“I’m Just a Bill…” Legislative Committees Begin Work
February 20, 2023
“For the Children” Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, OICA CEO
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
OKLAHOMA CITY – The 1st Session of the 59th Oklahoma Legislature is in full swing! Lawmakers have been working at the Oklahoma State Capitol for over two weeks now, and bills are moving through the committee process in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate.
The committees play an important role. Lawmakers collect ideas from constituents, or organizations like OICA, and submit those thoughts to legislative staff who will draft the requests into bills consistent with Oklahoma Statutes, the collection of laws that govern our state.
Once drafted, lawmakers introduce the bills for consideration. On the first reading of the bill on the session’s first day, bills are given a number. The second day, second reading will announce which committees to which the bills are assigned, almost always tied to the subject area to be considered by the bill. Hence, education-related bills almost always go to the Education committees.
Once the committee chairperson (commonly called the Chair) gets the bills for the committee, they determine which bills will be heard, which means the chair allows the committee to consider the bill. This is one of the most important powers of a committee chair, and a large number of bills die when they are not given a hearing.
Bill authors submit a request to the chair of that committee for a hearing and find an author for the bill in the opposite chamber. The lucky bills which are considered will likely have a good chance of moving on to the next step of the process.
Generally, more than half of the filed bills will not make it past the committee phase. Most are either combined with other bills or simply just held over without a chance to move on.
Legislation goes through a roughly six-week process in both the House or Representatives and Senate, starting with committees, and then full House or Senate consideration for bills passed out of committee. Following this first six weeks, the bills still alive go to the other legislative body (House bills to the Senate, and vice versa) and go through the same process: committees, then full House or Senate consideration in the opposite chamber. The bills in the opposite body will be carried by the primary author from that chamber, hence the need for that second sponsor.
There are 29 House committees and 16 Senate committees currently holding meetings on issues ranging from agriculture, education, transportation, and wildlife, to the state’s budget. The Appropriations and Budget committees in each body also have several subcommittees chaired by lawmakers charged with oversight of different areas of government.
Committee chairs and vice-chairs are appointed by the presiding officers in the respective legislative bodies. Those officials are almost always from the majority party, but occasionally a member of the minority party will be selected.
I am sure this is bringing back memories of “School House Rock” on Saturday mornings for many of you. Although that iconic cartoon was made 50 years ago and highlighted the process at the federal level, not much has changed about how bills are considered at the state or federal levels.
If you are interested in a specific bill, now is the time to get active in helping it move forward, so contact the author to see how you might be of assistance.