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Oklahoma legislators file more than 3,000 bills and joint resolutions for coming session

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Oklahoma lawmakers prefiled almost 3,100 bills and joint resolutions for the first session of the 59th Legislature, which gavels in Feb. 6.

This year’s total includes 1,116 Senate bills, 18 Senate joint resolutions, 1,901 House bills and 44 House joint resolutions. Those measures will now be assigned to committees in their chambers of origin, with committee chairs generally given the power to decide which are taken up and which are not.

Joint resolutions are similar to bills but are rarely used for anything except legislative referenda placed on statewide ballots. These are usually constitutional amendments, which must be submitted to a vote of the people, but occasionally legislators will send a proposed change in statute to the ballot voluntarily.

Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives rules require that most bills and joint resolutions be filed before the start of the session. This year’s deadline was Thursday.

There are exceptions to the prefiling rules. The House speaker and the Senate president pro tem can introduce bills anytime, as can some of their chief lieutenants. Budget and appropriations bills generally are not filed until near the end of the session.

A large share of House bills — more than 400 this year — are shell bills, which means they contain no substantive language. These are essentially spares to address issues that may develop during the session, although in some cases shell bills are placeholders for planned legislation that misses the prefiling deadline.

Shell bills are put into play with committee or floor substitutes that replace pro forma language with the actual legislation.

The Senate does not allow shell bills but has more liberal rules concerning amendments.

Unlike the U.S. Congress — and the Senate — House rules require that amendments be germane to the bill’s original subject. So multiple House shell bills are filed for all 93 titles and subtitles of the Oklahoma Statutes.

Of the near 3,100 bills prefiled, most will be sidelined in less than a month and only about 400 will eventually make it into law.

Because the Legislature operates on a fixed timeline, gaveling in on the first Monday of every February and adjourning no later than the last Friday in May, it sticks to a strict succession of deadlines. This, too, is unlike the U.S. Congress.

The first deadline is March 3, when bills and joint resolutions that have not been passed from committees in their chambers of origin are considered dormant. Because this is the first year of a two-year legislative cycle, those bills can be brought back next year except for those voted down on what is called “final action.”

A negative final action also bars other measures on the same subject from being heard during the two-year legislative cycle, so committee and floor votes are rarely taken unless the author is confident of the outcome.

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Joined by his youngest daughter Jackie and wife Christine, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler speaks at the Tulsa Police Department Wednesday about Oklahoma's mental health crisis, which he calls a "gaping wound" that the state legislature needs to prioritize more. Kunzweiler was allegedly stabbed by one of his daughter during a mental health crisis in his home Tuesday afternoon, police said.

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