Tuesday, February 8, 2011

House Adopts Dramatic Procedural Changes

House Speaker
Kris Steele
House members have voted to dramatically reform the chamber’s rules of operation by requiring that conference committees hold public meetings with recorded votes.

“The rules adopted this week represent a major change in the way business is done at the state Capitol,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “While we have made tremendous strides towards increased transparency in recent years, the rule changes we have now adopted dramatically increase the opportunity for public scrutiny of legislative actions and implement greater safeguards against last-minute changes escaping thorough review.”

The rule changes are the result of a working group created in November and many of the proposals adopted had previously been endorsed by Democrats as well as Republicans.

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 this week, 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. To provide extra safeguards against such action, no bill can be assigned to a standing conference committee unless the group’s membership includes the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the traditional standing committee that previously heard the measure.

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

Prior to receiving a vote in conference committee, proposed versions of each bill will be publicly posted online for member and public review with a link to previous versions with changes highlighted.

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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