Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma GOP Leaders Sing the Ol' Conference Committee Blues

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Oklahoma GOP Leaders Sing the Ol' Conference Committee Blues

Article excerpt

Republicans fought long and hard to keep this year's workers compensation and lawsuit reform measures out of a conference committee, but that's where both issues are headed.

History has shown many times our conference committee process in the Legislature has been a graveyard for many, many good bills through the years, said House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. It's also been a place where good bills are watered down.

A conference committee is employed when there is sufficient support for a bill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to keep the measure alive, but the two houses of the Legislature haven't been able to come up with language both can agree on while considering the bill one house at a time. Often the more controversial pieces of legislation will wind up in a conference committee.

Both the House and the Senate will assign a few members of each political party to the conference committee, where the group is expected to come up with a compromise bill. Unlike the regular meetings of the Legislature's standing committees, conference committees are usually not open to the public.

Usually, the chairman and vice chairman of the first committee to which the bill was assigned will serve on the conference committee, with the intent of ensuring that the original intent of the bill is maintained. However, it is quite common for a bill to come out of conference committee containing substantially different provisions than the bill had before it was sent to conference.

Though conference committees are bipartisan, their political makeup will represent the balance of the political parties in the Legislature as whole. For instance, in 2004, when Democrats held the majority in both the House and Senate, the conference committee that dealt with lawsuit reform measure House Bill 2661 was also dominated by Democrats. Eight Democrats and six Republicans from the House were assigned the conference committee, as well as six Democrats and four Republicans from the Senate.

Though HB 2661 began its journey as a 12-page bill, it was soon replaced by a 204-page committee substitute in February 2004. …

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