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Capitol Insider: Legislature Heading Into Final Week

Legislative Service Bureau (LSB) Photography

With the General Appropriation and other revenue bills sent to the governor, Oklahoma's 2021 legislative session is near the end. Lawmakers are looking at adjourning by Wednesday, a couple of days in advance of the legally-mandated conclusion. In this Capitol Insider segment, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss how legislators are bringing the session to a close.


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. Just a few days remain in the session and the general appropriations and other budget bills have been sent to the governor for action. Just over a week ago, we heard there was a budget agreement and in seven days both chambers passed all the bills. Shawn, that shows how fast the legislature can work when lawmakers want to.

Shawn Ashley: Yeah, it really has been surprising. You know, we've joked around the Capitol for several years that if the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB), the committee that handles those final budget bills, announces a meeting for Tuesday morning, you should cancel your Wednesday night plans. That was not the case this year. The committee met twice when it said it would, and it considered and passed the more than 30 bills necessary to implement the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Dick Pryor: Speed often brings complaints about transparency, and that happened from both sides of the aisle.

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Now, Democrats complained Thursday afternoon that the budget process was neither open nor transparent. But let's be honest. Budget negotiations are rarely open to the minority party, regardless of who is in charge. So that's just not going to happen. But transparency is another issue. When the second JCAB meeting began, language for some of the House bills was not yet available - it did become available during the meeting. I covered the Senate JCAB meeting and a cart full of bills was literally rolled into the meeting room right behind me halfway through the meeting. And members had to vote on those bills later in that meeting. But it wasn't just Democrats that complained. Senate Judiciary Chair Julie Daniels and Senate Health and Human Services Chair Greg McCortney expressed frustration Thursday that two policy bills that went through the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget should have been heard earlier in their committees. “We need to stop running bills through JCAB that are policy bills and not budget bills,” McCortney said.

Dick Pryor: Did the amounts appropriated in the budget bills change appreciably in the last few days?

Shawn Ashley: You know, it really does not appear so. We talked about how quickly these things have happened, how they move through these bills, and we have yet to see some of the usual documentation, the spreadsheets that show exactly how this budget balances and how it works.

Dick Pryor: House Bill 1236 went to the governor. Now, that's the bill purporting to protect states’ rights and allows the legislature and attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of federal laws in court. This bill was the product of considerable negotiation, but did it do anything new?

Shawn Ashley: Well, I think negotiation is the key component here. It does what the House wanted. It created a mechanism for challenging federal legislative and executive actions. And it did what the Senate wanted. It created and funds a way to do that, a new division within the attorney general's office. It did remove language that would have allowed the legislature on its own to declare federal legislation and executive actions unconstitutional.

Dick Pryor: The authors of 1236 said it was critically needed to protect the state against what they called federal overreach by the Biden administration. Did proponents say specifically what they're concerned about?

Shawn Ashley: On the Senate floor, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat argued that over the last 50 or 60 years, we have seen a diminishment of states and individual rights and an increase in federal overreach. But in terms of specific examples, they were rather limited. But if you look at the bill itself, it lists a number of areas about which they are concerned, such as pandemics and other health emergencies, regulations of natural resources, including, of course, oil and gas, regulation of the agricultural industry, regulation of the financial sector as it relates to environmental, social or governance standards, regulation of education and some other areas as well.

Dick Pryor: The final few days of the session are like a chess match. There's an end game strategy at this point. What happens next?

Shawn Ashley: The legislature has to adjourn by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 28th, and the governor has until Wednesday or Thursday to act on the budget bills, depending on when exactly they arrived on his desk. If he vetoes something, the legislature will either need to override that veto or find a way to fix it in those final days. In the meantime, they will be considering bills that lawmakers have told leadership need to be passed this year once the legislature adjourns Sine Die the governor has 15 days to sign or veto anything that passed during the last week of the legislative session.

Dick Pryor: We're getting close to the end. 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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