The 2016 legislative session is now underway. The preparations for the session actually began long before Feb. 1. Throughout the interim, the time between the end of the last session in May and the beginning of the new session in February, members in both chambers held hearings and studies on many of the issues that will be addressed through legislative proposals we’ll be voting on in the weeks and months ahead.
On the Senate side, 704 Senate bills and 42 Senate Joint Resolutions were filed and are now in the process of being assigned and heard in various committees. A total of 636 Senate Bills and 31 Senate Joint Resolutions carried over from the 2015 session.
Of course political analysts, bloggers, reporters and others like to pour through the bills as they are being filed. Often it is the most controversial or what some may view as the most outrageous proposals that garner the lion’s share of attention. I like to remind everyone that if you hear about a bill you really like, or one that you strongly disagree with, don’t get too excited. It’s far too early in the process for that.
It’s important to remember that not all of the legislation that’s been filed will be voted on in committee. The chairs of committees have the authority to set their agendas. These are experienced legislators, and are in a position of leadership which gives them the authority to determine which bills are viable and are seen as relevant and necessary to be heard in the very limited time committees have to consider hundreds of bills.
You also need to keep in mind that of the bills that are heard in committee, not all of them are approved. And of those bills that are approved at the committee level, many, if not most, are changed or amended in some way, not just in the committee, but as they move through the process. Of the bills approved in committee, not all will come to the floor for a vote. Sometimes the bill’s author learns there are other bills that address the same concern, and they may defer to another author to carry that legislation. In other cases, a member may determine they don’t have enough support for passage of a bill, so they simply don’t bring it up for a vote. Of those bills that are heard, again, many are amended on the floor, and some are voted down. And that’s only half of the process. The bills that are approved by the full Senate must go through that entire process on the House side, just as we will consider the legislation they authored and approved.
One of the big events that got a lot of attention when the session began was the governor’s State of the State Address. Whether you really liked what the governor had to say, or didn’t, my advice is the same. Don’t get too excited. It’s still very early in the session—and the final authority of deciding these policy bills and writing the budget rests with the Legislature.
Given the budget situation, we know this will not be an easy session, and there won’t be any quick or easy fixes. But having served in the Senate in previous economic downturns, I know that when times are tough, we can come together for the good of our state. It’s also true economic downturns do not last. In fact, we have the opportunity to make Oklahoma even stronger.
Contact Senator Mike Schulz at the State Capitol, Room 418, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, or call (405) 521-5612.