With the first deadline looming for passing or rejecting legislation, the Oklahoma legislature moved quickly to make up for time lost during the recent snowstorm and extreme cold. The highest profile cases gave an indication of the direction the session is heading - toward stronger states rights and less federal control while further restricting abortion, protests and limitations on statements made on social media.
Social issues are often more prominent early in legislative sessions, and it appears even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that trend is continuing in 2021. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss how the session is starting to take shape heading into March.
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's been keeping the lights on late, tracking the flurry of bills that have been flying through committee and floor votes over the last few days. Shawn, Thursday was the deadline for bills to pass out of committee in their chambers of origin, the House or the Senate. But in a rare move, the deadline was extended for some bills. Which bills get a little more time for consideration?
Shawn Ashley: Those are the bills that were assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee. They have until Wednesday, March 3rd, in order to be heard. That's because the snowstorm earlier this month closed the Senate for three days. Some bills are double assigned. They go to education or they go to public safety and because they have a fiscal impact, then they go to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Really, what they're trying to do here is to play catch up.
Dick Pryor: What happens to bills that did not pass by the Thursday deadline?
Shawn Ashley: Well, if they were not considered at all, they are deemed dormant and they'll carry over to the 2022 legislative session. But their language also could be resurrected and added as an amendment to one of those bills that is moving through the process. If a bill failed in a Senate committee, that language is completely dead both this year and next, but in the House, as long as the bill did not receive a do not pass motion and none did, that language could be used again.
Dick Pryor: Just over 40 bills have already passed off the floor, including House Bill 1236 that would allow the Oklahoma legislature by majority vote to declare federal laws and presidential executive orders unconstitutional. The irony is rather rich - giving the Oklahoma legislature the authority to declare federal laws unconstitutional in a bill that rather clearly could be held to be unconstitutional. What is going on here?
Shawn Ashley: I think in part it's a matter of red versus blue. Oklahoma in the 2020 election was clearly in support of former President Donald Trump. Republicans won a mega majority in the House and they maintained a supermajority in the Senate. So, there's a concern about what a Democratic presidency under Joe Biden and a Democratically controlled U.S. House might do and its impact on Oklahoma. When you look at that vote, it was 79 Republicans who voted for the measure and 18 Democrats who voted against it.
Dick Pryor: Usually suspect bills get changed or weeded out over the course of the session, but this year, 1236 is not the only bill that may draw constitutional scrutiny.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, constitutional questions have been raised about a number of bills that are currently making their way through the process. Senate Bill 383, for example, allows social media users to sue those platforms if they feel they are being censored. And there may be a constitutional issue there. There's a bill that revokes a doctor's license for performing an abortion, as well as a couple of so-called heartbeat bills which prohibit an abortion after a heartbeat can be detected in the fetus. A similar piece of legislation out of Louisiana was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020. And then there are several anti- doxxing measures - measures designed to prevent the distribution of law enforcement officers’ personal information. But some of these bills contain language that would prohibit the distribution of photographs or video that show the officers doing their jobs, which is actually allowed under state law.
Dick Pryor: It appears there's a focus on limiting government. Why has that taken a priority?
Shawn Ashley: Well, I think all we need to do is look back to 2020 and what has happened during the pandemic. We saw various limitations being implemented at the national level, at the state level and at the local level. And a large number of these bills seem to be directed at controlling what government officials can do, how they can, and more importantly, how they cannot limit what takes place throughout the state and in our various communities.
Dick Pryor: The pandemic is continuing. Education and the economy are still facing challenges. What our legislators doing about addressing those big issues right now?
Shawn Ashley: Well, I would say they're not directly tackling them. In fact, what we see is a movement, as I mentioned a moment ago, in sort of the other direction of limiting the authority of state and local officials to enact limitations that would help prevent the spread of a pandemic, for example.
Dick Pryor: All right. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews at @ecapitol. You can also find us online at KGOU.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.