Oklahoma House Adopts New Rules Over Democrat Objections

Monday, February 5th 2007, 8:12 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Over the objections of Democrats, the Oklahoma House Monday adopted new procedural rules that the Republican majority said will open up the legislative process and make the chamber more even handed.

Democratic opponents said the changes did not go far enough and complained that amendments they proposed were either rejected by the GOP majority or not heard at all.

``All we were trying to do was open this process up,'' said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.

In spite of the changes, Morrissette said the rules still prohibit bills from being amended during debate on the House floor, a process that was common before Republicans took control of the chamber three years ago.

Morrissette tried unsuccessfully to amend the rules, including one proposal to prevent the chairmen and vice chairs of House committees from forming their own political action committees. The amendment was tabled. Republicans hold a 57-44 majority in the House.

Several Republican committee chairmen have formed PACs that accept donations from lobbyists and others who have an interest in legislation heard before the committees. Morrissette and other opponents have charged that the PACs could lead to conflicts of interest and other problems.

The new rules alter the amendment cycle for legislation from three days after it is heard in committee to 24 hours after it is placed on the House calendar for a hearing on the House floor. Morrissette argued the period should be extended to 48 hours to give lawmakers more time to suggest changes.

GOP Floor Leader Greg Piatt, R-Ardmore, and Speaker Pro Tem Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, said the new rules were developed by House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, with help from House Democrats, including Democratic Leader Danny Morgan of Prague and Democratic Floor Leader James Covey of Custer City.

``The House Democrat caucus had input into this new set of rules, with the speaker giving away a significant amount of power and changes to the amendment cycle at the request of the minority leader,'' Blackwell said.

Among other things, the new rules eliminate the speaker's ability to vote by proxy during committee hearings, requiring the speaker to be physically present in order to cast a vote. It also applies the rules to special sessions of the Legislature.

Morgan told reporters the new rules were an improvement over those they replace that were adopted by the GOP majority in 2005. Morgan described those rules as ``heavy handed.''

Democrats complained at the time that the rules essentially shut them out of the legislative process, with one former member, Rep. Opio Toure, D-Oklahoma City, describing them repeatedly as ``willy-nilly rules.''

``These rules are better than the ones we were under,'' Morrissette said. ``They're better than last year, but they could have been better.''