OKLAHOMA CITY -- Governor Brad Henry opened the legislative session Monday by calling on lawmakers to make difficult choices in these difficult times.
Specifically, the Governor said they need to work together to overcome an estimated $600 million revenue shortfall without giving ground in education, transportation and public safety.
The State of the State is the Governor's annual opportunity to publicly lay out his agenda, his priorities for the session and, with money so tight this year, it's really no surprise that his agenda is fairly lean, and that his top priority is just coming up with a budget.
"State agencies must tighten their budgets, some projects must be put on hold," Henry said.
The Governor didn't specify in his speech which projects he thinks should be put on hold, but he made it clear which ones he thinks should not. He called for continued support of the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, further support for research by creating a permanent funding source for the EDGE endowment, expansion of Insure Oklahoma, to get health insurance for more workers. He asked for support of a bill to provide community mentors to at-risk high school students, a bill to expand early in-person voting and a bill to require insurance companies cover treatment for autistic children, the so-called Nick's Law.
"Too many of our families face the daunting task of raising autistic children with little or no help," Henry said. "That must change."
The line brought Democrats to their feet. Republicans said such a mandate will only increase insurance premiums and increase the state's number of uninsured.
"The growing number of autistic children is a concern to all of us, but the growing number including some estimates as high as $600,000 uninsured in our state is also a great concern to many of us," Sen. Glen Coffee (R) Senate President Pro Tem said.
Overall, Coffee commended the Governor on a speech that he said was upbeat and forward-thinking. He said they have a lot of common ground, although he said he's disappointed the Governor made no mention of the need for tort reform this session.
Governor Henry concluded his speech by calling on lawmakers to set aside partisan squabbles this session, work together and set Oklahoma on the right course for the future.