Greetings from the state capitol!
First of all, kudos to the Claremore school counselors profiled in these pages recently. Your job responsibilities have changed so much in the last 20 years, and your challenges have increased. I salute you and the spirit in which you approach your profession!
The last two weeks before session were loaded with agency budget hearings, including their “performance reports”. Five large agencies presented their budget requests in joint hearings, streamed live from the House Chamber. Together, the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Human Services, the Health Care Authority, and the Regents for Higher Education account for 74% of the appropriated budget.
The $600M plus in new revenue expected this year isn’t looking all that solid, as oil and gas prices remain lower than projected.
In addition, about half of those revenues are also spoken for in required state obligations, such as ad valorem reimbursements to counties and schools. We’ll know more in a few days when the Board of Equalization certifies the exact amount the legislature will have to appropriate.
That two week period was also the time when the public got a look at new bills. In addition, there are many initiatives that don’t fit in the priorities outlined in the Governor’s State of the State speech, which didn’t see specific bill language. They are “works in progress”.
For example, we need to complete the unfinished work brought by the passage of SQ788 legalizing medical marijuana, and we are just seeing the language of the “Unity” bill. January 17th was bill filing deadline, and the end of the day saw 1733 bills and 21 joint resolutions filed by House members alone. Before you feel too sorry for those of us who will consider them, know that it isn’t as bad as it sounds.
House members are allowed to file as many bills as they want, but by rule, only allowed to carry eight, unless there is some sort of special circumstance, or if it is a “leadership bill”. Hundreds of these bills are “shells”, meaning they have a topic or a title, and no language yet.
The Speaker of the House filed 400 such shell bills all by himself. These bills will all be assigned to one of 32 different policy and appropriations and budget committees and subcommittees. Typically, a representative will serve on 4 different committees.
The number of bills will be winnowed as session proceeds: similar bills are often filed since legislators don’t know the full extent of what others might be filing, and usually, only one emerges; committee chairman have the authority to hear or not hear a bill; committees may not pass a bill; if a bill makes it out of committee, it may not get a floor hearing; and of course, just because a bill survives a House vote, Senate and Governor consideration lay ahead.
Members who manage their time well by reading, researching, and reflecting on the bills as they are assigned to their respective committees, or as they emerge and are placed on the House calendar, can keep up with it.
Sometimes, that makes for late nights reading bills, especially when 30 or so drop at one time. That’s okay as lots of people work all day, and then some. When you read them, you just hope you find more amending language than new law!
I filed many more bills than I will be able to run. But in broad strokes, they focus on:
1. The accountability/executive branch reforms I’ve run before (probably moot as House and Senate leaders will run their own versions as part of a negotiated deal with the Governor).
2. Use of county transportation funds within city limits (one of these days, I’ll get that one through).
3. Better precinct worker compensation.
4. Several bills inspired by what teachers told me these past two years, and what I heard on the doorstep during the campaign, about unions, political speech, and disrespect (mostly designed to protect, empower and support individual teachers).
5. Increasing the alternate paths for non-traditional educators to enter the profession, today classified as “emergency” (alternative) certification.
6. Doubling the Constitutional Reserve (Rainy Day) Fund.
7. Leadership request bills (including one on debt management in the state treasurer’s office).
8. An assortment of shell bills, many as “subject/title” placeholders in anticipation of possible needs later in session.
As always, please drop by the office if you happen to be in Oklahoma City. You can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd, Rm. 441, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.
State Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.