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ACLU of Oklahoma, Disability Law Center to discuss ‘legal action’ as Senate takes up budget bill

OKLAHOMA CITY - The state's ACLU chapter and disability legal advocacy group plan on holding a press conference Friday to discuss 'legal action' as the Senate is poised to hear a budget bill to close the state's budget shortfall.

In a release Thursday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Disability Law Center said "As critical services remain under threat, the ACLU and ODLC are continuing a push to ensure Oklahomans with disabilities are protected as mandated by law."

The announcement comes as the Senate will be hearing HB 1019X, the latest attempt by the legislature to find a solution to the $215 million budget shortfall created when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled a cigarette fee unconstitutional. Because of the ruling, DHS, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse services faced extensive cuts to their budgets if a solution wasn't found.

The bill narrowly passed House and Senate budget committees earlier this week and survived a narrow house floor vote Wednesday. As it stands, three major state health agencies are facing cuts between $4-15 million.

The OHCA said in a statement that if HB 1019X passes and is signed into law, its 2018 budget will be reduced by about $15 million, compared to $70 million in cuts.

Last week, the OHCA board reduced provider rate reductions and eliminated Medicare crossover coinsurance and deductible payments for nursing facilities to prepare for the larger budget cuts. The agency also implemented program changes for 2018 and other "budget balancing options."

"We are grateful to leadership for their perseverance in trying to reach a budget agreement that helps protect health care for Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens," said OHCA CEO Becky Pasternik-Ikard in a statement. "If this budget is approved, I'm confident our board will reverse the provider rate reductions that they had to approve last week."

A spokesman for ODMHSAS declined comment when asked by News 4 about what services could be cut if the bill is passed, "wanting to wait and see what happens."

A DHS spokeswoman said the agency is project to see $4 million in budget reductions from the state as a part of the bill.

"At that level, no services would be cut," she said in an email to News 4.

Legislators have spent two months attempting to find support for revenue-raising measures in an attempt to fill the budget hole, to no avail. The plan now before the Senate is a "cash and cuts" plan or "Plan B" as the measure has been coined in the halls and chambers at 23rd and Lincoln.

The Senate is scheduled to convene at 8:00 a.m. Friday and, if the bill passes and signed into law, could bring an end to the special session.

The ACLU and ODLC press conference regarding "legal action" against the state is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Friday at the capitol.