BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Of the 101 members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, 76 will be Republicans and 25 will be Democrats. Currently, there are no independents or third party members in the House.
At the end of last session, there were 73 Republicans and 28 Democrats in the House. The percentages that are most interesting relate to emergency enactments and rules suspensions. Both of those procedures require 68 votes.
What that means is that in the last Legislature there were enough Republicans to pass any law that they wanted and to adopt an emergency effective date that they wanted and to suspend any legislative rule that they wanted.
This session, with the addition of three more Republican legislators, their power is expanded.
Because of SQ 640, adopted in 1992, no revenue bill can become law without the votes of at least 75% of the members of both the House and the Senate. Therefore, the only thing that the Republicans could not do last session was increase taxes without at least three Democrats joining in the effort.
SQ 640 became a real issue last session when the oil and gas industry and its cohorts tried to ram the Step Up Plan down the throats of the Legislature.
Step Up was an attempt to cap the gross production tax at only 4% and throw a bone at enough teachers to take the pressure off the industry and ignore the fact that public education had received 28% in cuts over the past decade.
When the Democratic caucus refused to let the oil and gas industry continue to name its own tax rate – and held out until the GPT was raised to 5% so that public education, including textbooks, teachers and support personnel would take a step toward adequate funding – the effect of SQ 640 made the Republicans work across the aisle.
With a 76-member supermajority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, that will no longer be the case.
The situation in the state Senate is very similar. At the close of the last session, there were eight Democrats in that 48-member body. This year, nine Democrats will be seated in the Senate. The fact that the number of Republicans in the statehouse went from 40 to 39 will have little effect since that chamber’s 75% Republican supermajority is not in jeopardy.
Legislators will begin pre-filing legislation over the next few weeks. When the final language of the bills is filed in mid-January, the House speaker will sort the bills out among committees. Each committee will have a Republican chairman and a Republican vice-chairman who will determine which bills will be heard and which will not receive a hearing.
What is clear is that the people of the state of Oklahoma have spoken. Our state has a Republican governor and every statewide officeholder is a Republican and both houses in the Legislature are held by a Republican supermajority.
The most urgent questions surround whether the legislative agenda of the 57thLegislature will be a repeat of the four prior legislatures under Gov. Mary Fallin and whether Oklahomans will notice.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House