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Oklahoma House moves to fast-track special session by setting discussion limits

by Graham Lee Brewer Published: September 5, 2013

On Wednesday the Oklahoma House of Representatives adopted a resolution limiting the amount of time lawmakers have to ask questions on lawsuit reform bills being taken up during the current special session to three total hours. The resolution, which also places a heavy restriction on procedural maneuvers and prohibits amendments, only applies to the fourteen House bills that will be heard during the session.

The session is costing taxpayers an estimated $30,000 per day, and the resolution is an effort by Republican leadership to fast-track the process. Republicans also argue that since the lawsuit reform legislation is, for the most part, simply being copied and split apart from a previous bill there is no need to spend a lot of time discussing the provisions and there should be none for offering amendments.

“I honestly don't see a reason why it is necessary,” said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “I think it's just dictatorial and starts things off on a bad note. To say, no you cannot have the time necessary to ask your questions, should you have valid questions.”

“If we're here we should do the work while we're here, and I certainly think that we should take the time to make sure that each of these bills is adequate in doing what they should do,” Dorman added.

The resolution sparked debate in the House and became the entire focus of the chamber's floor session on Wednesday.

“… the Q and A time goes on and on and on, and then we have debate,” said Floor Leader Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, on the House floor. “We thought since we want to be efficient and we also want to use the taxpayer money wisely in special session and just try to move it along … This is nothing new, and I think that we can move this along and do the people's business in efficient time.”

Lawsuit reform

The tort reform legislation stems from House Bill 1603, which was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in June because it violated the state Constitution's single subject rule by covering a spectrum of topics, rather than focusing on one specific issue. HB 1603 is essentially being broken down into 30 separate bills in order to stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

House Democrats argue that one third of the House members were not in office during the legislation's original passage and therefore should be afforded the opportunity to properly research and discuss each bill. A handful of Republicans also voted against the resolution, some questioning the time limitations it puts in place.

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