Sen. Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, was installed as the No. 1 Senate leader of the first Republican-controlled state Senate in Oklahoma history.
Rep. Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, was again elected speaker of the House during the one-day organizational meeting. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on Feb. 2 to begin considering legislation.
The GOP gained a majority in the 48-member Senate for the first time in history by picking up two seats at the November general election. Republican senators now outnumber Democrats, 26-to-22. They hold a 61-40 advantage in the House after gaining four seats last year.
Coffee said his goals include improving education and health care and making changes in the civil justice system and the workers’ compensation system.
Minority Leader Charles Laster, D-Shawnee, moved to elect Coffee by acclamation, but the congeniality of the Senate session changed during the afternoon when the GOP pushed successfully for the rules changes.
One rule requires fiscal impact statements to be obtained before any legislation can be considered that mandates insurance companies to provide health care coverage for autism disorders and various tests and procedures.
“This is an abomination,” said Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, who has been pushing legislation to require autism coverage. Gumm and others said the rule will chill debate on health care issues.
“I just don’t understand why you would want to confer privileged status to insurance companies in the Senate rules,” said Sen. Tom Adeleson, D-Tulsa.
Democrats objected to other rules changes they said would make it more difficult for minority members to have their voices heard.
One rule allows the majority leader to request information before a senator can be recognized for a motion or an amendment. Another freezes out the minority leader from decisions on which Democrats should be appointed to standing committees.
Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, said Republicans were “setting the tenor for what the session will be, and that is to silence the minority party.”
All Democratic motions to sidetrack the rules died on a 26-22 vote along party lines.
After the session, the GOP issued a statement defending the rules, including ones that require fiscal impact studies on insurance legislation.
“Just as impact studies are required for any tax increase or reduction, it is only fair that those empowered with mandating consumer expenses know what the impact of their actions will be,” said Sen. Todd Lamb, R-Edmond, Senate majority leader.