The Edmond Sun

Opinion

June 25, 2012

Cowardly lawmakers should never miss votes

GUTHRIE — Here is one example of a legislative process reform that should take place. I have found it most perplexing that lawmakers can only vote on key legislation during a limited 2-minute time frame. Each year, members of the House cast votes impacting almost every aspect of life: from public safety to education to the expenditure of billions of your taxpayer dollars. These votes occur in 2-minute segments during which time the lawmaker must make up his mind. If the pressure on the lawmaker is too much, this antiquated system allows the lawmaker to duck the vote completely by simply walking out of the chamber and refusing to vote at all. This deprives the constituents from holding their legislator accountable.

There should never be a reason for a lawmaker not to vote, especially when the lawmaker is in the Capitol building.

Last month, the House considered a bill that removed the salary cap of several agency directors. This was obviously a horrible policy because it would allow the boards of various bureaucracies to potentially grant very large salary increases to the agency directors. These caps serve as an important check and balance on state agencies and should always remain on the books. If a cap is too low, it may be appropriate for the Legislature to increase it, but the salary cap should not be eliminated.

As the House vote on the bill was ongoing, several of the agency officials who would potentially receive raises watched from the enclosed gallery above the east wall of the House. During the vote, one of the legislators who aggressively campaigns as an opponent to measures such as this slowly walked back to the voting box only to react with apparent feigned disgust when the vote was closed before he could register his vote. Right after he missed the vote he looked up to the east gallery where one of the agency heads directly acknowledged his cowardly act with an exaggerated and enthusiastic gesture of appreciation.

Observing moments like these are probably the hardest part of this job.

I know that not a single one of that legislator’s constituents will probably ever know what he did that day. He will never be held to account by those who put their trust in him to guard their taxpayer dollars from these abuses. The official vote will show him as “excused” without having taken a position on the bill.

A review of voting tally sheets will show there are several lawmakers who are excused on many if not most votes. Sometimes this is for very valid reasons, but even then constituents are deprived of their representation.

The Legislature should utilize a system to register lawmakers’ votes regardless of arbitrary time limits or location. Using technology, there is rarely a good reason for a lawmaker to miss a vote. And there is never a good reason why all of those votes shouldn’t be recorded and published for all to see. Technology has advanced to the point where policy makers could easily vote from their computers wherever they are, those votes could be immediately published in an open and transparent manner, and never again could a politician duck a vote by claiming he didn’t get to his voting box in time or wasn’t able to be at work.

Fortunately, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the effort to remove the salary caps. This was a courageous act on her part, especially since there were only four members of the Legislature who voted against the proposal.

REP. JASON MURPHEY, R-Guthrie, represents House District 31, which encompasses all of Logan County and a portion of northern Edmond. He may be reached via email at jason.murphey@okhouse.gov, on Facebook at facebook.com/JasonMurphey and Twitter.com/JWMurphey.

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Poll

Do you agree with a state budget proposal that takes some funds away from road and bridge projects to ramp up education funding by $29.85 million per year until schools are receiving $600 million more a year than they are now? In years in which 1 percent revenue growth does not occur in the general fund, the transfer would not take place.

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