Uncertainty covers the current Legislative session, important work remains ahead (Capitol Update)

This week is often referred to as “crossover” week in the legislature. The bills that have passed their house of origin will move to the other chamber and begin the legislative process there, beginning with being assigned to a committee for consideration. There is little, if any, committee work planned for the week. This always works out well when the school calendar and the legislative calendar allow legislators some time to spend time with family and perhaps work in a short vacation.

A layer of uncertainty covers this legislative session because of the coronavirus pandemic. There has been talk that, if the situation demands it, the session could be abbreviated. Social distancing will no doubt change the atmosphere for a while even if the legislature continues its work all the way to the end of May. Unless the virus becomes known to have spread into the Capitol, I would guess the Legislature will finish its work pretty much as usual, perhaps adjourning only a little early, but anything is possible.

It looks like the U.S. Congress is about to pass some legislation to help fight the pandemic and to aid segments of the economy that are hardest hit. Emergencies are usually the time for strong executive action, but it would not be a surprise if some legislative actions were called for. One thing that could be needed is additional childcare capacity and funding for children who are out of school, especially if their parents are in healthcare or public services where they need to be on the job. Unanticipated emergencies may need to be met with relaxed regulations or short-term funding. Hopefully the governor, state agencies, and legislative leadership are looking ahead and planning for what might be needed if or when the crisis becomes full blown.

There are still important legislative issues on the table such as criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion, and education, along with the state budget. A lot of hard work has gone into many of the ideas that are now only half-way through the process. Public safety and personal health must take priority, but hopefully the legislature will find a way to finish its work without leaving too much undone.


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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