Representative Randy Terrill (R-Moore) said today that Speaker Kris Steele used a “strong-arm mechanism to get votes” on an Emergency Clause to a bill which would have transferred many powers of the State Board of Education to the State Superintendent. The procedure, a Call of the House, essentially put the House Chamber on lock-down for about an hour. House Sergeants were ordered to prevent members from leaving and to find absent members and bring them to the chamber to vote. Terrill called the move “an abuse of power” the likes of which the House hasn’t seen in some time.
The move was requested by Rep. Jason Nelson (R-Oklahoma City). Speaker Steele told Oklahoma Watchdog he did not ask Nelson to make the motion, but added that he supported the maneuver because it was “important enough to merit a vote.” Five members of the House did not report after the hour was up and the final vote tally was 63-33. A measure needs 68-members, two-thirds of the body, to approve an Emergency Clause, so the effort failed. an Emergency Clause allows the bill to become law as soon as the Governor signs it as opposed to 90-days after signing for non-emergency bills.
Oklahoma Watchdog sent e-mails to the five absent members: John Bennett (R-Sallisaw), Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City), David Derby (R-Owasso), Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) and Mike Ritze (R-Tulsa) asking them about their absence. Rep. Derby responded, “I had a doctors appointment that couldn’t be changed. I voted yes before the call and was not able to make it back for the second vote. I did not anticipate this happening today.” After session, Representatives Reynolds and Ritze remarked that they had no idea there had been a Call of the House. Rep. Ritze even stated that the question from Oklahoma Watchdog was the first he’d heard about it even though he had been in the House Chamber several minutes after the vote was taken. Representatives Bennett and Christian have not responded so far.
Speaker Steele says “it’s not my style” to retaliate against members of the caucus, but added that “we’re going to have an opportunity to address this.” Steele went on to say that House Bill 2139 is good for Oklahoma and he’s interested in supporting Superintendent Barresi and all other elected officials to be able to do the job voters asked them to do. Barresi’s first attempts to hire her own staff were thwarted by the Board of Education at its January meeting. Under current law, the Board has all hiring and firing powers for the Department of Education. Steele says there is a Senate Bill that has an Emergency Clause attached, so there will be other opportunities to get a bill passed that will take effect quickly.
Terrill says he voted against the Emergency Clause not on the merits of the bill, but to protest what he calls an “oppressive rules regime” that prevents conservatives from getting their bills or amendments heard. He said, “why wouldn’t immigration or gun bills have as much right to be heard as banning smoking or a hospital provider tax or increasing bonded indebtedness?” Terrill says his decision to vote No on emergency clauses has nothing to do with an investigatory committee that has been formed to look into his actions last year on a bill which created a position in the Medical Examiner’s Office. That committee is holding closed meetings, something Terrill opposes.
Speaker Steele says he is “not aware” of an issues that are making some conservative members unhappy. He says his door is open if members want to talk.