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Rep. John Bennett says comment on terrorism was taken out of context; Senate adjourns amid negotiations

OKLAHOMA CITY - A republican lawmaker said his comment on terrorism on the Oklahoma House floor was taken out of context.

During a House floor debate on gross production tax Wednesday, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw spoke in opposition of the bill which would raise GPT on older wells from 4 percent to 7 percent. Instead, Bennett stressed the importance of accountability.

"No one wants their taxes raised, but the agencies getting the money are telling our constituents, hey... the sky is falling! And, the agencies are telling our citizens they're going to cut their services to the most vulnerable," Bennett said. "That's terrorism. We should not be negotiating with terrorists, period."

There was almost immediate backlash from the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA).

"State agency employees are doing their jobs and trying to serve their communities. Rep. J. Bennett just disrespected every state employee. We demand that Rep. Bennett issue a formal apology to all state agency employees for his completely offensive remarks," the group said on Facebook.

In response, Governor Mary Fallin also took to Facebook calling Bennett's comment "unacceptable behavior" and agreeing an apology was necessary, however Bennett commented on the post claiming his remarks were taken out of context.

Responding to Fallin, he wrote, in part: "You know as well as I do that I was calling out your agency heads for holding our citizens hostage, NOT the outstanding state employees we have. Nice try to divert the real attention from your responsibility to ensure our agency heads are accountable for our tax payer dollar.”

News 4 reached out to Bennett for clarification on his comments multiple times Thursday. We have not heard back.

The bill sparking the heated debate passed the House without any amendments presented by Democrats. Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater said Democrats have done their part in the compromise, first fighting for 7 percent on all oil and gas wells before eventually scaling back to 4 percent.

"There are real solutions that are being offered, has time and time again move to try and accommodate the request of the majority party and try and work with the governor, the Senate and House Republicans," Williams said. "At the end of the day, it's all a sham coming from their leadership."

The bill was discussed on the Senate floor for a second hearing Thursday, according to Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. Treat told reporters Thursday the Senate had adjourned until the call of the chair, meaning they will not meet until there is movement in negotiations.

"The ‘A’ and ‘A+' plan that I keep talking about… the one that got 54 votes on the House floor and the one that failed to get out of committee… would have solved this problem,” Treat said. “So, we’re still pushing for revenue, but we’re also realistic that it’s probably not going to pass out of the House.”

The Senate passed an emergency measure Wednesday allocating $23 million in rainy day funds and putting it towards the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The measure was part of a series of bills passed in the House tapping into cash reserves.

As for the bills regarding additional money expected to go towards the Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority, Treat said it’s unclear exactly what date the Senate could pick them up.

“We don’t want to come in and spend tax payer money on session unless we’re also moving on the central part of the reason we’re here and the budget hole,” he said.

While the Senate remains adjourned, the House is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. Friday.