January 8, 2019The Journal Record |
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Legislature convened Tuesday for an organizational day and established several rules for lawmakers to follow this year, including a controversial ban on videos by legislators from the House floor.
The ban would include media that have become popular in the Capitol, such as Facebook Live, which streams live video to the platform.
House Majority Whip Terry O’Donnell presented the rule changes and defended them from critics.
O’Donnell said the video ban protects members from being recorded against their will, either in the background of someone else’s video or as the main subject when the shooter is recording surrepticiously. He noted the House maintains a media staff that archives the hearings’ live audio and video recordings. Those recordings capture what members are consentually presenting to the public.
“Every proceeding in this chamber is videotaped,” he said. “If you have something you want to say, get on the mic and join the debate.”
State Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, raised several concerns, as did other lawmakers. When the live video stream in the House sees higher-than-normal demand, the site can become overextended and drop service. Streaming allows members to explain what is happening on the floor in real time. It also gives them the opportunity to address constituents from the floor.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin raised similar concerns, but also said the measure creates a shroud of secrecy for members when they aren’t on a hot mic.
“If you don’t want the people to know what you’re doing on this floor, either don’t do it or do it somewhere else,” she said.
The state constitution requires lawmakers to hold these organizational days every two years to certify election results, formally elect chamber leadership and to establish the rules that members must follow during proceedings.
During the day, the Senate was relatively quiet and streamlined while the House of Representatives was rife with debate and partisanship.
Senate Republicans informally voted Sen. Greg Treat, R-Edmond, as the Senate president pro tempore during the 2018 legislative session. However, that decision has to be technically finalized during the organizational day. His formal appointment passed unanimously.
Like Treat, House Speaker Charles McCall won an informal re-election vote during the 2018 session, but had to undergo a formal vote on Tuesday. He won, but not unanimously. Democrats voted against him en masse and pitched their own candidate. The same occurred when House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright went up for his re-election vote.
Then it came time to vote on House rules. Each chamber establishes its own rules and votes on them during the organizational day. The Senate’s rules were approved quickly. The House spent more than an hour discussing and debating the measures, including the ban on video.
There were other controversial rule changes.
One would allow the House to allow bills to begin the committee process and move to the House floor without a Senate author on the bill. Democrats said that would allow the chamber to waste time on half-baked ideas.
Another rule change would ban members from voting from the viewing galleries, which hover above the main floor. Democrats said many of their offices are on the fifth floor, closer to the viewing gallery than the main floor entrance, and that the rule targeted minority members who might be talking with constituents during floor proceedings.
Democrats also opposed a rule allowing the speaker of the House to waive the 48-hour notification requirement on hearings. They said members need to know when bills are getting committee or floor votes. Under current rules, members can suspend the rules to bring bills to a vote more quickly. But suspending the rules requires a formal vote. With this rule change, the vote to suspend wouldn’t be necessary. Virgin said given Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act exemption for lawmakers, that rule was the only assurance members and constituents could have that they knew a vote was happening.
All of the rule changes passed in a partisan vote, with 75 Republicans voting in favor and 22 Democrats voting against them.