Thousands of new bills were filed this week in Oklahoma (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.

Photo by Heather Blacklock / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Yesterday, January 19th, was the second formal deadline of the upcoming session. All bills creating new substantive law had to be filed by the close of business. House and Senate members have developed a custom of waiting until right before the deadline before filing their bills. As of Monday, only 119 bills and 1 Joint Resolution had been filed in the House, and 171 bills and 8 Joint Resolutions had been filed in the Senate. By Thursday night, a total of 2,148 bills and resolutions had been filed for consideration this session.

Going through all of these proposals makes for a frenetic several weeks. It takes a while for all the proposed legislation to be discovered and understood. When most all the bills are filed at the same time, some tend to get buried. You can always count on a collection of gun bills, abortion bills, and other “values” legislation to grab a lot of attention. This is the time people get very worried and spend a lot of energy on measures that may be going nowhere. It’s a good idea to keep in mind that these proposals are important to someone or they wouldn’t get filed. And you can’t stop a legislator from filing legislation. While it pays to pay attention, just because a bill gets filed doesn’t mean it’s going to become law.

But there are a lot of challenges demanding attention this year: Education funding, criminal justice and corrections reform, revenue and budget stability, appropriations reform and probably numerous others. Times like these can produce many “creative solutions,” both good and bad depending on your point of view.

It’s going to be either fascinating or alarming to see what effect the disruptive national election has on Oklahoma legislative decision making. This was an election where things were said that in prior elections couldn’t be said. Proposals were made that in prior elections would have sunk any campaign. And President-elect Trump who said these things and made these proposals received an overwhelming vote here in Oklahoma.

How will legislators, especially the Republican majority, interpret this outcome? Were the Oklahoma Trump voters agreeing with these statements and proposals or were they just voting Republican? Will this be a time when anything goes so long as it is perceived to be anti-establishment? It’s an unsettled time to be dealing with big challenges. We’ll learn a lot this week when we see what shows up in the legislative hopper. One person’s crazy idea is another person’s imaginative solution. Will legislators be able to determine which is which?


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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