Some Oklahoma Democrats angered by state House speaker-elect's request

Thursday, December 30th 2004, 6:45 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Some Oklahoma House members have ignored a memo issued by Speaker-elect Todd Hiett that asks members have their bill-drafting requests prioritized by early this week.

"If the staff does not hear from you by the close of business on Tuesday, December 28, 2004, the staff will not work on ANY of your bill requests until they receive some communication from you prioritizing your bill requests," a Dec. 20 memo from Hiett, R-Kellyville, to all House members states.

Rep. Darrell Gilbert, D-Tulsa, said Hiett jumped the gun by trying to force a new regulation on the House.

Hiett came into the leadership role after the November election, when voters gave Republicans control of the 101-member House for the first time since the 1921-22 legislative session.

"Constitutionally, you have no right or authority to impose anything upon the duly elected members of the House since you have not been officially elected speaker of the House," Gilbert wrote to Hiett. "So, I would appreciate it if you would withdraw your self-imposed arbitrary rule and its deadline."

House members will elect a speaker at their organizational meeting Jan. 4.

Gilbert said Wednesday that he had not complied with Hiett's request.

"He's trying to impose his own philosophy on the rest of the House, and that's not right," he said.

In the memo, Hiett says bill-drafting requests are up 35 percent this year.

"I am greatly concerned about this due to our limited resources and my ongoing desire to conduct the business of the House of Representatives in a fiscally responsible manner," Hiett writes.

House Democratic leader Rep. Jari Askins of Duncan said she understands the concern, but questions Hiett's authority, particularly because he gave members a week shortened by a holiday to respond.

Askins said she told Democratic members that they did not need to reply to Hiett's memo until they had heard from her about further discussions with Hiett's staff.

The deadline for filing bills this year is Jan. 20.

"I can say there are a number of members of my caucus that have questioned the ability to change the rules and set a deadline with only seven days' notice," said Askins, who didn't comply with Hiett's request either.

Hiett says he's comfortable with his decision and thinks he has the authority to make it.

"As speaker-elect, I direct the staff," he said. "It's my job to do that in a manner that's efficient for our process of accomplishing our goals in the House."

Hiett said Wednesday that more than half of the House members had responded to his request.

In past years, Hiett said, House staff members have had to draft hundreds of bills that are never debated. Hiett said he was told that it could cost $25,000 in staff overtime to draft all bill requests.

"This is just a common sense method to make sure that we're drafting the bills that are important to the members and important to their constituents and not just draft bills that will find themselves in the bottom of the trash bin," he said.

Hiett said members could change their minds about their priority bills as long as they decide by Jan. 20.

"Change is difficult for some," he said. "But in this case, change is very necessary.