Legislature set for ‘organizational day’ on Jan. 5 (Capitol Update)

Tomorrow (Jan. 5) will be the “organizational day” for the Legislature. Article V, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides that the Legislature shall meet in regular session on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January of each odd numbered year for the purposes only of performing the duties as required by Section 5 of Article VI of the Constitution and organizing itself. Legislators are then required to adjourn until the following first Monday in February, which this year will be Feb. 1. 

The duties referred to in Section 5 of Article VI are noteworthy this year in light of what is happening with the presidential election in Washington, D.C. The Oklahoma Constitutional provision is that:

The returns of every election for all elective state officers shall be sealed up and transmitted by the returning officers to the Secretary of State, directed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall, immediately after the organization of the House, and before proceeding to other business, open and publish the same in the presence of a majority of each branch of the Legislature, who shall for that purpose assemble in the hall of the House of Representatives. The persons respectively having the highest number of votes for either of the said offices shall be declared duly elected; but in case two or more shall have an equal and the highest number of votes for either of said offices, the Legislature shall, forthwith, by joint ballot, choose one of the said persons so having an equal and the highest number of votes for said office.

So far as I can recall, this opening and publishing of the election returns and declaration of the winners has been such an unremarkable duty that most people, including members of the Legislature, pay it little attention. I suppose it’s one of those ministerial duties (except in the case of ties) that is just sitting there in the Constitution waiting for some future controversy to develop. For now, in the midst of the celebratory atmosphere of a new legislature, members are far more interested in the organization of their respective legislative bodies, formalizing the earlier actions of their Democratic and Republican caucuses. 

Worthy of notice is that the naming of House committees, chairs, and vice-chairs by Speaker McCall has yet to occur. Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat named Senate committee chairs and vice-chairs back on Dec. 8. There must be some interesting behind-the-scenes House politics happening. The naming of committees and their leadership will likely occur soon, especially since the Appropriations and Budget Committee and Subcommittees usually begin their work with state agencies before session begins.


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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