A number of constitutional amendments have been proposed this year that would shake up the Legislative Branch of the Oklahoma government. These proposals, if passed, would go to the people at the November election to be voted up or down. If they pass a vote of the people, they have the power to change what the Legislature is and how it functions.
The first set of these proposals deal with how often and for what purpose the Legislature meets. Three proposals from the Senate, SJR5, SJR37 and SJR39, would require the Legislature to only meet during odd years. This proposal if passed, would force the Legislature to consider all bills in a single session with no increase in session duration. This could potentially make the single session more confusing and rushed with a shorter amount of time to consider and debate bills. Of the two proposals, only SJR39 is the odd one out as it does not reduce Legislative pay.
An alternative proposal
from the House, HJR1003, HJR1077 and SJR45, would change the type of bills considered by the Legislature. Under this proposal, the Legislature will only be allowed to consider appropriation bills during odd number years and all other legislation in even years. The appropriations and budget reached during the odd years would be for financing the duties of the government for a length of two years. This particular proposal has been successfully implemented in other states. It would allow the Legislature to focus more carefully on where the money comes from and where it goes.
The next proposal, SJR43, would reduce the Legislature to a single house rather than the two we currently have. It would remove the House of Representatives and leave only the Senate. It would not change the number of Senators. This one might be a tough sell to the people and other members of the Legislature, particularly the House. It would effectively remove a key check from the checks and balances provided by our current government. By having two houses with two different makeups and groups of voters, the strength of a single political party is reduced in the State. under this proposal, it would be far easier for a majority party to influence the direction of the state. This would make it far harder for minority opinions and issues to get heard.
The next proposal, HJR1015, is one that has been introduced nearly every year recently. It would change how the Legislature is paid. Currently there is a board that determines the pay of the Legislature. It meets regularly and sets the pay schedule. However, if this proposal is passed, it would get rid of the board and replace the pay schedule with a formula. It pay members of the legislature a salary that is equal to the average income of Oklahoma households. This could offer an incentive to pass smart legislation that increases the income earning potential of Oklahoma citizens.
The final proposal, HJR1012, would remove the Legislature entirely from the redistricting process. Currently, the House draws the House districts and the Senate draws the Senate districts. I don’t think it is hard to see why this might be a problem. This process allows for the majority party to muscle minor party Legislators out of their seats and protect the seats of friendly incumbents. Under the proposal, this power would be stripped from the Legislature and be replaced by a committee with a non-partisan makeup. The members will be chosen as follows: The House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tempore will pick two members each. The the minority leaders of each house will also pick two members each. The commission will then pick a ninth member by majority vote. This would make current redistricting process far more fair and less biased.
This are just a few of the many proposed Constitutional amendments. We will report of a few more and watch these very carefully.