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Capitol Insider: Record Amount Of Legislation Pre-Filed For 2021 Legislative Session

Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) Photography

On Thursday, Oklahoma lawmakers completed the rush to pre-file bills and joint resolutions for the upcoming 2021 legislative session. The volume of legislation indicates we can expect an ambitious session when the legislature resumes on February 1. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the work just ahead as ideas move toward becoming laws. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director, Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the first session of the 58th Oklahoma Legislature resumes on February 1st. Thursday was the deadline for pre-filing bills and joint resolutions. How many have been filed and how does the number compare to past years?

Shawn Ashley: Just over three thousand-forty bills and joint resolutions were pre-filed for the session. That appears to be a modern-day record going back to the early 1990s. In 2019, just two years ago, before the start of the 57th Legislature, just over two-thousand eight-hundred and ten bills and joint resolutions were filed.

Dick Pryor: Why do legislators feel the need to file so many bills?

Shawn Ashley: Well, really, I mean, it’s it's their job. But a lot of these bills come from constituent requests, things that the people they represent are concerned about. In other cases where you have particularly veteran members of the legislature, they receive agency requests -  areas where a particular agency thinks there needs to be a change made and that member has worked with the agency before or has a particular interest there. Of course, they’re their own ideas. We hear these things on the campaign trails, ideas where lawmakers think that they can make the state of Oklahoma better, make it better for its people. And then, of course, there are shell bills that really have no substantive language that might be amended in committee to actually do something. If you look at the more than one-thousand nine-hundred and forty bills filed this year in the House, more than five-hundred and eighty of those are shell bills, thirty percent of them.

Dick Pryor: We've been following this for a while, and over the years there have been efforts to limit the sheer number of shell bills filed. The Senate does not allow them. For people interested in government transparency - and policy - they're extremely difficult to follow. What are shell bills and what are they ultimately used for?

Shawn Ashley: Well, really, shell bills are a placeholder. They open up a title of law for possible changes at some point in the legislative session. Now, there are a number of reasons for filing a shell bill. A member might file a shell bill because he's still working on a bill's actual language. And if there are stakeholders involved, particularly competing interests, you don't want to get the wrong language out there in front of people before you have those final agreements in place. That can really kill a bill. But really, the main reason we see so many shell bills are the filing of placeholders by the House speaker and by committee chairmen. If you look at a large number of the shell bills filed in 2019 and 2020, they were filed to give a potential legislative vehicle to address an issue that might not yet be known. And if you look back at the 2019-2020 legislative session, only one of the hundreds of shell bills filed in 2019 made it to Governor Stitt’s desk.

Dick Pryor: You mentioned over 3,000 bills and joint resolutions have been filed. In a typical legislative session, how many bills actually become law?

Shawn Ashley: You know, really not that many. In Governor Stitt’s first two years, about 345 bills have become law. But that number is sort of out of sync. In 2019, he signed five-hundred and fifteen bills, but that number dropped in 2020 to one-hundred and seventy-six because of the COVID-19 shortened session. If you look back at former Governor Mary Fallin’s two terms as governor, on average, just over four-hundred and ten bills were sent to her desk for consideration and she signed about three-hundred and ninety-five of those each year.

Dick Pryor: Shawn, over the next several days, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear budget presentations from the six state agencies that received the most state appropriations. What's involved in those presentations?

Shawn Ashley: Well, usually what you see are the agencies telling lawmakers what they've been able to accomplish and what they would like to accomplish in the coming year and the money they need to do that. For lawmakers, it's an opportunity to ask questions about those accomplishments and those goals and how the money will be used. Oftentimes, too, it's a first opportunity for lawmakers to address other issues with those individual agencies. On Monday, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee will hear from the State Department of Education and the Regents for Higher Education. On Tuesday, it's the Department of Human Services and Oklahoma Health Care Authority. And on Wednesday, the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. And all these hearings will be in the House chamber and streamed on the House website.

Dick Pryor: It's a very busy time. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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