by Senator Ron Sharp
One of the most complex processes of government is the enactment of legislation. From the bill’s original draft to its final approval by the governor, the process is long and tedious.
Once the legislator requests a bill, a legislative analyst is assigned to draft it, and then forwards it to a staff attorney to determine its “constitutionality”. That being said, it is ultimately still decided by the legislator if the bill should be filed regardless of the legal staff’s “constitutionality” opinion.
Although the legislator directs legislative staff to draft bills throughout the interim summer and fall, the earliest the legislator can actually file the bill is in December.
The next critical step for the legislator after filing the bill is to find a legislative author in the opposite chamber to sign on to carry the bill. The original author of the bill must find a legislator in the opposite chamber who can understand and relate to their chamber colleagues the intricacies of the legislation, which could prove to be a difficult task. If a legislative author cannot be found in the opposing chamber, the bill’s fate is doomed.
A bill must pass out of both chambers in the exact same form. A committee report is negotiated between the two chambers to work out any differences in language. A difficult task, indeed!
Both the Oklahoma House and Senate rules require a fiscal impact study on any bills that relate to insurance, state employees, or tax revenue. However, a committee chairman or legislator may request a fiscal impact report on any proposed legislation at any time during the committee process. If fiscal impact information is required or requested, the staff attorney assigned to that committee prepares such a report.
Historically, legislators will file somewhere between 3,000 to 4,000 thousand bills each session. As a result of the vast number of bills filed, and the limited number of days the legislature is in session (first Monday in February until the last Friday in May), the committee chairperson assigned to the bill has complete authority as to whether or not to allow the bill to be heard. Subsequently, at least half the bills filed are killed by the committee chairperson. Once in the committee, members may decide to “do pass” or “fail to approve” the bill.
Argument has been made that all bills filed should be heard before a committee. However, if all bills were heard before a committee, it would be impossible to finish the legislative session within the four months required by the Oklahoma constitution.
Once the bill is on the Senate or House floor, each bill must be read three different times on three different days in each chamber. It can be passed and sent to the opposite chamber on the third day and read for the first time in that chamber on the same day. However, the process rarely moves that quickly.
If all brakes were off, and that is a rarity, the quickest timeline for a bill to become law is five legislative days.
More than 60% of legislation introduced each session comes directly from constituents’ requests.
Less than 20% of legislative bills come from interest groups’ requests. Interest group requests may come from groups including AARP, State Chamber of Commerce, National Rifle Association, Oklahoma Bankers’ Association, State Department of Education, or the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Requests may also come from professional associations like police, firefighters, teachers, farmers, state employees, state retirees, doctors, lawyers, nurses, nurse practitioners, accountants, abstractors or realtors. Only about 20% of legislation is derived from the findings of an interim study or directly from the legislator.
It requires considerable legislative and communication skills to be able to guide a bill through this process. While the Republican Party holds an impressive majority at this time in the Oklahoma legislature, to be successful, a legislator must establish relationships with both majority and minority members in both chambers. And, having a workable relationship with the governor is a must in order to get the bill signed into law.
While those legislators who align with a radical political philosophy are media- or targeted interest group-driven, their effectiveness of carrying legislation through to the final process is often hampered.
Wow! This is a frustrating process, but this is how a democratic republic works! And, for those who do not understand how it works, or do not appreciate the protection of their individual liberties as a result of this deliberating procedure, it is easy to criticize the scrutiny.
Your constituent requests for legislation are very important to me, and now is the time to let your concerns be known. It is an arduous process, and yes, there are a lot of voices out there that may differ from yours, but only by your input can your voice be heard.