any legislation unsigned by the governor within 15 days is considered to have been pocket vetoed, and dies.

Therefore, it was imperative for lawmakers to get the bills to the governor's office last Friday, with five days remaining in the regular legislative session which must adjourn this Friday. Those charged with delivering the bills faced an unprecedented situation _ the office was locked at 5 p.m. and the bills were refused.

House and Senate officials later Friday night "perfected delivery" of the bills by sliding them under the office door. They also attempted to deliver another set of the bills to the Governor's Mansion about 11 p.m., but were turned away.

House Speaker Glen Johnson, D-Okemah, said he was advised by the Attorney General's Office that putting the bills under the door was tantamount to delivering them, but legislative leaders were reluctant to mount a test case in court due to the time involved.

"By refusing to accept our bills at 5:05 p.m. on Friday, the governor has broken a longstanding practice between the governor's office and the Legislature of accepting bills and other communications from each other during a legislative day," Johnson said.

On several occasions in previous years during the Walters administration, the Legislature delivered bills and resolutions to the governor's office after 5 p.m., leaders said. It also was "standard practice" during the administrations of governors Bellmon, Nigh and earlier governors, they said.

The special session would be unnecessary if Walters would act on the bills in question by Thursday, Johnson said. Monday, Walters said he had vetoed the most controversial one of the lot, Senate Bill 870.

That bill would raise the pay of state troopers and general state employees, but also would raise the salaries of such elected officials as the state treasurer and attorney general by an average of $20,000 each. Walters said he vetoed the bill in order to give lawmakers time to come up with a better bill in this regular session, but he acknowledged they could override the veto and ignore him.

Walters said the trooper pay raise was sorely deserved, but he objected to the salary hike for the elected officials. …