House and Senate leadership bills show similar priorities, different approach (Capitol Update)

With the passage of the first committee deadline, it’s interesting to observe the bills the two top legislative leaders have filed.  If they decide to throw the full weight of their office behind a proposal, it is likely to become law, at least in some form.  If there is strenuous opposition by the other chamber, the proposal could develop into conflict between the two bodies that often causes a few days delay in the legislative process with lots of news coverage about feuding between the House and Senate.  
Sen. President Pro Tempore Greg Treat pre-filed SB 1 a few days after last year’s election, with Speaker Charles McCall as the House author.  It creates the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) to conduct performance evaluations of state agencies, with a 12-member committee of legislators to oversee operations of the office.  It directs the committee to hire an executive director and staff to accomplish the evaluations. Interestingly, Speaker McCall filed HB 2484, with Treat as the Senate author, which creates within the current Legislative Services Bureau an Office of Government Accountability tasked with conducting the performance evaluations.  The two leaders will likely hammer out the differences, and it’s a good bet we’ll have some sort of legislative “accountability” office monitoring agency performance.  
Along the same lines, both Sen. Treat and Speaker McCall have filed different versions of change for state agency governance.  Treat has several bills that abolish the boards or commissions and place both agency policymaking and the hiring of directors with the governor, subject to Senate confirmation.  McCall has filed bills that keep the agencies and commissions intact but split the appointing authority for the commission members between the governor, the Speaker and the President Pro Tempore.  His bills give the governor the power to appoint the directors with Senate confirmation, but policy would remain in the hands of the boards and commissions. McCall’s bills preserve some input into agency policy through legislative appointment.  Governor Stitt wants the authority to appoint directors, but he apparently is not heavily invested in which version of agency governance is adopted.
Another bill that Speaker McCall and Sen. Treat are authoring together is HB 1780, the $1,200 pay increase for teachers.  Speaker McCall filed the bill in the House, but Treat did not file a pay raise bill in the Senate.  This could signal that the Senate position is not strongly for the pay raise but rather Senators want more funding through the formula for smaller class sizes, 5-day school week, more curricula offerings, text books, and technology. This could be another point of contention as the session progresses.  Gov. Stitt has supported the teacher pay raise.  
Neither of the two leaders filed criminal justice reform bills, but some other members of the leadership, such as Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols in the House and Sen. Roger Thompson, Senate Appropriations Chairman, have filed bills.  It remains to be seen how much support criminal justice reform will receive from Speaker McCall and Pro Tempore Treat.  Treat carried the criminal justice measures the last several years.  Even though it enjoys public support, criminal justice reform is difficult for a myriad of reasons:  It’s complex and not well understood, many employed within the current system prefer the status quo, and fear is an easy weapon to employ.  It will take strong support from the leadership for the reforms to see the finish line and be signed by the governor.

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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.

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