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.
Now that the standing committee work is completed for the 2015 session, the House will be taking floor action on Senate Bills and the Senate will be acting on House bills for the next couple of weeks. Bills that survive the next two weeks will go on to the governor if they were passed in both houses in the same form. If a bill is amended it will return to its house of origin where the author will have the option of moving to accept the amendments and send the bill to the governor or rejecting the amendments and asking for a conference committee.
A few bills have reached the governor already, but with roughly a third of the session remaining most of the legislature’s work remains to be finished. A good number of bills have reached this point in the process as a “work in progress,” and now is the time to sit down and pound out the final legislation. Most bills with any degree of complexity or controversy will end up in a conference committee where the final bill is hammered out.
The action in the conference committees is not just between the House and the Senate conferees, but often between the conflicting interests outside the legislature on a piece of legislation. What one group likes another may not. And it often takes a lot of consultation and work to get the language right even when everyone agrees. It’s an interesting and more focused part of the session. Some dreams of legislatively solving a problem are dashed against the hard realities of bias, politics, lack of money or ambivalence. Some overcome all those things and make it to the finish line.
In the meantime the music in the background-sort of the 900-pound gorilla in the room-is the state budget. With a $611 million budget hole leaders in the legislative and executive branch are beginning the process of paring down the ideas that have been talked about all session and seeing which ones can form the necessary consensus for next year’s budget. Which agencies can absorb more cuts? Which funds are available to take money from? What can be done to cushion agencies that have priority? Sometime between now and the end of May those questions will get answers-some good, some bad. Then there’ll be an announcement that a budget “deal” has been made, and the deal will be put into legislation and voted on. As I heard one agency director say recently in a budget hearing, “these are decisions with consequences.”