Education Department reforms move to Senate — without emergency clause

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published 08-Mar-2011

On Monday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives supported a proposal to enhance the powers of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, and define new and more limited powers for the state Board of Education.
House Bill 2139, sponsored by Speaker of the House Kris Steele, is a priority for the House Republican caucus, and part of an effort to permit Superintendent Janet Barresi to run the agency. Thus far, the state Board has refused to allow Barresi to hire senior staff at the department.
Seven members of the Republicancaucus combined with a unified Democratic caucus to deprive the new bill of the emergency clause needed for it to take effect after final passage and the governor’s signature.
“It is important to advance this necessary reform to give the State Superintendent the ability to make personnel decisions in order to carry out the function and goals of the department,” stated House Speaker Steele, of Shawnee. “House Bill 2139 provides a checks and balances in the system. It’s a win-win solution.”
Under Steele’s legislation, the state Education Board will remain involved in school and education issues, accreditation and curriculum matters. However, the powers of the superintendent woud be enhanced.
The bill itself passed with 64 affirmative votes, along the way attracting some Democratic support.
However, in yesterday’s final actions, seven Republicans deprived H.B. 2139  of the emergency clause needed for a law to take effect immediately after a governor’s signature. If the clause is never attached, the law would not be implemented until August.
Yesterday, the emergency clause ultimately fell five votes short of the 68 votes needed.
In an effort to secure votes for the emergency, State Rep. Jason Nelson invoked parliamentary procedure known as “call of the House” compel members to come to the House chamber and vote. While the call was in effect, members could not leave the chamber.
In the end, voting against the emergency were Randy Terrill and Charles Key, both of Oklahoma City.
CapitolBeatOK and representatives of other news organizations were in the press gallery watching as Terrill held his hand aloft in the latter minutes of the roll call, with his thumb down. Observers at first interpreted it as if he was waiting to make a decision on how to vote. Although at his desk, he did not press the “no” button.
Finally, Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Hickman, presiding in the chair, asked if Terrill’s gesture indicated opposition to the emergency. Rep. Terrill, who had frequently looked up to the press gallery, gesturing as if asking reporters how he should vote, inclined his head slightly in response to Hickman’s question, and was then recorded as a “no” vote.
Terrill, under investigation for bribery, later told reporters the call of the House procedure was “the most unprecedented abuse of power in recent memory.”
Five Republicans were missing from the House chamber at the time of the final consideration of the emergency. Although listed as “excused,” they were present at other points during the legislative day.
The five Republicans who missed the vote were Mike Christian and Mike Reynolds, both of Oklahoma City, John Bennett of Sequoyah, David Derby of Rogers and Tulsa Counties, and Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow.
In response to questions from Peter Rudy of Oklahoma Watchdog, who watched the debate and posted a story last evening, Rep. Derby said he “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.”
Both Reynolds and Ritze told Oklahoma Watchdog they did not know there had been a Call of the House. 
After the day’s events, Rep. Ritze said to Oklahoma Watchdog that Rudy’s question was the first he had heard about the call of the House, although, as Rudy noted, Ritze “had been in the House Chamber several minutes after the vote was taken.” Reps. Bennett and Christian had not responded to Rudy’s questions last evening.
Except for the seven Republicans who missed the roll call or voted no, the remaining 63 Republicans backed the emergency clause. All Democrats opposed the emergency.
The measure now moves to the Senate.