Tuesday, June 3, 2008

145 Votes In Two Days

During last week's column I talked about some of the challenges faced by legislators during the final two days of session.

During those last two days, important safeguards are suspended that allow enough time for the review of legislation. Normally, a proposed piece of legislation is required to be posted for a certain number of hours in order to be reviewed properly. This time requirement is suspended during the last two days of session and as a result, some bills are brought to the floor for a vote just minutes after being posted.

On Thursday morning (the second-to-last day of session), the House of Representatives started by 9:30 and held session until midnight. Session reconvened on Friday and legislators stayed in session until after 10 p.m. During these two days, there were 145 recorded votes. This accounts for more than 10% of the votes for the entire 2008 session, and included a vote on one bill that was 388 pages long.

I accepted the challenge of quickly and carefully going through the legislation in an effort to find those pieces that intended mischief, but I don't think it is very realistic for legislators to read and understand bills at the same time as they are listening to debate and voting on other bills.

Certainly most legislators will be less than enthusiastic about reading all the bills, giving careful consideration to their long-term effect, and taking the time to debate them if they are part of a 145-vote marathon legislative session in just two days' time. I can certainly speak to the fact that investing the energy to understand everything over that two-day period leaves one with the distinct sensation that they have just been run over by a large truck (both as a participant in the process and as a taxpayer -- more on that later).

I have learned to be especially suspicious of bills that create large new sections of law that have not yet been brought before the House for consideration.

For instance, one piece of legislation made significant changes in the makeup of a state board that oversees an important part of the Oklahoma economy. I was contacted by a constituent who explained the inside story about how the Legislature was taking action to reconstitute the board in an attempt to eliminate one side of an ongoing dispute. This was obviously done with little notice to most legislators, who likely had no knowledge of the hidden motive behind the bill. That bill passed by a wide margin, despite opposition from a few legislators.

Another piece of legislation took sides in a union dispute by allowing a bigger union to maintain its authority over a smaller group. I doubt there were very many legislators who had any knowledge that this was the actual intent of the bill.

There are any number of reasons why the 2008 session finished in this manner, one of which is because of complications arising from the Senate being evenly divided between the two parties. This results in complicated negotiations that were very time consuming. However, there is no doubt that in future years this system of governing must be reformed.

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