By Rep. Mike Sanders
Policy and budgetary discussions are the major topic among state lawmakers, but occasionally we also look at the way we organize ourselves and conduct state business. As part of a new strategy, the Oklahoma House of Representatives came together Monday, November 2, to discuss some of the most pressing issues of the day in preparation for the 2016 legislative session.
Normally, legislative studies are conducted by committees made up of a small portion of the total body of the House. Their intent is to prepare lawmakers for the policy and budgetary work of the upcoming session. However, in order to work on issues that are often contentious, smallstudies do not really help build the coalition needed to move forward in some areas. On Monday, three of four studies took place with an invitation to all members of the House.
The first study focused on innovative education ideas and reforms from other states and other countries. Speakers from the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Southern Region Education Board, along with a leading expert from Paris, presented information to lawmakers on education best practices from around the globe. I prefer to hear from my constituents, rather than experts on education issues, but it is good to know what others may be proposing in the future.
After breaking for lunch, we heard from water infrastructure experts on the state’s ongoing drought conditions and how we might better approach water policy. One of the contentious points about water policy is that different geographic parts of our state have different needs. Some parts are more prone to drought, while others have abundant water and are not eager to share what they have with others. Each geographic faction tends to hear only from their regional constituencies. In this study, we heard various ideas from water policy experts and agricultural and tribal representatives on how to ensure citizens across the state have adequate water supplies in the coming decades. The members also heard an update from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board on the Comprehensive Water Plan, which guides policymakers in water use and management decisions for the next 50 years. Now, all of us have received the same information, even if we may not be in complete agreement.
The third and final study presented an overview of Oklahoma’s court system and how appellate court judges and justices are chosen. I found this study very relevant in light of the issues we have seen with the decisions made by the state’s Supreme Court justices. According to one presenter, the basis for our current system was a Progressive-era push to put experts in charge of public life rather than the “masses.” It was a hard sell and most states did not agree to the judicial system we have in Oklahoma. In many states, citizens elect judges. In other states, there is a simple appointment process similar to the national-level appointment process. If we wanted to change our system, we can simplify our judicial process in a way that gives the governor more direct power or we could open it up to elections. Lawmakers can now discuss these ideas among themselves and see how we want to move forward in 2016.
The House is also meeting in joint session with the Senate in the House Chamber on Thursday, November 5. Capitol management best practices will be the topic. The hearing will focus on a management structure to care for and preserve the building to avoid the mistakes made throughout the nearly 100 years since the Capitol was built and allowed to fall into disrepair.
I am looking forward to discussing each of these issues with more depth during the 2016 session. As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.