What’s left for the legislative session at the halfway point (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Photo by Becky McCray.
Photo by Becky McCray.

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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

There’s not a lot to report from the legislature this last week. It was spring break in schools so most committee meetings were cancelled and little floor action was scheduled. This is a new, more family friendly tradition that has developed in the past few years allowing legislators time with their families while the kids are out of school. Not long ago spring break was just another week in the legislative process. I think the common school date for spring break has made this possible.

The next legislative deadline will be April 9th in the Senate and April 10th in the House to pass bills out of their assigned committees. Many of the bills that got the controversial headlines at the beginning of the session didn’t make it through the process in their own house of origin. However, some of those bills, because they are hot-button issues or because of the author, made it to the other side where they’ll have to be dealt with. I’ve often wondered how they get rid of good-sounding bad bills in Nebraska where there’s only one legislative body.

But there is still a lot of substantive legislation to be considered that will make the rest of the session busy. The problem of people with no health insurance was highlighted this week when the hospital at Vinita declared bankruptcy. The Oklahoma Hospital Association and others are working to find a politically acceptable way to make the federal money that is there for the taking available for the uninsured. Until that happens healthcare is likely to be subject to continuing intramural competition among various healthcare providers and with state agencies to avoid taking the brunt of the cuts.

Several bills that are intended to ease the overpopulation of our prisons and save tax dollars while protecting public safety are still in the process and ready for committee consideration. The prison problem hasn’t gone away. Hopefully, the legislature will act before someone takes the issue to the courts. Speaking of courts, the leadership in both the House and Senate has announced they will support continued funding for the Pinnacle Plan to improve the child welfare system that came out of the federal court settlement agreement. This is good news but it means that in a zero-sum budget the money will have to come from somewhere else.

In education, dreams of increases in teacher pay and a lengthened school year seem to be running into budget realities. And hopefully legislators will find their way out of the curriculum wilderness created by the repeal last year of the common core. Also, fixing high stakes testing and giving letter grades to schools is still on the education agenda. Someone accurately said yesterday’s reforms seem to be today’s problems. These are just some of the more visible issues. There’s lots of work left to be done on bills important to some segment of our society before the end of May.


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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