Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Short Session Bothers Legislators

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Short Session Bothers Legislators

Article excerpt

The lights burn early and late at the Oklahoma Capitol this year, the second under the shortened session constitutional amendment adopted by the people. And many legislators are unhappy.

It's not just the long hours that cause the grumbling. There are complaints that there just isn't time to what they were elected to do - give thorough consideration to proposed new laws before deciding whether to enact them.

But one legislator who backed the shortened sessions from the beginning says there hasn't been a fair test yet. Rep. Jim Hamilton, D-Poteau, says changes being studied for bill introduction and committee work, if adopted, should smooth out some of the problems being faced this year.

``We are under undue pressure in the committees now, but I think we can make some adjustments in the time at the beginning of the sessions so more consideration can be given to the bills,'' Hamilton said.

Some legislators have said the greatest danger of the shortened session is that people who haven't been elected to any position at all are having more influence than ever over which laws get passed or amended or never get enacted at all.

``It's just a field day for the lobbyists,'' said Rep. Jeff Hamilton, D-Midwest City. ``The members just don't have the time to study the bills the way they should and the lobbyists are the ones who are telling them what to do.''

House Speaker Glen Johnson said he didn't think the shortened sessions were giving the lobbyists any undue influence. But Johnson did say that ``someone who is up here all the time'' and had continual access to legislators was more likely to get his point across than someone who visited the Oklahoma Legislature only once in awhile.

He and House committee chairmen have said one of the major problems with the shortened sessions was that the deadlines for bill introduction and action have been compressed. This, they say, has forced some of the more complex bills to remain in committee because there just wasn't the time to devote to them.

``We didn't ask for a shortened session,'' Rep. Larry Rice, D-Pryor, said during debate the past week when talking about bills not acted on in committee. ``It's not much fun'' to have to tell a fellow legislator his bill wouldn't be taken up because there just isn't time ``to hear these complex or complicated bills,'' Rice added.

Before the constitutional amendment was adopted in 1989, the Legislature had 90 meeting days in which to conduct its business. But by meeting only four days a week and taking recesses, the sessions often stretched from early January until June or July. …

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