Freshman state lawmakers return to school

Thursday, November 18th 2004, 2:43 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Only days after being sworn into their new positions, about three dozen new lawmakers were in school Thursday learning some of the ins and outs of their new profession.

The freshman representatives and senators attended the first ever Law School for Legislators in Oklahoma City hosted by the Oklahoma Bar Association.

The workshop featured presentations by several experts in the legal field, including Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Supreme Court Justice James Winchester and former state Rep. Ray Vaughn, R-Edmond.

Edmondson, who presented an overview of the Oklahoma Constitution, urged lawmakers to consider the far-reaching implications of their proposed laws.

He recalled once attending a legislative hearing where several librarians were seeking a new law that would make it a misdemeanor crime to steal a library book. Although Edmondson told the panel it was already illegal under state theft statutes, the bill was passed into law.

As a result, Edmondson said someone could now steal a rare library book worth thousands of dollars and only be charged with a misdemeanor.

``Be careful when someone comes to you with what sounds like a good idea,'' he said. ``Not every good idea needs to be in law.''

Vaughn, an attorney forced out of office this year by term limits, urged members to maintain a sense of humor and not to take themselves too seriously.

``I often told new members that being a legislator is a lot like my golf game _ 90 percent frustration and 10 percent exhilaration,'' Vaughn joked. ``If you can keep that 90-10 ratio, you're doing pretty well.''

Vaughn also encouraged new members to develop a specialty and to study the rules and procedures _ both of which he said will make them more effective legislators.

Justice Winchester focused on the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. As part of his presentation, Winchester presented the lawmakers with three different scenarios and then asked them to break into groups for discussion.

Under one scenario, he asked participants if they thought the Supreme Court should intervene in a case where a legislator, angry about an apparent violation of House rules, asks the Supreme Court to get involved.

The consensus among those in attendance was that was a matter for the House to decide, and Winchester agreed.

``Do you think I want to come upstairs every time you all don't get along?'' he asked. ``No way.''

Woodward Republican Jeff Hickman said it was helpful to understand the roles of the different branches of government and how they worked together.

``Not all legislators are lawyers, so this is really helpful to those of us who aren't,'' Hickman said.

John Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association, said the workshop was also an opportunity to let members learn about their association without any political motivation.

``There was nobody lobbying for a bill or a position or anything partisan,'' Williams said. ``We just wanted to let them have a chance to gain a little knowledge.

``Every person that goes to the Legislature makes law, and every member of the bar association is dealing with those laws.''