The first deadline for next year’s Legislature has already passed (Capitol Update)

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.

Although the legislative session does not begin until February 4th, the first deadline of the session, the deadline to request drafting of a bill, passed last Friday. There are usually several thousand bill requests made by the 101 House members and 48 Senators. A couple thousand of these will make their way into the hopper as an introduced bill. If past is prologue, many of these will be “shell” bills designed as placeholders, giving legislators time to develop their ideas. Shell bills defeat the purpose of deadlines, but they have become commonplace in the past few years.

There’s no way to know what the bill requests are until a bill is introduced. But the issues remain the same as they have for the past several years. The legislative leadership discussed some of them at a State Chamber public policy meeting last week. All seem to agree that education funding remains a top issue as it has for at least a decade. Leaders in both the House and Senate have promised additional funding, but I haven’t seen much appetite for more revenue. Some are estimating that legislators, for the first time in years, will have an additional $300 to $500 million to spend this year. But if they plan to use a big chunk of that for education there are a lot of other needs that will go unmet.

Look for a lot of talk about education reform, too, either with or in lieu of funding. Most, if not all the so-called education reforms passed beginning in around 2009 turned out to be a bust and were mostly repealed or amended as mistakes. In fact, the micromanagement of education through some of these reforms resulted in the massive teacher dissatisfaction that has led to the current teacher shortage. Two reforms that most everyone gives lip service to are smaller class sizes and more classroom personnel, but they both cost money.

On another front, an encouraging signal has come from President Pro Tempore Greg Treat who mentioned the possibility of finding a path to some sort of Medicaid expansion, perhaps by expanding Insure Oklahoma. This could have a dramatic affect on areas where Oklahoma falls behind other states such as health care, mental health, and corrections. By finding a politically acceptable way to bring home the federal Medicaid dollars, mental health and substance abuse treatment would be the biggest winners. This, together with reforming our criminal justice system, would also help relieve our overcrowded corrections system, now home to many who would be better and more economically served by mental health and substance abuse treatment in their communities.


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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