Expect a flurry of legislative activity as end of session nears (Capitol Update)

It is likely this will be the last week of the legislative session. Constitutionally, the session can continue until May 27, but, in the recent past, legislators have opted to recess at least one week early by resolution, with Sine Die adjournment set on the last Friday of May, which is May 27 this year. By finishing all legislation prior to five days before Sine Die adjournment, legislators leave themselves the option of returning on the last day to override gubernatorial vetoes if they choose to do so. 

The reason it works this way is that, during session, the governor has five days within which to sign or veto a bill. If he does neither, the bill becomes law. After Sine Die adjournment, the governor has 15 days to decide whether to sign or veto any bill passed within five days of Sine Die. If he does neither, the bill does not become law. It’s called a “pocket veto.” By leaving town a week, early legislators force the governor to show his hand. Judging by the apparent relationship between the legislature and the governor, it’s a good bet legislators will do their best to finish their work by this Friday and reserve their option for later vetoes overrides. 

 I don’t know how many bills are left to be considered, but I imagine you’ll see a considerable “firehose” effect this week. There were a few policy disagreements between House and Senate leadership that slowed work the past few weeks, but that’s normal. The biggest remaining issue is the budget, which is accompanied by the tax cut issue. No “budget agreement” was announced last week, but it seems likely one was reached, or was very near by week’s end. Meetings of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget (JCAB) have been scheduled beginning Monday, which signals the beginning of the end.

 JCAB was invented relatively recently. It makes what happens at the end of session move quickly, but with little transparency. Bills assigned to JCAB are not subject to normal legislative deadlines and committee action. Once assigned to JCAB a bill cannot be amended except by the chairman or co-chairman filing a “committee substitute.” Any bill that is deemed to have a “fiscal impact” can be introduced and assigned to JCAB outside the deadlines and regular rules. 

 Most any significant policy change can likely be said to have a fiscal impact, so the jurisdiction of JCAB is broad. This is how brand new ideas or ideas abandoned earlier in session can get introduced or resuscitated and passed in the last week of session. Especially during a mad dash to adjournment.  


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.

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