Speaker Charles McCall last week approved 96 of 146 interim study requests made by House members to be held before the legislature returns in February. This is considerably more than the 63 studies approved last year. The larger number of requests and approvals likely reflects the 46 freshman members elected last November. Seventy-one of the 146 requests were made by freshmen members, indicating a wide range of interests.
You can’t read a lot into the 50 request denials. The Speaker doesn’t have to give a reason, and his reason may be different for different requests and different members. It could be that he likes the idea but wants some other member to take the lead or he doesn’t like the idea and doesn’t want it to gain traction. In some instances, it may be about the author. I noticed Rep. Jon Echols, R-OKC, the floor leader, had several requests not approved. No doubt, he could have gotten them approved if he wanted to. A few members may be known to have controversial views that would result in nothing good happening. No reason to give them a platform. There are probably many other reasons, whether the requesting member would agree with them or not.
The denials are interesting, both because the request reveals an interest in the topic by a legislator, and I wonder why the request was denied. For example, Rep. Ross Ford, R-Tulsa, requested a study on residential foreclosures. He wanted to evaluate facts and circumstances to determine whether the property is properly before the court, the foreclosing party has a legal right to foreclose and whether the foreclosing party has engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in order to foreclose.
Rep. Tammy West, R- Bethany, wanted to study the possibility of “ranked choice voting,” a system in place in many cities around the country and in other nations as well as the state of Maine. She believes ranked choice voting to be a more democratic and effective way to ascertain the preferences of a majority of voters rather than the primary system we have in Oklahoma now.
Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-OKC, wanted to study the average teacher salary in Oklahoma compared with other states without averaging in the teachers’ benefits or the superintendents’ salaries, to isolate salaries only. He would also compare the insurance benefits with other states. As matters stand many figures cited do not include exactly how the average was arrived at.
Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-OKC, in partnership with the Oklahoma child Death Review Board wanted to study current practices of state agencies regarding the collection and sharing of statistical data of pediatric firearm deaths in Oklahoma.
Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, proposed to study the Summer Food Service Program for youth, a federally funded school program that helps to ensure disadvantaged children receive the wholesome, nutritious meals they need when school is out. She wanted to try to learn why Oklahoma has ranked dead last in back to back years in providing food through this program during the summer months and to find innovative ways to increase access to and participation in the program to fill the summer nutrition gap.
These are just a few of the ideas that did not make the cut for this year’s studies. You can find the others, both approved and not approved on the House website. Nothing stops a member from looking into an issue herself and perhaps introducing a bill next session. But lack of the Speaker’s approval does deny the member an easily scheduled room, staff time and resources, and an audience of other members to develop the issue and learn more about it. In the Senate, all requests are automatically assigned to a committee, and it is up to the requesting Senator to schedule a hearing with the Committee Chair.