Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nelson Praises Rule Reforms that Open Legislative Process

State Rep. Jason Nelson today praised House lawmakers for enacting the most comprehensive open-government reforms in the chamber’s history.

“The rule reforms adopted this week will dramatically increase public scrutiny of the legislative process and deter the last-minute shenanigans that have often embarrassed our state,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “I was proud to support these reforms and advance the cause of open and transparent government.”

House lawmakers voted to dramatically reform the chamber’s rules of operation this week by requiring that conference committees hold public meetings with recorded votes.

The rule changes adopted were the result of a working group, which Nelson served on. Many of the proposals adopted had previously been endorsed by both Democrats and Republicans.

Nelson noted the House rules adopted this week also give legislators the ability to bring a bill up for a vote in committee even if the committee chair does not initially support the measure.

Under the rules, a bill must be granted a hearing if a majority of committee members sign a petition requesting that a bill receive a vote.

In addition, a bill can be discharged from committee and bypass the committee process if two-thirds of the House sign a petition requesting that action.

“The rules include important safeguards that ensure no one lawmaker can prevent legislation with broad support from receiving a public hearing and vote,” Nelson said. “As a small government conservative, I am not one of those who thinks all 2,000 bills filed each year should receive a vote since the government that governs least typically governs best. But I do believe issues with broad support deserve a hearing, and that right is enshrined in our House rules.”

Conference Committee Reforms

When the House and Senate pass different versions of the same bill, the legislation is then sent to a joint conference committee where a final version is negotiated. In the past, those conference committees did not convene in any actual meeting of the members and no votes were cast in public.

Under the reforms adopted today, the House will establish permanent standing conference committees to handle its half of the process. Those permanent conference committees will hold public meetings and all votes will be cast in public. Advance public notice that includes a detailed listing of bills on the agenda will be required for each conference committee meeting.

In addition, the rules prevent any standing conference committees from meeting during a floor session of the House unless special leave has been granted by the Speaker of the House.

The House rules will continue to prohibit completely gutting a bill in conference and replacing it with language unrelated to the measure’s original topic.

There would be six standing conference committees with 10 members each, including both Democrats and Republicans on each committee.

Prior to a vote in conference committee, the new proposed version of each bill will be publicly posted online for member and public review with a link to previous versions of the bill available with the new language highlighted to facilitate greater scrutiny.

As in the past, for a bill to emerge from conference committee and receive a vote from the entire Oklahoma House of Representatives, the conference committee report must receive the support of a majority of both the House and Senate members constituting the conference committee.

The reforms also include a hard 24-hour rule that requires a House conference committee report to be filed and posted online for a full day before it can be considered on the House floor. Previously, there was no 24-hour rule during the final two days of session.
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