Many bills in Oklahoma Legislature pass without 'no' votes
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
5/29/12 at 7:40 AM
Read more about the
legislative session and
find contact information
for your state legislators.
OKLAHOMA CITY - It's unanimous.
A high percentage of 2012 votes taken in the Oklahoma Legislature on House and Senate bills brought not one "no" vote.
In the state House of Representatives, 33 percent of 697 votes analyzed by the Tulsa World this year were unanimous.
In the Senate, 67 percent of the votes were unanimous.
Depending on who you talk to, that's a sign of consensus or of a herd mentality.
Rep. Phil Richardson, R-Minco, who voted no 11 times on analyzed House tallies, said in order for the Legislature to get things done, lawmakers have to rely on one another for expertise.
Richardson, a veterinarian and a farmer, is respected among Republicans and Democrats for his thinking on agricultural issues. He is the chairman on the House Agriculture Committee.
But, he pointed out, there are lots of other issues where he has no expertise, and he looks to other lawmakers for guidance.
"I'm certainly no authority on health-care issues and the DHS issue and certainly not on workers comp or legal issues. I rely on certain people," he said. "I think we have a real strong Legislature that way."
He said he isn't afraid to vote no, but he also isn't afraid to rely on others.
Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said there are many unanimous votes on the floor of the House because of the hard work done in the committee process before the votes occur.
"We rely on our committees to do the first round of heavy policy vetting of the thousands of bills that are filed each year," said Steele, who voted no only 10 times this year. "The measures that come up for floor votes have already been vetted and supported by a committee and that often makes is easier for those bills to receive support on the floor."
Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, said he isn't surprised to learn about the high number of unanimous votes in the Senate.
"It's not as surprising when you're down here," he said. Ford voted no only nine times in 761 Senate tallies analyzed by the World.
The competing forces within the Legislature - Republican and Democrat, rural and urban districts, big cities and little ones - all have a voice in shaping proposals, so that, in the end, everyone can sign off on the product, he said.
Two of Ford's bills received unanimous votes along their legislative paths. On two other occasions only one lawmaker voted against Ford's proposals.
Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, whose 126 "no" votes tied for the No. 1 spot in the Senate, agreed that lawmakers rely on each other for guidance and the result is unanimity at times.
"Unfortunately, we can't know everything about every issue," she said. "So we look to folks in our caucuses who are experts in those areas, who have vetted those issues."
The key to that process is making sure that the lawmakers who are shaping opinions are trustworthy, she said.
Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, said that's not good enough for him.
Ritze said his pledge as a lawmaker is to put every bill to a four-pronged test: Is it constitutional? Is it burdensome to businessmen or his constituents? Is it moral and just? Does he understand it?
Ritze, a physician with three college degrees, said he isn't going to go for any bills he can't read and understand or have explained to him by the author or a trustworthy source.
"I don't do that in my regular life," he said. "If something is not explained to me or I can't understand it, it's a 'no' vote."
Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, who voted no more than any other legislator this year, said he uses a similar standard.
"I tell people you have to be brave to vote for it, when you don't even know what it's going to be doing," said Reynolds. "That's my mindset."
Like Johnson, Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, voted no 126 times this year. On five occasions, Wilson was the only senator to vote against a proposal.
Being the lone opponent can be an uncomfortable position, he said.
Unanimous votes sometimes legitimately represent bills that everyone agrees to, he said, but sometimes people who should be opposing them don't because they are resigned to losing.
Other times unanimous bills are "gotcha" legislation, designed to expose potential opponents to their political opponents in future elections, he said.
Because he is term-limited, Wilson said he no longer has to worry about the politics of voting his conscience.
"I'm bullet-proof," he said, smiling.
About the analysis
The Tulsa World analyzed "no" votes recorded in the official online House and Senate Journals. For the final day of the legislative session, the House Journal was not available in time for the analysis. House votes for that day were taken from recorded tallies on the House web site.
Recorded votes on all House bills and Senate bills were analyzed. Votes on rules, parliamentary procedures, resolutions, confirmations, attendance and quorum checks, and emergency clauses were not included in the analysis.
Some 697 House bills and 761 Senate bills were considered.
Original Print Headline: Many bills passed unanimously
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308