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Lawmakers head back to Oklahoma State Capitol for special session

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers were back at the state capitol Monday afternoon for the beginning of the special session ordered by Governor Mary Fallin earlier this month.

She called for the special session after the state supreme court ruled a cigarette fee passed in the final days of the regular session unconstitutional.

That ruling left a $215 million hole in our state’s budget, so lawmakers have come back to try and figure out how to fill that.

The special session convened at 1:30 p.m., but legislators were only in session for about 15 minutes before they adjourned.

Lawmakers said they did everything they could constitutionally.

Bills have to go through three readings before they can be voted on.

Monday was the first reading, the second will be on Tuesday and then bills and potential solutions can finally be voted for on Wednesday.

Despite the lack of action on the floor, lawmakers said there is a lot of negotiating going on behind the scenes.

"Over last four weeks, our conversations have been very constructive, kicking around ideas of not just a cigarette tax, which we have said all along could be part of the solution - but is not the solution in and of itself,” said Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman (D) District 94.

Representative Inman said the Democrats do not support the cigarette tax without raising the gross production tax on oil wells in our state.

"If they'll compromise instead of just saying, no, we're not going to move on GPT, if they'll do that, then we'll do that, and the cigarette tax and be done with special session,” Inman said.

"Gross production tax absolutely is on the table, 5 percent - that's not something that can be done,” said House Floor Leader Jon Echols (R) District 90.

Republicans said they plan to put the cigarette tax to a vote this week, no matter what, saying all other revenue raising options hinge on getting this one passed first.

And, they said they remain committed to getting a teacher pay raise.

"The tobacco tax - it's the key. If we do not get the tobacco tax implemented through the house of representatives this week, there will likely be cuts,” said Speaker of the House Charles McCall.

While at least one group at the capitol said that cigarette tax should still be considered unconstitutional.

"It disparages the rights of smokers. It puts a burden of $220 million onto the backs of smokers alone. Why? Simply because they smoke,” said David Oldham with Constitutional Grounds.

Other special interest groups up at the capitol on Monday said they hope legislators won’t make more cuts and will find that recurring revenue our state needs.

"I’m hopeful that our legislators will see the light. We need new recurring revenues. We need revenues that can sustain Oklahoma,” said Kara Joy McKee with Together Oklahoma.

House leaders said the $30,000 a day the special session is costing is coming from the house budget.

More than 100 bills were filed Monday morning, but it will be Wednesday before any of them can be voted on.

If they can strike a compromise, lawmakers could be done by the end of this week.

House leaders said, if they cease to be productive, they will stop the special session until they can come up with a concrete plan, saying they don’t want to waste taxpayer money.