Committee Process Allows Bills To Be Changed At End Of Legislative Session

Wednesday, December 22nd 2010, 11:08 pm
By: News 9

Alex Cameron, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers say it's difficult to make informed votes at the end of the legislative session because of the conference committee process which allows bills to be changed at the end of the session with minimal transparency.

In the chaos of the last day of the 2010 session, among the many bills lawmakers approved were two that would have created an $80,000 transition coordinator position in the Medical Examiner's office.

Governor Henry vetoed the bills, and Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater launched his investigation into the creation of that position, believing the legislative process had been corrupted.

"I can entirely see how something like that passed and folks didn't think a thing of it," said former Rep. Ryan Kiesel.

Following the session, outgoing Representative Ryan Kiesel said it's hard to monitor bills that get assigned to conference committee, as those did because the committees don't actually meet.

"Oklahomans should not mistake the word committee in that name as a meeting of individuals that come together--no, it's a piece of paper that has signature lines on it," Kiesel said.

Other former lawmakers say the system makes it virtually impossible for even the most diligent to cast informed votes at the end of session.

"I have three master's degrees. I cannot comprehend all that information. I'm educated but it comes too fast," said former Rep. Lucky Lamons.

Prater believes that's exactly what some count on. He said a lobbyist confronted him, angry because his investigation threatened to lift the end-of-session fog lobbyists like.

"Yeah, this lobbyist said ‘Well that's actually good. It's good for my clients, because the lawmakers that we work with can get the language inserted into those bills and we can get 'em through the process, without anyone knowing that language is in there,'" said Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater.

House Speaker-designate Kris Steele said in July that he was planning to make the conference committee process more transparent. A spokesman said Wednesday Steele has not backed away from that commitment, but until early February, it's unknown what reforms will be adopted.