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Meeting notice problems irk House Democrats

Michael McNutt Published: April 30, 2013

Aggravated House Democrats called on Republicans to follow their rules Tuesday to provide the required 24-hour notice of a committee meeting that decides which measures will be heard on the Oklahoma House of Representatives floor.
They especially are irked that two key bills — cutting the personal income tax rate and changing how the state pays for building repairs — that are part of a deal with the Republican governor and the GOP legislative leaders were added Tuesday to the agenda less than an hour before the House Calendar Committee met.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, and other Democrats pleaded with Rep. Gus Blackwell, who was presiding over Tuesday’s session, to be fair and have the Calendar Committee meet again Wednesday so proper 24-hour notice could be given.
“They could have given us the 24-hour notice,” said Inman on the House floor where Republicans outnumber Democrats 72-29, “instead of using the majority’s power to once again throw aside the rule book and stick it to the minority.”
Blackwell, R-Laverne, said emails about Tuesday’s Calendar Committee were sent out Friday afternoon. But a glitch in the House email system resulted in only two of the 101 members — Reps. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, and Ed Cannaday, D-Porum — receiving the notices on their BlackBerry mobile phones, Inman said.
Inman said the emails did not show up on iPhones, the state-issued laptops for legislators or the desktop computers of the legislators’ executive assistants.
“When they restored the glitch, those emails didn’t come back,” he said.
A reminder about the Calendar Committee meeting was sent out at 8:49 a.m. Monday, which for many members was the first notice of the 8:30 a.m. Tuesday meeting, Inman said.
Blackwell said later that notice of the meeting was posted on the House website during the weekend and that committee members have a responsibility to check on meeting dates.
“While you may not have got it on your email, there were plenty of postings to show it was out there,” Blackwell said.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, met after the session for his weekly meeting with Inman. Afterward, Joe Griffin, Shannon’s spokesman, said the emails are a convenience to members and that members should check the House website for meeting times.
Inman said members received an email at 7:42 a.m. Tuesday stating five measures were added to the Calendar Committee’s agenda. He said that gave members about 50 minutes notice, which was less than the hour notice established by the committee chairman, Floor Leader Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, to add or remove bills.
“It demonstrates bad form and lack of openness and transparency from an administration that tries to do their best to present otherwise,” Inman said.
The committee voted to recommend that both House Bill 2032, which contains the cut in the personal income tax effective in 2015, and HB 1910, Shannon’s long-term plan to deal with state property maintenance and improvements, be heard on the House floor.
Griffin said Peterson’s one hour notice for bills to be added or taken off the agenda is her policy, and not part of House rules. The chairman doesn’t have to follow that policy, he said.
Blackwell didn’t take up the question about that issue. A motion to adjourn already had been made and that took precedence, he said.
Inman said House Democrats will raise the issue again Wednesday. If successful, debate on HB 2032 could be delayed until next week.
“Giving enough notice and giving enough time to study the issue and debate the issue is what we’re here for,” Inman said. “I don’t know why we’re in such a hurry to rush the process.”

– Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau

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