End of Session Legislative Monitoring Committee Report

By Angela Ailles Bahm

I have heard it said time and again that this was a very tumultuous legislative session. Whew -- we made it through. Thank you to all who contacted their legislator about HB 1470. This bill jettisoned the American Rule and changed all actions to attorney’s fee cases. The fix was in HB 1570 that also adopted in large part Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. I, for one, was holding my breath until the very end. But, it was corrected, and we get the benefit of modernizing the rules of discovery.

In the May article, I included a number of bills that had been signed into law. As we all know, because it made a lot of news, there were several bills that pertained to the budget enacted at the last minute. As I write this article, I am aware of several lawsuits filed challenging the constitutionality of some of those bills, in part because of their timing. It is only my opinion and not a position taken by the bar, but I urge you to consider contacting your legislator to start a conversation to change the rules so that the Legislature attends to budget items one year and policy items the other year of the legislative session. (Certainly, exceptions can be written into the rules to allow for emergency situations.)

Gov. Fallin in her May 31, 2017, press release stated, “But we missed an opportunity to do more to reform our budget process and find efficiencies. We still need to do more to address structural imbalances in the state’s budget, fix problematic tax policies and make available more recurring and stable revenue.” Why not allow the Legislature time to learn and study issues that will allow us to appropriately fund all aspects of government?

Gov. Fallin signed 393 of the 410 bills sent to her for consideration; she vetoed 17 bills. Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz’s comments on the session can be found at www.oksenate.gov/news/press_releases.aspx. The House issued a release June 13, 2017, announcing policy working groups they will use to “reduce government waste and increase efficiencies in spending, enhance personal freedom and grow economic opportunities for Oklahomans.” That release can be found at www.okhouse.gov/Media/News_Story.aspx?NewsID=5260.

The Legislative Monitoring Committee will continue to meet periodically in preparation for the 2018 session. Years ago when Duchess Bartmess was chair of the committee, because of her vast experience and knowledge, she would occasionally provide to the legislators a list of constitutional provisions that impacted their bill making. A project the committee is currently working on is to recreate that list with some explanatory, albeit brief, information.

Unfortunately, I have heard all too often that the legislators “don’t care” whether a bill is constitutional, that the issue of constitutionality is up to the court system. If in fact this is the attitude that some take, it is a tremendous waste of our state’s tax dollars for them to pass unconstitutional measures. We are hopeful that armed with this information, they will avoid some constitutional violations. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on what should be included in this list, I would like to hear from you.

During the last legislative session, we created and passed around sticky notes with an email address to which members could email questions about the legal impact of bills they were reviewing. We got a little bit of traction on this idea, and I am hopeful in the upcoming session more legislators will take advantage of this resource. If you would like to be one of those resources, again I strongly encourage you to become a member of the committee. You’ll find the Join a Committee link at the bottom of www.okbar.org.

As always, please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions on how the Legislative Monitoring Committee can improve and better serve the bar.

Ms. Bahm practices in Oklahoma City and serves as the Legislative Monitoring Committee chairperson. She can be contacted at angela.ailles-bahm.ga2e@statefarm.com.

Published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal - OBJ 88 1399 (July 15, 2017)