The only two lawmakers who didn’t introduce any legislation last year have returned to the Capitol this year with plenty of offerings.
In the Legislature’s 2011 session only two members — Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, and Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City — filed no legislation.
At session’s end, the two said they didn’t file any bills because they were frustrated with Republican domination of the Legislature and “bullying” by legislative leaders concerning their past proposals.
But this year, the two have come back with gusto.
Cannaday filed eight bills, the limit for most House members.
The most important one is a bill to ensure full funding of flexible health benefits for teachers, Cannaday said. Last year, the state education budget shorted the teacher health benefit program.
Cannaday said he hopes the education health benefit funding problem has been solved for this year, but his proposal would provide a “safe harbor” to ensure the problem doesn’t recur. Sixteen other Democratic House members have signed on as additional authors to Cannaday’s bill.
Another Cannaday bill would limit the ability of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to file lawsuits to determine rights to use water and require the agency to broadly notify and respond to people who live near affected waterways.
Water is a hot issue in rural eastern Oklahoma as the state, tribes and out-of-state interests debate how water can be used or sold, Cannaday said.
“It’s not a partisan issue … it’s a regional issue more than anything else,” Cannaday said.
Cannaday also has offered a bill that would allow county commissioners to offer a bounty of up to $10 for each feral pig killed within the county. People seeking the bounty would have to deliver the pig’s lower jaw and tusks to the county clerk and sign an affidavit that the animal was killed in the county. The county clerk would be required to keep the affidavit and the jaw, under the proposal.
Cannaday said feral pigs are a big problem in rural Oklahoma, especially in areas close to wildlife preserves. The jaws and tusks would be needed to prove that the dead pig was not a domesticated animal, he said.
The bill was suggested by an FFA student and counties would not be required to participate in the program, Cannaday said.
As a member of the minority party, Cannaday couldn’t say if any of his ideas will ever see the light of day in the legislative process this year.
“Will we get heard? I don’t know. I felt like this year, I was going to give it that old college try,” Cannaday said.
Hamilton introduced five bills, including one to mandate a life-without-parole sentence for anyone convicted of raping a child under the age of 14.
Hamilton said in the past she has agonized over legislative votes on proposals to make child rape a death penalty crime.
Hamilton said people who rape children deserve to be removed from society, but she doesn’t want the government to kill people. The life-without-parole option is the best solution, she said.
Another Hamilton bill would make it illegal to pay women to harvest their eggs. The bill says college students and poor women are disproportionately vulnerable to being lured into compromising their reproductive and ovarian health by people seeking to harvest their eggs.
Hamilton said she doubts she will push that legislation because big money interests will oppose it.
“I really would like to see that become law, but I don’t think it has much of a chance,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said it will be difficult for Democrats to get their bills heard and voted on this year, but she is determined to try.
“I represent the same number of people as anyone else in the Legislature,” Hamilton said. “They deserve a voice. I’m going to try to be that voice.”
Meanwhile two other lawmakers — Rep. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, and Rep. Jerry Shoemake, D-Morris — failed to file any new legislation this year.
Condit said he has several ideas for legislation, but opted not to file them as bills because he thinks they will stand a better chance if he introduces them as amendments to other bills instead.
Condit pointed out that he has co-authored several bills that were introduced by other legislators on important issues, including water rights.
Condit filed eight bills last year, seven of which never cleared the first step of a committee hearing and remain alive this year. The eighth bill, a measure clarifying that the murder of any state corrections worker could be punishable by the death penalty, was signed into law May 3.
Shoemake said that with more than 900 new bills proposed in the House this year, he isn’t sure any more are needed.
“I think we ought to be taking bills off the books instead of putting them on there,” he said.
He added that he can still be effective working on other legislators’ bills, including working as a co-author, and that he has five shell bills that he filed last year that he could use if needed.
Shell bills are filed to mark sections of law to be changed without specifying the changes, which can be filled in later in the legislative process.
Session opens with governor’s speech
The Oklahoma Legislature convenes at noon Monday.
One of the first orders of business will be hearing Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State speech, which is scheduled to begin shortly after 1 p.m.
Any member of the Oklahoma Legislature can file bills.
The filing deadline for most bills was Jan. 19.
Some 962 new bills were filed this year in the House of Representatives and 972 in the Senate.
Most House members are limited to filing eight bills. Those in certain leadership positions can file more, as can members who receive permission from the speaker.
Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, filed the most House bills — 38. Faught is the chairman of a committee that oversees state boards and agencies that will be automatically eliminated unless extended by the Legislature. Most of his bills deal with those so-called sunset issues.
Sixty-three of the 99 House members filed at least eight bills this year.
There is no limit on the number of bills that senators can file. Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, filed the most bills this year — 63.
Bills that were filed last year and that did not fail in recorded votes in committee or floor votes remain alive this year.
Some 965 House bills and 753 Senate bills remain alive from last year, meaning a total of 3,652 bills are available for consideration by the Legislature.
At the end of this legislative session, any bills that have not been approved by both houses and signed by the governor are dead.
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308