The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

March 24, 2013

Legislature to tackle more bills in the coming weeks

Last week brought few bills and even fewer votes in the Oklahoma Capitol, but both the House and Senate are set to ratchet up the legislative tempo this coming week.

The pause — informally dubbed “spring break” by many around the Capitol — was a kind of political reset, as proposals that have cleared the chamber they started in now have moved over to the other, where members may never have seen them before.

“Basically, it was sit down, read the bills, try to get another opinion,” said Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. “We aren’t really familiar with these House bills. So many of them passed in the last week of session for them.”

The leisurely approval pace also is set to change this week, with 25 House and Senate committees set to pore through almost 170 bills by Wednesday. Among them are legislative Republicans’ plan to overhaul workers’ compensation and a proposal to lengthen the public school year by up to five days.

The so-called spring break also followed a breakneck deadline week. For an idea of the slowdown’s scale, two weeks ago, the House approved more than 140 bills, one day debating until midnight. Last week, representatives passed three. It was much the same in the Senate, where five bills passed, down from 134 the previous week.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s any less activity,” said Nathan Atkins, the spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman. “It just is a different kind of activity.”

Another reason for the slowdown is largely procedural: Even if legislators knew what they wanted to do with the bills that have crossed over, those proposals first must be voted up or down by a committee. That hasn’t happened yet. Only seven of the House’s three dozen committees and subcommittees met last week, for example.

Some bills were approved — a hotly controversial measure allowing commercial horse slaughter passed a Senate committee Monday, for example. But Senate rules require a lag time between committee approval and coming to the floor.

“It couldn’t actually be heard by the floor under our rules until this coming Tuesday,” Atkins said.

While the break week is an annual event, this year’s was unusual in its timing, which might partly explain the Capitol’s relative quiet through the week.

“This is my ninth year, but I don’t recall a time when the spring break for the public schools was the same as the first week after the deadline,” Crain, the Tulsa senator, said. “My daughters are in high school and college, and it was an opportunity to spend time with them. I wanted to take advantage of it.”

Two Enid legislators are disappointed there has been no progress on legislation regarding the closing of Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid.

State Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he would like to see the Legislature address the NORCE situation. State Rep. Mike Jackson, also R-Enid, and several legislators tried to bring forth legislation to reassess the decision made by the governor, but they have not had much success due to resistance from the governor’s office.

“I hope the Legislature will allow us to move forward and bring something up. I think we will have the votes on our side to keep NORCE open,” Anderson said.

State Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, admitted he is frustrated by the situation.

“Mike Jackson’s bill failed to get a hearing. I think it’s terrible. We’ve got people out there who cannot function in normal society, which is where they are trying to put them,” Enns said. “I feel terrible about that.”

Anderson also thinks the Legislature needs to go ahead with supplemental appropriations for education and the corrections system. He said schools are suffering with budget issues, and must make decisions concerning the upcoming year.

“If they let teachers go, they have to give notices in the first 10 days of April. There’s been no discussion about addressing education budget issues,” he said.

Anderson also said additional employees are needed in the Corrections Department, and those problems have been known since before the beginning of the session, but nothing has been done.

AP writer Dan Holtmeyer and Staff Writer Robert Barron contributed to this story.

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