MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

March 25, 2013

Busy week ahead for legislators after slowdown

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Last week brought few bills and even fewer votes in the Oklahoma Capitol, but both the House and Senate are set to ratchet up the legislative tempo this week.

The pause – informally dubbed “spring break” by many around the Capitol – was a kind of political reset, as proposals that have cleared the chamber they started in now have moved over to the other, where members may never have seen them before.

“Basically it was sit down, read the bills, try to get another opinion,” said Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa. “We aren’t really familiar with these House bills. So many of them passed in the last week of session for them.”

The leisurely approval pace is also set to change this week, with 25 House and Senate committees set to pore through almost 170 bills by Wednesday. Among them are Republicans’ plan to overhaul workers’ compensation and a proposal to lengthen the public school year by up to five days.

The so-called spring break also followed a breakneck deadline week. For an idea of the slowdown’s scale, three weeks ago the House approved more than 140 bills, one day debating until midnight. Two weeks ago, representatives passed three. It was much the same in the Senate, where five bills passed, down from 134 the previous week.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s any less activity,” said Nathan Atkins, the spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman. “It just is a different kind of activity.”

Another reason for the slowdown is largely procedural: Even if legislators knew what they wanted to do with the bills that have crossed over, those proposals first must be voted up or down by a committee. That hasn’t happened yet. Only seven of the House’s three dozen committees and subcommittees met last week, for example.

Some bills were approved – a hotly controversial measure allowing commercial horse slaughter passed a Senate committee, for example. But Senate rules require a lag time between committee approval and coming to the floor.

“It couldn’t actually be heard by the floor under our rules until this coming Tuesday,” Atkins said.

Although the break week is an annual event, this year’s was also unusual in its timing, which might partly explain the Capitol’s relative quiet.

“This is my ninth year, but I don’t recall a time when the spring break for the public schools was the same as the first week after the deadline,” Crain said. “My daughters are in high school and college, and it was an opportunity to spend time with them.”

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