Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The OK State Had an OK Legislature

Samuel A. Kirkpatrick. The Legislative Process in Oklahoma: Policy Making, People, & Politics. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

The author notes most of the public knows little about the state legislative process. Meanwhile, legislators have dual roles in representing their public constituency while also making laws for the entire state. There is no set way for how legislators balance these sometimes competing responsibilities.
In Oklahoma (circa 1978), any legislation could be petitioned to be brought to a popular vote, except for bills with emergency clauses. Legislators could also opt to place a proposal for a popular vote.

Legislators have powers to confirm executive branch appointees, oversee the executive branch, and how the power of impeachment. These powers, or just the ability of exercising these actions, help keep the executive branch from drawing legislative questioning and responding.

The Oklahoma Constitution requires each bill be limited to one subject, be funded, be uniform, and that revenue bills must begin in the House (although they could be amended by the Senate, nor could they be passed on any of a session’s last five days, unless it concerns a revenue bill that the Governor pocket vetoed).
The Oklahoma House had 109 members upon statehood in 1907, then had 92 members in 1921, 123 in 1953, and 101 in 1971. The Senate began with 44 members and changed to 48 in 1965.

Legislators tend to be more upper class with fewer females and racial minorities than found in the general population. A majority of Oklahoma occupations are found in less than 10% of legislators.
Oklahoma legislators from the 1963-64 through 1975-76 session who were born in Oklahoma ranged from 67% in the House one session to 84% in the Senate another session.

When the courts required “one person, one vote”, the Democratic majority of Oklahoma legislators redistricted by forcing Republican incumbents to run against each other and avoiding having Democratic incumbents from running against each other.
The author observed that legislators approaches their legislative roles in different fashions. Some were strict rule followers, some innovators, some brokers who sought compromises, some were delegates representing their constituents, some trustees who voted their conscious, and some who followed political roles and operated to advance their political party. On issues, some legislators are facilitators, some resisters, and some neutral. A five state study concluded Oklahoma legislators tended to be more ritualistic and had fewer brokers than was observed in the other four states.

A study found in 1971, the turnover rate nationwide among State Senators was 24.6% and among State House members was 32.3%. The frequency of reelections (usually every two to four years) and low pay were factors in why some left. Longer sessions did not seem to influence members leaving, suggesting that legislators were more apt to stay on even if sessions were longer if they felt they were accomplishing things with the longer sessions, which indicates more legislators enjoyed legislative work.
The author found that about 40% of Oklahoma legislators were “lawmakers” who devoted much attention to their legislative duties, about 12% were “reluctants” who tended to not be active and followed what others did, about 23% were “advertisers” who work in high profile manners yet often soon leave for career moves that their high profile work helped lead them towards, and about 25% were “spectators” who enjoyed legislative activity but did not actively participate as much as others.

There were about 30 legislative councils with outside staff who assisted legislators between 1907 and 1917, yet they were mostly sparsely staffed with few resources. In 1938, the Oklahoma Legislative Council was created and became fully functional in 1947. This office provides legal, fiscal, and research assistance to legislators regarding legislation. In addition, legislators may obtain information from the Legislative Reference Division of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

From 1959 through 1976 in Oklahoma, 34.4% of all House bills proposed and 37.7% of Senate bills proposed were enacted.
The Speaker and President Pro Tempore appointed legislators to committees and who chaired the committees. Technically, the President Pro Tempore recommends committee appointments to the Rules Committee, a committee that the President Pro Tempore appoints. Committee chairs traditionally go to members with longer service, recognizing they usually have more knowledge about issues, although there is no requirement that chairs be chosen on seniority. A committee chair decides which bills could be brought to a vote. Anyone, legislators or the public, could petition a committee to consider a bill. Such petitions had no legal force but often drew attention and pressured action on specific bills.

Roll call legislative votes are strongly influenced by political party affiliation: Democrats tend to vote as do other Democrats and Republicans tend to vote as do other Republicans. When there were votes with no party principles involved, legislators appeared to be apt to vote according to what would be most beneficial to their constituencies.

It is noted that legislators were not necessarily impressed with other legislators who spoke excessively during floor debates. Legislators had more favorable opinions of members who spoke less. One leader stated “the talkers don’t accomplish much around here. Nobody likes them.”

Lobbyists have been seen as major influences on legislation in Congress and in state legislatures nationwide.

A study by the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures analzed the abilities of legislatures to handle information about bills, operate functionally in acting upon their legislative duties doing so in an accountable fashion, with independence from the Executive Branch, and in being representative of constituents. They concluded California had the most effective legislature, Oklahoma the 14th , Pennsylvania the 21st, and Alabama the 50th most effective.


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