The 2018 legislative process has begun (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Today is the deadline to make a request for drafting of a bill to be introduced in the next legislative session. For those actively involved, including members of the Legislature, the governor, state agencies, schools, interest groups, businesses and others, this means the 2018 legislative process has begun.

This first deadline will be followed quickly by a series of deadlines, including the dates for introduction of a measure, getting the bill out of committee, and passing it on the floor. Then the same procedure in the opposite chamber will have deadlines. Finally, conference committee reports will have to be filed by a certain date, and the legislature itself has a deadline of the last Friday in May to complete its work. Once the process starts everyone involved must “buckle up” because the process moves at a steep pace.

With this kind of formal process, one would hope legislators could approach their work in an orderly fashion. But human nature intervenes. Legislators, sometimes for good reasons, have found ways to put the clock on hold. It has become common to request bills on broad topics such as a Title 36 bill (on insurance) or a Title 43A bill (mental health) without stating the purpose of the bill. This pushes the deadline forward to the bill introduction date. On that date it’s again common to introduce a “shell” bill, meaning a bill on a topic, but with little or no substantive language. At the committee deadline a slightly more fleshed out “committee substitute” can be passed as a “work in progress.” But there’s one deadline that can’t be avoided: The constitutional deadline to adjourn at the end of May. It’s no wonder then that most of the decision-making gets done in the final weeks of the session, sometimes on bills many legislators haven’t seen until the last minute.

In the past six or eight years a new process has developed for budget bills which completely short circuits the normal process and ignores all the deadlines. Appropriations bills are introduced at the very end of session instead of at the beginning, usually with only a few days left. They are sent directly to a joint committee, the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget, where they cannot be amended. This gives legislative leadership nearly total control over budget measures members will be allowed to vote on. Budget bills come so fast there’s little time for serious investigation or debate. The procedure is not totally to blame, but it has certainly produced the kind of thrown together budgets that have become the norm. It would be a good idea for legislators to look at how both the appropriations process and the normal process for bills is working and maybe look for improvements. Legislating is messy at its best, but sometimes process affects policy, and not always in a good way.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

One thought on “The 2018 legislative process has begun (Capitol Update)

  1. if you dont mind , I would like to see a bill drafted that pits more stringent back ground checks on the hiring of teachers . anything that throws up red flags , not just their accreditation that say we have papers . we have to many pervs in our schools and I would like a report card of complains ect . thanks

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