The Edmond Sun

February 11, 2013

Giving up absolute power in the House

Rep. Jason Murphey
Special to The Sun

GUTHRIE — Many taxpayers believe the Legislature operates as described in American Government class. They learn that a bill becomes law after first being approved in a committee, then by votes in the House and Senate, and finally being signed by the governor. Imagine the shock of the newly elected representative when he discovers that the Legislature is a different environment than described above.

He can sponsor a bill, convince the chairman of a committee to give his bill a hearing (not always an easy task), present the bill before a committee, and successfully convince a majority of the committee to vote for passage. Because he is new, the representative can be forgiven for making the assumption that his bill will now go to the entire House for a vote. After all, an entire committee has approved the bill, so naturally the bill will proceed to the next step, right?

Actually, this isn’t how it works.

Unfortunately, the new representative may learn the hard way that one individual has unilateral authority over his bill. There is absolutely no requirement for the Speaker of the House to schedule the bill for a vote on the floor of the House. He can kill the bill for any reason. Without his consent, a bill cannot live.

The Speaker has absolute power over House bills. Or he did, until last Monday. Last Monday, everything changed.

During the past few weeks, I have enjoyed serving on a committee tasked with reforming House rules. I observed as Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon commissioned the committee’s work and seeded the idea for dissolving absolute power from the speaker to the members of the Legislature.

Under the leadership of Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Jackson, the committee worked out a process for commissioning a House calendar committee with the responsibility of determining which bills are scheduled for a vote of the House. The committee contains House members from both political parties and has public meetings where the members must hold a recorded vote on the slate of bills to go before the House.

These decisions are no longer behind closed doors, nor are they made by one man.

As you might imagine, this proposal wasn’t uniformly popular. Those who have become comfortable with the status quo know that the House will never be able to justify going back to the old way of doing things. And they are correct. However, this didn’t stop Rep. Jackson from defending the idea with an inspirational appeal to the legislators to put the transparencies in place because it is the right thing to do.

The proposal was approved by the House of Representatives last Monday and minutes later, the first meeting of the new committee was called to order. It was a historic moment that I was honored to be a part of.

By giving up absolute power, the new leaders of the House of Representative are demonstrating that their motivation isn’t to gain and keep power, but to seek to implement good policy. Their actions have forever improved the legislative process in Oklahoma, and the positive implications of this action will last for years to come.



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.