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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.
Last Thursday the final deadline before the beginning of session passed. It was the deadline for introduction of bills, and 2091 bills have been introduced in the House and Senate. Once session begins on February 2nd, the legislative process devolves into a series of sprints from one deadline to the next that eventually ends with the final constitutional deadline for sine die adjournment, the last Friday in May. The next deadline when session begins will be February 27th, the date by which all bills must be reported out of committee in their house of origin to continue in the process.
After all the talk of the past few months, the real legislative agenda is about to take shape. It looks like education, corrections and criminal justice, the judiciary, healthcare, tax policy, children and the budget, at least by bill count, will dominate the session. Another concentration is found in bills about guns, abortion, personal freedoms and states’ rights. I’m amazed these days at how many things legislators can think of to legislate about guns.
Human nature being what it is, most of the bills were filed the last couple days before the deadline expired. My recollection is that deadlines became a big part of legislative life after passage of the constitutional amendment requiring the legislature to begin on the first Monday in February and adjourn on the last Friday in May. Before then, the legislature started in January and had 90 legislative days to complete its work. Bills weren’t introduced until session began. Toward the end of session, instead of reaching agreement, legislators would come to the capitol but not go into official session in order to save legislative days. Session could go into early July before the expiration of 90 legislative days. With four calendar months to work with, deadlines became a necessity. The truth is people won’t reach an agreement until they have to, and that usually requires a deadline.
Ironically, the legislative process lasts about the same amount of time now as it did before the calendar deadline. It “unofficially” begins with the first deadline for making a bill drafting request which for this session was on December 12, 2014. The point is that it takes a certain amount of time to get the people’s work done. Your point of view about whether the time is being wasted depends on whether they are working on your ideas on someone else’s.