The minority party in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for the first time has a voice in determining which bills will be heard on the House floor.
A new rule approved easily last week by the Republican-controlled chamber establishes the House of Representatives Calendar committee, which reviews all bills that were heard by other committees and recommended to advance to the House.
While Democrats make up about one fourth of the 18-member committee, they at least will be part of the process to set the House agenda, and can take part in the discussion on whether a bill should be heard on the House floor, be sent back to committee, or take no action.
Previously, bills were assigned by a handful of leaders of the majority party, and usually just the House speaker and the floor leader.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, elected to the post last month, said it's part of his goal to give all voices in the House a chance to be heard.
Shannon was elected state representative in 2006, two years after Republicans gained control of the House.
The calendar committee is part of the House rules approved last week on the first day of this year's session. Monday kicked off the first session of the 54th Legislature, which runs for the next two years.
Membership on the committee should reflect the approximate partisan composition of the House. Republicans outnumber Democrats 72-29 in the House.
Shannon said it's good for Republicans to have checks and balances on themselves as their majority has gotten to be a super majority.
About one third of the legislatures in the country have a similar calendar committee, Shannon said.
Members have the authority to schedule legislation on the House floor. If committee members agree that a measure requires additional consideration, it may be returned to the standing or special committee.
If two-thirds of them agree, they can designate a measure as a special order, which means it will be taken up on a specific date or a specific time.
“Members of that committee have the opportunity to make amendments within committee for the first time ever,” Shannon said.
The committee is to provide at least 24 hours notice of a meeting. All meetings are to be open to the public.
The calendar committee also is responsible for proposing a regular order of business for the House at the beginning of each regular session. That primarily was the sole duty of the floor leader.