A legislative expert has developed a method using a language familiar to most Oklahomans to keep up with tracking the status of bills, which can get complicated and has its own jargon.
It's a lot easier to comprehend that a bill has advanced to its own 35-yard line than to understand the bill has had its second reading and has been referred to a committee for a hearing, said Rick Farmer, a deputy state insurance commissioner.
Instead of saying a bill has had its third reading and has passed out of its chamber of origin, it's easier to say the bill is on the 50-yard line, said Farmer, a former political science professor at the University of Akron in Ohio who worked several years as committee staff director for Oklahoma's House of Representatives before going to the state Insurance Department in 2011.
A bill is on the other side's 20-yard line when it has passed both legislative chambers and is on its way to the governor for approval, which is a touchdown, based on Farmer's legislative football game.
Farmer said he came up with using placement on a football field to describe a bill's status to help his boss, Insurance Commissioner John Doak, who is from the business field and had little experience with the legislative process.
“He's a businessman, not a politician,” Farmer said. “I needed a way to communicate the complexities of the legislative process in terms that a layman can understand.
“That kind of resonated, and it made me realize that this is a really good way to communicate to people that don't know the complexities of the legislative process,” he said.
Farmer said he developed the concept further, and came up with rules to determine yardage gains and losses for each twist and turn a bill takes.
“People can take the rules and use it to track legislation that they're interested in,” he said.
Oklahoma's legislative session begins Monday and is scheduled to run through late May.
In Farmer's legislative football game, all bills start at their own 20-yard line. Most bills die at the first committee deadline because they won't get a hearing. Getting a committee hearing is a big step, or a 35-yard pickup in Farmer's game.
“That's a big deal; you're on the way,” he said.
Most procedural steps are 5-yard gains. Setbacks, or penalties, include a hostile amendment being attached to the bill or a procedure to remove the title, meaning the bill has to come back for another hearing in that chamber.
Farmer said he's suggested political science professors use the concept to help explain the process to students. He's used it at seminars for those wanting to know more about the legislative process.
Football is an easily understood metaphor and a fun way to think about the legislative process, he said.
“The question is, is this bill that I'm interested in going to pass or not?” he said. “Well, it's on the 40-yard line — it's made a lot of progress, it's got a long way to go. That's all you really care about it, isn't it?”