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.
With the new Legislature now sworn into office, members can begin filing the bills for the next legislative session. Early bill filings are often “statement bills” revealing the priorities of their authors. By watching these early filings, you can learn something about the legislator and, without making too much of it, the people they represent. An early bill filing means the issue is a top priority for the legislator, especially for the leadership.
For example, Sen. President Pro Tempore Greg Treat filed Senate Bill 1 that creates the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency as a legislative oversight agency to ensure that “government funds are expended in a fiscally responsible manner.” The office, which will have an executive director and a staff, will be overseen by a bipartisan legislative committee. The bill requires the Office to conduct “performance evaluations” of the various agencies. This likely reflects dissatisfaction with the Health Department fiscal fiasco last year and a desire to independently verify the budget numbers being given legislators by the agencies. It also responds to the argument of many that tax money “is not being spent properly.”
Another leadership example is Sen. Majority Leader Kim David’s Senate Bill 2 to repeal the sales tax on the sale of vehicles. This was part of a tax package passed in 2017 and, my guess is, it has proven particularly unpopular. People who bought a car were already paying an excise tax “in lieu” of sales tax, so the additional sales tax added a steep price increase to purchase a vehicle. This bill was passed with 51% of the legislature, and the Supreme Court ruled it was not a tax increase because it simply removed an exemption to an existing tax. Likely, most citizens would say if it’s a tax they weren’t paying before but they’re paying now, it’s a tax increase. Sen. David has signaled her intention to repeal the tax now that the economy has improved.
Other examples of “statement” bills are SB 12 by Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and SB 13 by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow). SB 12, usually referred to as “constitutional carry” would allow any adult not disqualified by state or federal law from purchasing or possessing a firearm, and not carrying the firearm in furtherance of a crime, to carry a firearm, concealed or unconcealed, loaded or unloaded without the currently required training and license.
SB 13 would define the life of a human child as beginning at “fertilization” and give it “equal protection of the laws.” The bill deletes current statutory language providing for legal abortions and deletes language that would prevent the mother from being criminally prosecuted. The views expressed by these bills likely go further than the majority view in the Legislature or the public. Early filing gives the bills a lot of publicity to begin building pressure on leaders to give them hearings. Publicity is the friend of a committed, vocal minority. Because of the publicity, some members who don’t agree feel compelled to vote for them to avoid the wrath of the bills’ supporters.
You can also learn something about the new members by looking at the early bills they file. Sen. David Bullard, a Republican who represents District 6 in Southeastern Oklahoma, filed SB 14 providing that neither the state nor any school district or administrator shall “prohibit any teacher in a public school…from helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.” On his campaign website Sen. Bullard, a teacher, describes himself as having spent “over fourteen years teaching the foundations of this great nation; from the faith and grit of our forefathers, to the sacrifices endured by many to secure our freedoms.”