Capitol Insider: Oklahoma Legislature Adjourns Sine Die
By law, the Oklahoma legislature must end each year's legislative session by the last Friday in May at 5:00 p.m. The 2021 legislative session ended just a little early - the House and Senate each adjourned Sine Die on Thursday morning. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the final few days of the session in this week's 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, who is now recovering following the end of the legislative session. Shawn, the legislature adjourned Sine Die on Thursday, a day before the constitutionally-mandated deadline for adjournment. It was an uneventful final few days.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, it really was. But this has been one of the more interesting sessions I have ever covered. Lawmakers pre-filed a modern-day record of bills and joint resolutions in January, and we saw those big committee agendas and long floor sessions early on. But the last several weeks were filled with smaller floor agendas, well fewer than 30 bills on the busiest days. And as you said, it sort of ended on an uneventful note a day and a half early.
Dick Pryor: Legislators passed a lot of bills and joint resolutions – a total of 599 went to the governor this year. That's got to be a record.
Shawn Ashley: It certainly is no doubt, a modern-day record. During Kevin Stitt’s first session in 2019, lawmakers sent 535 bills and joint resolutions to the governor - the most we had seen in recent years then. But 2020 saw far fewer, less than 200 go to his desk and that was because of the COVID-19 shortened session. You might say there was pent- up demand. A lot of the bills we saw move particularly early on, were those that were proposed in 2020 that simply did not get to move forward. So, they were brought back this year and many of those lawmakers were seeing them for the second time and had had an opportunity to fix any problems that had been identified a year ago.
Dick Pryor: Absolutely. Makes sense. Speaker of the House Charles McCall called this the most comprehensive conservative policy session ever. What's he referring to as the major accomplishments?
Shawn Ashley: Well, you know, there were several issues that in any other legislative session would have sucked all the air out of the room. But this year, they were just one of many considered and passed by lawmakers. In particular, McCall pointed to issues like tax relief, open transfer, the budget, particularly the appropriation of a record amount for common education, modernization of the civil service system, as well as the legislation to protect utility customers from the high bills expected from February snowstorm.
Dick Pryor: One of the hazards of having huge majorities is that factions develop that split the membership. That happened to Democrats when they had supermajorities. But it didn't happen with Republicans this year. There was some dissent, but they mostly just fell in line.
Shawn Ashley: That's true. But I think it's important to keep in mind we saw some instances where there were splits among them. In the House, for example, there were bills such as the open transfer bill, I believe, where as many Republicans voted against it as there are in the entire Democratic caucus in the House. And we saw in the Senate, for example, cases where Republicans voted against red meat, conservative issues like a corporate income tax cut that eventually passed and was signed by the governor.
Dick Pryor: Were Democrats able to accomplish anything much from their policy priority list?
Shawn Ashley: Well, if you look back at their agendas, it would appear that that was really not the case. Some individual lawmakers did get bills through to the governor and they were signed. And probably the biggest accomplishment that came with a problem was the earned income tax refundability issue. Democrats have pushed this issue for a number of years and it passed, but it was at the expense of the individual income tax cut that was approved and signed by Governor Stitt.
Dick Pryor: And although the legislature adjourned Sine Die, there will be a special session, probably in the fall, to address redistricting.
Shawn Ashley: That's correct. According to the House Speaker, Charles McCall, that will probably be in October. First, lawmakers have to receive the final numbers from the Census Bureau, something they've been waiting on for a long time. And once they get those they can redraw, based on actual residents, the five congressional districts. But keep in mind, knowing we're having a special session, anything could be added to that call. And so, we could be looking at other issues during a special session this fall.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions email us at firstname.lastname@example.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.