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Politics and Government

Capitol Insider: Legislators Head Toward Session Midway Point

Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) Photography

The week of March 15th was an abbreviated week for Oklahoma legislators due to spring break. The House of Representatives took off on Wednesday and Thursday; the Senate did not work on Thursday. Typically, Friday is a regular day off for legislators until the final month of the session. Lawmakers have an ambitious schedule ahead of them with eight weeks down and ten weeks to go. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss how the next few weeks are shaping up in Capitol Insider. 


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, legislators took some time off for spring break, but when they return, they will hear bills from the opposite chamber. How does that work and what's their next deadline for action?

Shawn Ashley: Well, the House sent just over 430 measures to the Senate and the Senate sent 450 plus measures over to the House. Now, these are being assigned to committees that will decide whether they will proceed forward, whether they'll be amended or exactly what will happen to the bills. It's very much where we were at the start of the legislative session. Lawmakers have until April 8th, except for those bills assigned to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee to hear those measures in those committees. The deadline for bills assigned to the House Appropriations and budget is April 16th.

Dick Pryor: Ten weeks remain in this year's legislative session before Sine Die Adjournment must happen in late May. Now, up to this time in a legislative session, there's a lot of process and theater. When does it really get serious for legislators to act on bills that they're most interested in considering?

Shawn Ashley: Really, it seems to happen during that last month, the deadline for measures to be heard on the opposite chamber floor after being heard in a committee of the opposite chamber is April 22nd. Then any differences in a single bill have to be reconciled or a way forward to combine similar bills into a single piece of legislation has to be achieved, and that's when they really begin talking about how to resolve these matters and ultimately in the legislative session.

Dick Pryor: Even in a shortened week. Legislators found time to approve two resolutions on states’ rights. They both take issue with two proposed federal laws.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. The House adopted House Resolution 1009 and 1010. Now House Resolution 1009 deals with the For the People Act of 2021, which is federal legislation that changes election procedures. The House says this violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it encroaches on election laws normally left to the states - specifically voter registration and congressional redistricting. In the case of House Resolution 1010, it addresses the bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 - another proposed piece of federal legislation which would expand and strengthen background check requirements for firearm purchases. The House said it violates the Tenth Amendment, encroaching on states’ rights as well as the Second, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. In short, what the House really did was to declare that both of those proposed federal laws are unconstitutional.

Dick Pryor: We haven't heard much about the budget. What's the status of budget negotiations?

Shawn Ashley: Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat said recently that House and Senate budget writers were working through the numbers. Now, what that usually means is they're deciding what one-time costs need to be subtracted from agency budgets, what are now continuing needs, and then the known cost of any new expenses, such as Medicaid expansion. The process probably became a little more complicated recently when both the House and the Senate passed tax cut proposals.

Dick Pryor: Would those tax cut bills blow a hole in the budget or the budget talks?

Shawn Ashley: Well, it certainly doesn't blow a hole in it in terms of the math.  House Bill 2041, the individual income tax cut, would trim about 71.1 million dollars from the fiscal year 2022 budget. House Bill 2083, the corporate income tax cut, is designed not to have a budget impact. And then Senate Bill 593 removes the sales tax on motor vehicles that was implemented in 2017. It has about a 148 million dollar impact. I think the biggest impact - you are exactly right - will be on the talks in terms of deciding whose proposal goes forward and whose doesn't.

Dick Pryor: Many bills have moved forward on roughly 80 to 18 votes in the House and 38 to 9 in the Senate, which tends to be along strict party lines. How much consensus building is going on this session?

Shawn Ashley: I'm not sure you can say a lot has taken place thus far, but that's not unusual. It seems consensus building is often tied to that final period of the legislative session when lawmakers are trying to decide on the end language for their bills and to get them approved. But having said that, at the same time, we have seen some agreement on things like a data privacy proposal that has both Republican and Democratic sponsors.

Dick Pryor: All of that becomes even more important as we head into the second half of the session. 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.

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