More Than 2,000 Bills Filed in Okla. for 2007 Legislative Session

January 22, 2007

More than 2,000 bills have been filed for the 2007 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, including many measures that sponsors acknowledge do not have a chance of passage.

It’s all part of the democratic process, officials say, even if it means a lot of unnecessary paperwork.

How much paper is used during a legislative session?

Figures aren’t exact, but the cost of paper alone used by the House and Senate in 2006 approached $40,000, according to legislative officials.

The 48-member Senate put its total paper cost at $13,972. The House estimate was $25,000, but that did not include the cost of paper used for bills and other material distributed to non-legislators, such as lobbyists, the news media and members of the public.

Also, the cost of the paper is only a fraction of the expense linked to moving paper through the Capitol hallways. Other costs include buying and maintaining equipment and paying personnel who print and distribute all the paper.

The number of bills and resolutions filed before the Jan. 18 deadline for introducing legislation totaled about 1,250 in the House and 1,120 in the Senate.

Those totals were down from 2006, when lawmakers also dealt with hundreds of carry-over bills.

When legislators convene on Feb. 5 to begin considering legislation, they will be in the first year of a two-year legislative session. They can carry over bills for the second year of the session.

Among this year’s proposals that appear to be dead on arrival is a bill by Rep. John Auffet, D-Stilwell, that would allow restaurants to become all-smoking establishments again if they chose to do so.

Effective last March, smoking was banned in all cafes and restaurants, except those that build separately enclosed, ventilated rooms. Restaurants were given 30 months to get ready for the ban under legislation in 2003 that prohibited smoking in most other public places.

Auffet said he introduced the smoking bill at the request of a local restaurant owner who objected to the ban. He expressed mixed feelings about his own legislation.

“I’m not real optimistic about it going anywhere,” he said. “It’s just a request bill. I have sympathies both ways.

“I understand the idea that people like to run their own businesses, yet there is part of me that understands the necessity for the prohibition for public health reasons.”

While scores of bills were introduced to cut various taxes, including the income tax, Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, filed a plan that would eliminate the income tax altogether effective next January.

Since the income tax is the No. 1 revenue source for state government and Key is not proposing a way to replace the lost tax dollars, he was asked if his bill had a chance of becoming law.

“Well, politically, no. I realize that,” he said. “But from a policy point of view, I think it is justifiable.”

Key was elected last year to the House, where he previously served for six years. He is best known for activities surrounding conspiracy theories linked to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168.

He said he favors consumption tax over the income tax, although he did not propose a new tax in legislation he filed this year. Although it takes a simple majority to cut taxes, a three-fourths vote is required to raise taxes.

During his 2006 campaign, he said getting rid of the income tax was “a popular idea that people brought up on their own a lot.” He said his plan may not get very far, but “it puts something on the table for people to consider and think about.”

It’s not unusual that lawmakers introduce bills they know have little chance of passage.

House spokesman Damon Gardehire said it is all part of “a winnowing process” and an effort by legislators to represent the wishes of their constituents.

He said the House, under new speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah, is working on a plan to reduce the amount of paper lawmakers have to deal with.

One way will be to increase the use of lap top computers, “so not quite so much paper is generated,” he said.

Although the deadline for filing bills that have the force of law has passed, the stream of legislation is not over for the upcoming session.

So-called “simple resolutions” are exempt from the deadline. Those measures typically express legislative intent or preferences on a wide range of issues, from how agencies should conduct business to what action lawmakers think Congress should take.

The last few years, House members have been limited to introducing eight bills each, not counting appropriations measures.

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