Capitol Insider: Procedural Wheels Turn As Lawmakers Advance Bills At Deadline
In the last week, Oklahoma legislators acted on more than 400 bills in the House and Senate. With a committee deadline upon them, they employed numerous procedural methods to push favored legislation forward.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Oklahoma legislators worked at a dizzying pace over the last week to make up for lost time in considering bills in committees. We may be firmly in the “solution looking for a problem phase” of the legislative process. Shawn, there is so much going on right now, rather than analyzing the substance of hundreds of bills let's talk about some of the approaches involved in passing legislation for possible consideration on the floor of the House and Senate. First, a bill that advanced would prohibit persons born male from participating in athletics designated for women and girls. It is one of dozens of shell bills that had language inserted at the last moment for lawmakers to consider before committee deadlines for passage. How does that tactic work?
Shawn Ashley: Well, shell bills can only be filed in the House, and as you mentioned, they have no substantive language and really don't propose to do anything. Lawmakers file them because they're trying to flesh out an idea and were not able to do so before the filing deadline back in January. Then, normally before the bill is heard in committee they file a committee substitute that contains the actual language for the bill. In this case, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin pointed out the new language for House Bill 4245 was submitted just 14 hours before the meeting, in the middle of the night, and normally new language has to be filed by 4:30 p.m. the day before the meeting. But the committee chair in this case waived that requirement. A majority of the committee members voted to allow the new language to be heard and that bill passed out of the House Rules Committee.
Dick Pryor: Another tactic appeared during consideration of a bill that would require employers to provide opt outs from COVID-19 mandates to employees and contractors. The bill passed out of committee despite opposition from the majority floor leader over how the language in the bill got in front of the committee. How does that happen?
Shawn Ashley: Senator David Bullard inserted language from a bill that was not heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee into a bill carried over from the 2021 session, Senate Bill 765, and got it heard as a committee substitute in the Senate Business Commerce and Tourism Committee meeting on Thursday. As you mentioned, Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney was not happy about that. He is the one who decides which bills and the language in them are assigned to specific committees. McCortney asked Bullard, “So do you feel like the floor leader and assistant floor leader made a mistake when they assigned this bill to Judiciary?” Bullard said he did not, but he added he thought it was a better fit in the Senate Business Commerce and Tourism Committee, and that bill, too, passed out of committee.
Dick Pryor: Another bill involved a common approach called “striking title.” This bill would allow custodians of records for public bodies to deny “excessive and repeated requests” for information under the Open Records Act if the custodian of records has reason to believe that repeated requests were intended to disrupt other essential functions of the public body. Now, as we know, complying with the Open Records Act is an essential function of public bodies. But beyond that, this bill does not define some of the critical terms it uses, and its author agreed to strike title. What does that mean?
Shawn Ashley: The Oklahoma Constitution requires every bill signed into law have a short title. Now that's a brief explanation of what the bill does. A bill with its title stricken should not go to the governor, and it also means lawmakers will get another look at the bill before it does go to the governor. Because as we all remember, a bill has to pass both chambers in the same form, including with the title on, before it can go to the governor. It was Representative Cindi Munson who asked the bill's author, Representative Jim Grego, what constituted an excessive disruption. Grego said some entities harass public bodies by continually easily making what he described as unnecessary open records requests. Now, this also shows the importance of definitions in bills. What might be excessive requests to one public body might only be a “Tuesday” for another.
Dick Pryor: It's very complicated. With the first committee deadline past, what happens next?
Shawn Ashley: Each of the bills that passed out of committee, and there were likely more than 1,000, are now eligible to be heard on the floor. Senate bills in the Senate and House bills in the House. The deadline for that work is March 24th.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: We would like to hear from you. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. And, for more information, go to quorumcall.online. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.