Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dorman Seeks to Shine Light on Conference Committee Process

State of Oklahoma
House of Representatives

July 16, 2010

Representative Joe Dorman
House District 65

State Capitol Building
2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 325
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105

Contact: Valorie Rodgers

Dorman Seeks to Shine Light on Conference Committee Process
OKLAHOMA C IT Y (July 16, 2010) One state lawmaker plans to present changes for both Senate and House rules for the coming legislative session to address much of the chaos inherent in the conference committee process, therefore opening the legislation up to more public access.

“I want to bring more clarity and transparency to the process with my suggestions, which I hope will be well-taken given the growing consensus that the current procedure in place has created an environment of secrecy, which is the last thing anyone wants when making laws,” said Rep. Joe Dorman , D-Rush Springs. "Ultimately, it is time the legislators quit talking about transparency in government and put up or shut up."

Representative Dorman serves on the House of Representatives Rules Committee and the Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee, and has a wealth of experience dating back to his almost seven years as a staff member for the Oklahoma House of Representatives prior to being elected.

“I think that if both the House and the Senate embrace a few modifications in either the joint rules which govern proceedings, or in the individual rules of both bodies, we can do a better job as legislators by having the ability to make well-informed decisions on legislation when it hits the chamber floor,” said Dorman. "This has been a problem which has gone on for decades and it is time both sides of the legislative branch and both parties allow openness in the process.”

Rep. Dorman states he plans to propose that all bills sent to conference committee should be returned to their respective committee of origin, or the first committee to hear the bill in the legislative body, in which an actual meeting must occur with attendance of the sitting members. Currently, bills in conference committee are not assigned to committees but to conferees, a majority of which must sign off on the changes in order for the bill to be considered “out” of committee from each body.

"Often times, these conferees are the friends of the author that will be too trusting of the language and sign off on the sheet," said Dorman. "This is when the sweetheart deals are inserted in the process and often have a negative effect on the state."

With Rep. Dorman’s recommendations, a meeting must be held in both the Senate and House to adopt proposed changes. He is also seeking to require at least a 24-hour notice of these committee meetings with the planned agenda in order to allow the public to attend.

"Often times, the public, including the press, has no idea when a bill is being signed out with a conference sheet and they see the bill at the same time as legislators, which in instances in the recent past, has been twenty minutes before a bill will be voted upon by the members, if it is in the waning hours of session," said Dorman. "Each of the candidates for leadership positions has promised transparency and if they don't accept my suggestions, I hope they will present something equal, if not more open."

He is also hoping for rule changes to give committee members the opportunity to amend legislation in committee if significant changes are made from the previous version of the bill, rather than a simple acceptance or rejection of the version presented. As both bodies have to agree on final language, this could slow down the process and prevent procrastination and attempts to pass language members have not previously seen.

“Everyone knows the current process is complicated, and in my opinion, unnecessarily difficult. We can open up the process, provide more transparency and accountability in lawmaking, and do a better job for those who elected us to office if we adopt changes to shine some light on the conference committee process,” said Dorman.

Dorman recently served as an advisor for Oklahoma at the Conference on National Affairs, a program sponsored by the YMCA to encourage high school students to present proposals on how to change national policy for the better. Over 600 students nationwide attended nationwide and several proposals addressed Congressional accountability, including proper understanding of the bills passed by the legislators.

"It is a little generational, and would probably apply to Bob Dylan for my age group, but one delegate summed it up perfectly on this issue to allow time to read and understand Congressional bills and their consequences: 'Legislation is like a Lady GaGa song: No one understands the lyrics, but everyone is expected to dance along,” said Dorman. “It is time we provide that openness and understanding on legislation at the Oklahoma State Capitol."


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