Ada — Long before I was first elected to the State Senate, the Legislature had sessions that actually run much longer than those I’ve experienced. For many years, the session began in January, rather than February as it does now. And there was no defined date for ending the session.
The Constitution merely said lawmakers had a set amount of legislative days in which to conduct their work. Unfortunately, they found ways to stretch those sessions out, recessing the session to meet in committee only, which they argued didn’t use a “legislative” day, or even covering the clock with a black cloth so that a day was not the eight-hour work day you might expect, or even 12 or 16 hours. A “legislative day” might be 24, 26, or even 30-plus hours.
First of all, this was more expensive for taxpayers. Lawmakers have a salary that is established by a constitutionally mandated Legislative Compensation Board (unlike Congress, we cannot raise or lower our salaries at all.) But in addition to that salary, lawmakers receive mileage and per diem, to cover the cost of driving to the Capitol and staying in Oklahoma City during session. The longer the session, the greater the cost was.
Another serious issue was the fact that the new budget year, also called the “fiscal year” begins on July 1. In years when lawmakers had difficulty deciding major funding issues, the budget was passed on or even after July 1. This gave state agencies no time to adjust their own budgets and plan for the fiscal year.
Fortunately in the late 1980’s, then Governor Henry Bellmon headed up an initiative petition drive called S.O.S., for “Shorten Our Sessions.” It was approved by the people, and went into effect that year.
Now the legislative session always begins in February, and must end by no later than 5 p.m. on the last Friday in May. In order to keep the legislative process on track, each chamber adopts a series of deadlines to keep things moving at an orderly pace. We just passed the final deadlines for committee action on Senate bills in the last week of February, and are already looking at our next big deadline—all Senate bills that were approved by committee must be heard and voted on by the full Senate by March 13, or they will be dead for the remainder of the session.