Armed with its largest supermajority in the state’s history, Republican lawmakers found increased legislative success this year as the number of successful bills written by Democrats fell.
An Oklahoma Watch review found that of the nearly 600 bills that made it through the legislative process, only 28 had Democrats as the bill’s original lead sponsor.
That total is the lowest number of Democratic-originated bills to be signed by the governor during the opening year of a new Legislature since at least 2013.
With Democrats introducing about 540 bills this year, just over 5% of those made it to the governor’s desk. In the last four other opening years of a new Legislature in 2019, 2017, 2015 and 2013, Democrats were passing closer to 10% of the bills its members introduced.
Nearly 20% of all bills passed this year.
Oklahoma Watch’s count categorized bills by who was listed as the lead author on the original version. Many bills have lawmakers sign on as co-sponsors after they are introduced. It’s not unusual to have bipartisan sponsors by the time bills are in their final form.
But the analysis offers a look at some of the impacts on the legislative process as Republicans have solidified their influence in the Legislature over the years.
Democrats held a majority in the statehouse as recently as 2002. With just 19 members in the current 101-member House, they have lost seats or failed to pick up seats in nine consecutive elections.
And in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a 39-to-9 majority, Democrats are near their all-time low.
Bills that have found success in bluer states, such as measures to increase the minimum wage, hold police more accountable or moving to a popular vote to elect the next president, failed without a committee vote. But many of the Democrat-led bills that did pass this year in Oklahoma were not overtly liberal proposals.
Those include proposals that outline the rights of a sexual assault victims, add professional development requirement for teachers and creates a sales tax exemption city-county library systems.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, joked at the end of this year’s session that among Democrats’ top accomplishments was just surviving.
“Is it frustrating? Some days more than others,” she said as she recapped the year on the final day of the session. “Would I like to see more (Democratic) members? Of course I would, but this is where we are right now.”
Floyd said Democrats continued to play a role in shaping other legislation and working across the aisle on several measures.
“When you consider our size, I think we outperform quite often,” she said. “Our debates are pointed, they are researched and even though we can’t sway a vote, it doesn’t mean our constituents aren’t being heard and it doesn't mean we can’t sway public opinion on occasion.”
Floyd added that, at times unlike the GOP majority, Democrats tend to provide a unified front that can boost their influence.
“We usually vote as a unit,” she said. “It’s not because of any pressure or anything, it’s just how our constituents think.”
GOP leaders applauded the work of the Legislature this year.
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, noted that this session saw more "pro-growth conservative wins than ever before."
And Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, disagreed that this year, which brought controversial legislation involving protestors, abortions, critical race theory, was politically polarizing.
“The people who are on the losing side think it's divisive, the people on the winning side — the vast majority of legislators and the vast majority of Oklahomans — feel this was extremely successful,” he said. “Every session has its ups and downs … but if you look back at it overall, this was an extremely successful session.”
Trevor Brown covered politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues for Oklahoma Watch. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc