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March 18, 2013

State legislators take look at decorum problems

OKLAHOMA CITY — Flaring tempers, profanity on the floor and flippant remarks during debates highlighted recent breaches in decorum at the Oklahoma Legislature, prompting the Senate to go into a rarely used closed-door session to discuss chamber rules and one member to deliver a public apology in the House.

Uncivil behavior isn’t unprecedented — no one got shot as in a session 66 years ago — but when it happens it turns heads.

“I hit the gavel as hard as I’ve ever hit it,” said Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, the target of Democrats who feared they were being ignored during a late-night debate.

“Frustration is one thing, but you’ve got to keep the decorum,” said Armes, who is in his 11th year as a legislator and regularly presides over debates.

Last week was a legislative deadline for bills to be heard on the floor, and tempers ran high Tuesday night when the House worked until midnight to consider bills. When Republicans, in the majority, decided to cut off questions and debate in order to get several bills passed before the midnight deadline, Democrats objected. One cussed and drew a reprimand. Even after the session ended, a Democrat shouted at Armes.

“Last night things got kind of heated ... I apologize and I mean it,” Rep. James Lockhart, D-Heavener, said from the well of the House the next day, earning a standing ovation from the entire chamber.

Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman said Democrats were frustrated because Armes wasn’t recognizing them for motions or objections.

“Two or three of those members got frustrated and voiced their frustration in a way they shouldn’t have, to be honest with you,” said Inman, D-Del City. “Momma always said nothing good happens after midnight. Well, I can tell you in the Legislature nothing good happens just before midnight, and this was case in point.”

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