Three early bill filings that caught my attention (Capitol Update)

It’s interesting to read the early bill filings each year. Some are remarkable in the degree of change they would make. Others are not so consequential, and yet others give you the feeling they’ll never see the light of day. I always wonder where bills came from. Are they requested by an advocacy organization, an interest group, or perhaps a constituent? Or are they the legislator’s own idea to fix a perceived problem or improve the state? While a large majority of bills get filed because they have been requested, some are legislators’ own ideas. Three of the early filings, among others, caught my attention. 

Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, introduced Senate Bill 1182 that would greatly expand the authority of county government. As the law is now, counties are political subdivisions of the state that, like state agencies, are limited to actions for which they have been granted authority by state law. If there’s no statutory authority on the books, the county can’t do it. Conversely, cities have the authority to do anything permitted by their charter unless prohibited by state law. 

SB 1182 would allow counties with a population of more than 50,000 to enact their own codes and regulations and to enforce them with penalties or other actions. This bill could be a request by one or more county governments. When I was in the legislature, you couldn’t have passed a bill like this, as many rural citizens had no interest in having to comply with county laws and regulations. We’ll see if things have changed. Today, rural citizens may want the protections of county regulations.

Another interesting bill is SB 1184 introduced by Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole. SB 1184 proposes a “Student’s Right to Know Act.” It mandates the State Department of Education to annually compile and post on its website information things such as the most “in-demand” jobs in Oklahoma, average cost of Oklahoma’s higher education institutions, the average monthly student loan payment, average three-year student loan default rate, average graduation rate for higher education and technology center schools in the state, completion rate for apprenticeship programs and various credentialing programs, the share of college graduates working in jobs that do not require a degree, average starting salary for college graduates, and the average starting salary for technology center graduates. 

The purpose of SB 1184 is to “help high school students make informed decisions about their futures and to ensure that they are adequately aware of the cost of postsecondary education and alternative career paths.” For years, conventional wisdom has been that the best chance for success in life is with a college education. It appears Sen. Taylor wants to encourage students who may have a better chance for success on a non-college track to understand their opportunities. The question will be whether this information is available and at what cost.  

Finally, I noticed SB 1181 by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. SB 1181 provides that any board, director, or elected official who has the authority to enforce the Oklahoma Statutes and fails to do so shall be held liable for damages caused, have their employment or appointment terminated, and their remuneration withdrawn. This bill seems to be the result of some specific incident or policy Sen. Standridge is aware of and disagrees with. 

Since district attorneys and sometimes the Attorney General are the primary authorities to enforce Oklahoma statutes, you can expect them to take an interest in this bill. As written, the bill would eliminate prosecutorial discretion, which is a hallmark of American justice. Other executive boards and commissions also exercise discretion in their enforcement actions, which the bill as written would eliminate. The bill as written will likely have an uphill climb.  


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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