It unfolded over only 36 in-session days due to the pandemic hiatus, but the Oklahoma Legislature sure left a mark this session.
In this episode of Observercast, we wrap up the highlights – and some would say, the lowlights – of the seven weeks total lawmakers met.
It was action-packed, to be sure. It started in February with a laundry list of bills to watch and be wary of: the elimination of the Merit Protection Commission, undermining employment protections for state employees; multiple agency reform bills, including the consolidation of the Department of Transportation and the Turnpike Authority as well as folding the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services into the Oklahoma Health Care Authority; and a measure to make the hill harder to climb to quality an initiative petition for the ballot.
There were some good bills that passed: retired state employees received a cost-of-living-adjustment for the first time in 12 years; mental health parity for private insurance, stricter oversight for virtual charter school, and local rule for rural schools that choose four-day school weeks.
The legislature overrode 10 of the governor’s vetoes, including five of the House Speaker’s measures – one that created a Rural Broadband Taskforce. The governor seems to think he’s the only one allowed to play in the sandbox of telecommunications development in Oklahoma, even while evidence mounts that his “digital transformation” plans were leaving rural Oklahomans and their needs behind.
There were some big stinkers, too, like the perennial election year anti-reproductive choice legislation and the preemption of municipal “red flag” laws. Plus, after a brief day of rejoicing over the state Supreme Court’s lifting the mandate for in-person signatures for notarizing absentee ballots, the Republican-dominated Legislature moved quickly to re-impose the requirement – though it tossed a bone to disadvantaged Oklahomans by allowing them to include a photocopy of their driver’s license or voter registration card in place of the notarization, if an election occurs within 45 days of end of a public health emergency. Like June 30’s primary.
Few things are ever truly cut and dry in the world, and the actions of the Oklahoma Legislature are no different. There was good and bad this year – and plenty of high drama as tensions between the legislative branch and the executive boiled over into public view. But at Observercast, we tried to recap and analyze the needed takeaways from this year … and signal what we need to mindful of when next year’s session begins.