by Mike W. Ray
OKLAHOMA CITY (3 March 2017) – The Oklahoma House of Representatives is demonstrating yet again that it is a hyper-partisan institution.
Exhibit 1 was the House Rules Committee meeting March 1.
Multiple bills authored by Republicans and heard in committee that day violated a House rule about germaneness.
House Rule 8.11, “Germaneness of House Amendments,” mandates that, “The House shall not consider any proposed amendment not germane to the subject of the House bill or resolution.” The rule goes on to say that the “controlling factor of germaneness” is the subject matter of the amendment and not the title of law to which the amendment applies.
The dictionary defines “germane” to mean relating to a subject in a relevant and an appropriate way.
The most blatant example of House Rule 8.11 being disregarded was consideration of House Bill 3089 by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wanette, chairman of the Rules Committee.
As originally filed, House Bill 3089 proposed to exempt “any road-service vehicle” from a state law that forbids the installation of flashing lights on most motor vehicles. That prohibition is in Title 47.
Cockroft “shucked” that language and replaced it with a substitute measure which would mandate that no wells or drilling would be allowed “on or under” land acquired by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority without express prior approval from the OTA. That measure would amend a statute in Title 69.
Rep. David Perryman, the House minority floor leader, lodged an objection, challenging the substitute measure as a violation of the germaneness rule. “There is no way anyone can consider this germane,” the Chickasha Democrat said. “It’s two separate titles [of law], two separate issues.”
Rules Committee Vice Chairman Kevin West, R-Moore, who presided during consideration of Cockroft’s bill, ruled against Perryman but offered no explanation for how he reached that conclusion. Perryman appealed but the Republican-dominated committee sustained the ruling on a 6-3 party-line vote.
House Rule 8.11.6 states that, “The question of germaneness is a question of fact to be determined by the Chair as the trier of fact.”
In Lewis Carroll’s novel “Through the Looking Glass” (the sequel to his “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”), Humpty Dumpty says, “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean…”
Exhibit 2 is House Bill 2617 by Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, a retired school teacher/administrator.
HB 2617 proposed an income-tax deduction for any certified school teacher who spends money from his/her own pocket to purchase “materials, supplies or equipment used in the classroom of a public school in this state or which are directly related to the education of students in a public school in this state…”
The deduction would be limited to $500 per calendar year and could not include any expenses for which the teacher had been reimbursed.
Because of repeated budget cuts to education in Oklahoma, many teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money – and some as much as $1,000 or more – to buy items such as hand sanitizer, construction paper and glue, markers, and boxes of tissue for their students to use, and even maps for geography and history classes.
The Republican House leadership assigned HB 2617 to the Finance Subcommittee of the Appropriations and Budget Committee – where the bill was promptly shelved and collected dust; it never received a hearing by the March 1 deadline for House committees to vote on House measures.
Condit wasn’t alone.
The 28 Democrats in the House of Representatives filed 183 bills this year, an average of 6.5 bills each. (House Rule 6.4 decrees that, with but a few exceptions, “no member of the House of Representatives shall be the principal author of more than eight (8) bills or joint resolutions during a session of the Legislature.”)
Of those 183 bills, 30 survived the committee process and were advanced to the House floor for consideration by the full body. A couple of Democrat bills were defeated in committee votes and a handful were laid over for one reason or another. Approximately 140 of them – 76.5%, or three of every four – never received even a hearing in a committee.
House Republicans by the dozens have proclaimed loudly and repeatedly that they support a pay raise for Oklahoma teachers, who haven’t seen their wages increase in nine or ten years. But besides snubbing HB 2617, when the “Step Up” plan (House Bill 1033) was brought to the House floor for a vote Feb. 12 during the Legislature’s second special session, a dozen Republican committee chairs and co-chairs voted against the measure.
HB 1033 was endorsed by a majority of the Representatives, 63-35 – including 10 House Democrats – but because it proposed a $581 million increase in taxes it required approval from three-fourths of the House, 76 members. The bill was opposed by more Republicans (18) than Democrats (17).
Democrats who honored the wishes of their constituents and voted against the Step Up plan were notified by Republican committee chairs – at the behest of House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka – that they should transfer their bills to caucus members who voted for the Step Up proposal.
An example of that was House Bill 2615, introduced by Rep. Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell. That measure proposes to designate the second Saturday of December “a Day of Remembrance” to honor soldiers buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery; the observance would be “in remembrance of their service and to show respect during the holiday season.” HB 2615 passed a House committee only after it was handed off to a Democrat the Republicans approved of.
Yet unlike the 17 Democrats, 12 Republican House committee leaders who voted against HB 1033 were not penalized.
For example, according to the House of Representatives website: GOP Rep. Kevin West remains vice chairman of the Rules Committee; Republican Scott McEachin of Tulsa is still vice chairman of Banking and Business; Republican Rick West from Heavener remains vice chairman of Agriculture and Rural Development; Republican Sean Roberts of Hominy is still chairman of the County and Municipal Government Committee and vice chairman of the Public Health Committee; Republican George Faught of Muskogee is still chairman of the General Government Oversight and Accountability Committee; and Rep. Chuck Strohm of Jenks is still chairman of the Elections and Ethics Committee.
“That kind of petty behavior from House leadership effectively silenced the voices of the thousands of Oklahomans who put their faith in their legislators,” said Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City.
Every House member represents about 37,000 Oklahomans. Thus, House Democrats represent approximately 1,036,000 citizens.
Editor’s Note: Mike W. Ray retired last year after a 45-year career as a journalist on newspapers in Oklahoma and Texas, two years in public relations with Southwestern Bell Telephone, plus 19 years as a media director at the Oklahoma House of Representatives.