With the 2020 legislative session now over, lawmakers are refocusing on the upcoming elections and issues relevant in the year ahead. Meanwhile, the work of the Oklahoma Capitol Restoration Project moves to the vacant House and Senate chambers. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley take one last look at the session and its effect on the months to come.
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, now that the legislative session is over, legislators can hit the campaign trail and start planning for next year. They proved this session that they can do the people's business in a streamlined, focused way and still get it done ahead of schedule.
Shawn Ashley: Yes, most legislative sessions run about 60 days or more. Lawmakers this year met just over 30. In fact, if you look back to March 17th, when they adjourned because of the coronavirus, there were only 11 legislative days after that. Ultimately, they put less than 200 bills on Governor Kevin Stitt’s desk compared to the 535 in 2019. But most of those bills didn't get to go through the full legislative process because it was cut off like it was in the middle of March, sort of halfway through the legislative session and that process. And Governor Stitt took note of that in a couple of vetoes. He pointed out that some of the legislation did not have the full vetting of legislators through the legislative process, and that raised concerns about some of the issues addressed in those bills.
Dick Pryor: What unfinished business is likely to be addressed in the interim with interim studies coming later this year?
Shawn Ashley: There were a number of issues that looked to be big deals at the start of the legislative session, but that didn't go anywhere because it was shortened like it was. Purchasing reform was one of those issues, for example, as well as changes to the state employee merit system. There's still a lot of talk about bill reform in Oklahoma and other criminal justice related measures that we will very likely see interim studies related to this year.
Dick Pryor: With the legislators gone, Capitol renovations have now moved to the House and Senate chambers. It looks a lot different.
Shawn Ashley: It certainly does. In fact, in both chambers, all the furniture has been removed as they prepare to begin work in there. And even before lawmakers were done at the Capitol work crews had begun work on their various committee rooms, which are also being renovated. What we're going to see in the chambers is plaster repair, new LCD lighting, new electrical and data wiring, new audio systems, carpet and paint. Now, I can tell you from sitting in the Senate for many, many hours, there is need for some of this work. So, this will be a unique opportunity to address some of those issues.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, we can't talk about the just-completed session without addressing what clearly appears to be an eroding relationship between the legislature and the governor with so many important issues to address, even after the legislature had granted the governor unprecedented powers.
Shawn Ashley: Yeah. What is it that the captain says in Cool Hand Luke? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” I think that was the case. And in fact, both House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat kind of acknowledged that at the end of the legislative session, McCall pointed out that he believed the governor's office misunderstood or misinterpreted some legislation and there was never really an opportunity to clarify that. Senator Treat pointed out that while there was good communication between the House and the Senate, it was not so good between the fourth floor where the legislature is and the second floor. And on May 22nd, the last day of the legislative session, Senator Treat actually invited Governor Stitt up to his office to talk about the session and some of the bills they were looking at overriding, to begin the process he said of improving that communication, which he vowed to do as we move toward the next legislative session.
Dick Pryor: Well, now, House Speaker McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat have filed a lawsuit seeking a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that Governor Kevin Stitt exceeded his authority in entering into compacts with two Native American tribes without involving the legislature.
Shawn Ashley: That's right. If you'll remember, back in April, Governor Stitt announced signing two new compacts, one with the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and the other with the Comanche Nation. And at that time, Speaker McCall and Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat took issue with those compacts because of some of their provisions, particularly related to event wagering or sports betting. Now, in the federal lawsuit filed by gaming tribes against Governor Stitt, the governor has asked that federal judge to rule that he has used his authority properly in negotiating these new compacts. In the lawsuit filed Thursday by Treat and McCall, however, they argued, first of all, that this is a state issue, that a state court should decide whether the governor has abided by state law or has not. And therefore, they ask the court to assume original jurisdiction. Their second argument is that he has not abided by state law that many of the provisions of those new compacts exceed the authority granted the governor under the state Tribal Gaming Act. The first step in this, of course, will be to see whether or not the court accepts the case and then we'll move on from there.
Dick Pryor: So that communication between the parties is going to be tested once again.
Shawn Ashley: At least in court.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: And, that’s Capitol Insider. If you have questions email us at email@example.com or contact us on Twitter @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.