Law & Principles , Good Government

Rick Farmer, Ph.D. | January 26, 2022

With 2,300 bills introduced, which ones should you watch?

Rick Farmer, Ph.D.

Fewer than 15 percent of the substantive bills introduced into the Oklahoma Legislature become law. As media outlets begin to report on bills that have been introduced for 2022, how is an interested citizen to know which bills actually have a chance—and which ones are dead on arrival?

The answer is much simpler than you might think.

When the bill-filing deadline arrived this year on January 20, more than 2,300 bills had been introduced for the 2022 Oklahoma legislative session. Previous experience suggests that about 400 will become law. Many of those will be appropriation bills and not substantive policy changes.

A few months ago, OCPA published “A Citizen’s Guide to the Oklahoma Legislature.” The guide describes a series of gatekeepers and deadlines that winnow bills throughout the session.

To deal with such a large volume of bills in a few months, the Legislature imposes several strict deadlines. The most important deadline, by far, is the first deadline for bills to pass out of committee. At the end of the fourth week of session, any bill not having moved from committee back to the floor is dead for the year. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but generally speaking, in 2022 the March 4 committee deadline is a drop-dead date for most bills.

According to research published this fall, more than 70 percent of House Bills and more than 50% of Senate bills will die at this March 4 deadline (see Table 3 in this article in Oklahoma Politics, volume 31). Most will die without a hearing or a vote. Committee chairmen have the sole discretion to determine which bills will be heard in their committee and which ones will be left to die without a hearing.

Generally, a chairman will not schedule a bill for a hearing unless they like the bill and they have the votes within the committee to pass it. This is true of all gatekeepers throughout the process. Very few bills in the Oklahoma Legislature fail to pass on a vote; rather, most die at one of the several deadlines without a hearing. Obviously if 70 percent of House bills die at the first committee deadline and 15 percent pass, only about 15 percent die at any other step in the legislative process. This is why the first committee deadline is, by far, the most critical deadline for a bill’s success.

So how does this help the citizen interested in tracking legislative proposals?

If you are tracking legislation that you hope will pass, begin immediately urging the committee chairman to schedule the bill for a hearing. Without the chairman’s support the bill will be dead for the year on March 4.

If, on the other hand, you are tracking a bill that you hope fails, you probably have little to worry about until the committee chairman places it on a meeting agenda. Roughly 70 percent of House bills will never be scheduled. Senate bills have a little better chance of being heard. If the chairman schedules the bill for a hearing it has about a 50 percent probability of becoming law and you need to engage with legislators immediately.

Here are a few resources that will help you track legislation:

Budget and appropriation bills follow a similar process, although the deadlines are different. (See OCPA’s article describing the budgeting process in greater detail.)

Overall, only about 15 percent of the substantive bills introduced in Oklahoma will become law. With 2,300 bills in the mix, the challenge is to determine which ones are worth watching and which ones are dead on arrival. The key is to watch the committee meeting agendas. They will tell you when to get anxious and when to relax.

Rick Farmer, Ph.D. Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship

Rick Farmer, Ph.D.

Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship

Dr. Rick Farmer serves as OCPA’s Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship. Previously, Rick served as director of committee staff at the Oklahoma House of Representatives, deputy insurance commissioner, and director of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. Earning his Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma and tenure at the University of Akron, Rick can best be described as a “pracademic.” While working full-time in the Oklahoma government, he continued to teach and write. He served as president of the Oklahoma Political Science Association and chairman of the American Political Science Association’s Practical Politics Working Group. In 2016, he was awarded the Oklahoma Political Science Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Farmer has appeared on CNN, NBC, MSNBC, C-SPAN, BBC Radio, and various local news outlets. His comments are quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and numerous local newspapers. He is the author of more than 30 academic chapters and articles and the co-editor of four books.

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