It was that kind of week at the state Capitol. It was a week when a state senator was called out on the Senate floor by the chaplain during an opening prayer for derogatory comments the senator made against the Vice President of the United States - suggesting, without evidence, that she traded sexual favors for political advancement. The comments drew considerable backlash and prompted an unusual legislative executive session to discuss possible action on the matter. And, that was not necessarily the biggest story of the week. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss increased partisan polarization occurring over the last several days at the House and Senate in the latest 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. And Shawn, it's been a head-spinning last several days at the state Capitol. Governor Stitt has signed legislation that effectively bans abortion in the state and invites legal challenges. He's also signed bills that criminalize protests and decriminalize a certain kind of manslaughter. The legislature has sent to the governor legislation mandating mental health instruction in schools and prohibiting schools from requiring diversity instruction on gender and race. And that is just a start. Let's begin with a bill prohibiting what the authors call “critical race theory.” It's taken up a lot of legislative time and will have substantive impact relating to gender and racial diversity. It's also, I think, the kind of poison pill legislation that will make it a hot button campaign talking point. Why is this bill front and center right now in Oklahoma?
Shawn Ashley: Well, proponents of House Bill 1775, such as Senator David Bullard, Senator Rob Standridge and Representative Kevin West, say that “critical race theory” is being taught in Oklahoma. And what that does, they say, is that it minimizes the idea of American exceptionalism and it makes people think they may be racist or sexist when in fact, they are not. Bullard held up a group of folders he said that were examples of Oklahoma schools that are teaching critical race theory, but he refused to name any of them. Standridge said it was being taught in Norman schools and at OU and OSU and West, too, said it was being taught in Oklahoma public schools and on college campuses. Now, earlier in the week, identical or nearly similar language was being considered in a number of other states. And Montana also passed a nearly identical bill Tuesday and sent it to their governor.
Dick Pryor: The protest bills are also not original in Oklahoma.
Shawn Ashley: That's right. Florida, of course, has passed a very restrictive bill when it comes to protest. Iowa has passed a bill very similar to Oklahoma's House Bill 1674 and Tennessee is considering a bill that would essentially criminalize protest marches and provide civil and criminal liability to those who injure or kill someone with a motor vehicle while fleeing a riot. You know, when you look at a bill like the critical race theory bill or the protest bills, what you see are strikingly similar language and intent. And what that tends to tell me is that there are groups out there across the country that are pushing these issues. It's bigger than Oklahoma. It's something that's being pushed on the national level.
Dick Pryor: Shawn, the last couple of weeks, we've talked about lawmaking and collegiality among legislators. These bills, and the transgender and anti-abortion bills, if nothing else, are furthering hyper partisanship and division. How are these bills affecting the environment at the Capitol?
Shawn Ashley: You know, they really are polarizing. And I would say that they deepen the divide between Republicans and Democrats. That's measurable. You can look at the votes on a lot of these bills and see that they’re along party lines. And then when you have these lengthy and often nearly hostile debates on these matters, that carries over into the consideration of other legislation that's being put before lawmakers on that particular day or perhaps on the next day or even a week later.
Dick Pryor: We've seen a blizzard of bills going to the governor in the last few weeks. It's hard to keep up. How does this compare to past years?
Shawn Ashley: Well, really, the pace and volume exceeds most of the previous years. Already this year 422 bills and joint resolutions have been sent to Governor Stitt. He has signed 371 and vetoed eight. There are 43 that are still awaiting action from the governor. If you look back at Governor Mary Fallin’s tenure, already Governor Stitt has received more measures than Mary Fallin did in six of her eight years while in office. In his first year, Governor Stitt signed 515 of the 535 bills that were sent to his desk. And already it looks like we're on pace to beat that.
Dick Pryor: With less than a month left in the session are we down to the budget yet?
Shawn Ashley: It looks like we may be getting close and that will add to the bill total. Both the House and the Senate filed a series of what are called shell bills - bills that have no actual language in them, but they're intended to be used to write the budget for fiscal year 2022. Normally when we see those bills, it's about a week to ten days until we get an announcement of a budget agreement. So that could be coming up fairly shortly.
Dick Pryor: We could be in for a wild ride for the next few weeks.
Shawn Ashley: No doubt. That's how it always is.
Dick Pryor: Yes, it is. 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 and @ecapitol. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.