You may have recently observed the fascinating dialog in the United State Supreme Court as the court heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of the federal health care law.
Can you imagine a situation in which the court makes its decision in the emotion of the moment immediately after the presentation of oral arguments? Fortunately, this did not happen and the justices can take their time and carefully deliberate the facts of the case before issuing a decision. This is the way it should be. Unfortunately, this is not the way the Oklahoma House of Representatives deliberates important policy decisions.
The process leading up to a legislative vote may take as little as a minute or as long as several hours. The author takes questions on the bill, legislators are given the chance to debate, and then the bill immediately goes to a vote. There is no chance to deliberate, take a walk and think about the facts, or research the veracity of the advocates or opponents statements on the bill. The vote is taken in the emotion of the moment. This emotion is only heightened during the two- minute time period during which the vote takes place. Legislators may initially vote for a bill and then change their vote when the bill loses momentum and it appears that they risk being on the losing side. Legislators may also wait to see how other legislators vote before casting their votes.
This is a terrible process for deciding the important policy that impact all of us; too many votes are not based on the soundness of the proposal but on personality, perception of momentum, and emotion.
As bad as this process is, it becomes much worse during legislative deadline weeks. During these weeks legislators cast hundreds of votes, many times late into the night. I doubt many Oklahomans realize that a number of the policies which govern their lives were put into place by sleep-deprived policy makers.
There are any number of absurd outcomes during legislative deadline weeks. Towards the end of the week, the environment in the House takes on a surreal feeling. Legislators are anxious to end work and not in the mood to spend time debating the merits of policy. Two weeks ago, the last bill considered by the House prior to one of these deadlines created what appeared to be a significant infringement on private property rights. It would allow a person’s property to be abated – not based on failure to maintain the property – but based on how many trees were on the property. One legislator desperately attempted to call attention to this provision but found it hard to receive any serious consideration for his concern. As legislators walked off the floor, the bill passed by a wide margin. 31 legislators (nearly a third of the House) did not even vote because they had left before it was time to vote.
This environment incentivizes unhappy legislators to engage in any number of dilatory procedural actions. For example, last year, before the final deadline, a legislator attempted to delay proceedings by reading a bill out loud until midnight when the House is required to stop session. This action served little real purpose as the vote on the bill was simply heard the next day. How many thousands of taxpayer dollars are wasted by tying up legislative staff when a House member engages in such parliamentary foolishness? If you are so inclined, you can view the fillibuster at hd31.org/288.
Sleep-deprived legislators should never be allowed to make policy! The deadline week is too often devoid of reality and is one of the of the worst environments in which to deliberate policy.
It is essential for the House to bifurcate the voting process from the immediacy of a bill’s hearing and debate. The vote on a bill should occur several days following its hearing. This would allow legislators to hear and consider the merits of the proposal, return home to the real world that exists outside of the artificial bubble that surrounds the Capitol, and only then cast his vote. This would greatly reduce the impact of the legislative deadlines, save the taxpayers thousands of dollars that are currently spent on dilatory procedures, and add a bit of sanity to the policy making process.
Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.