As the Oklahoma legislative session draws to a close, the Student Alliance for Violence Education (SAVE) and TU Young Democrats teamed up to highlight bills and how to keep abreast of them. Whitney Cipolla, Student Association Vice-President and President of SAVE, invited Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Outreach & Operations Associate Tyler Parette to talk over dinner. Discussion focused about the legislative process, something that many in the crowd agreed that they knew little about but were excited to understand.
Cipolla originally created the event to give students “a better grasp of the legislative process in our state.” She called attention to four bills in particular: House Bills 1468 and 1005 and Senate Bills 208 and 654. Senate Bill 654 would create a task force for more sexual assault kit collection and testing; Senate Bill 208 pertains to victims’ legal rights; House Bill 1005 would modify what constitutes first and second degree rape. Parette chose to focus on House Bill 1468 in the meeting, using it as an example for the audience to follow along with when describing the path a bill takes through Congress.
From there, he contextualized how bills become law. All bills fit into sections of preexisting legal code. Bills can be added to the law or can update laws that already exist. They are introduced in one chamber of Congress, referred to committees, worked on in committee and eventually the chamber votes on the bill. If it passes it moves to the other chamber, where it goes through the same process.
Parette brought copies of House Bill 1468, a widely-supported change to a bill that increases the window to report assault under certain conditions. With example in hand, the mix of students followed the bill’s changes, from added sections to the votes and the co-authors it had received in the House. Parette pointed out the mix of people who had co-authored the bill with excitement. congresspeople with a variety of political backgrounds and from both parties were attached, which he said was important to note when considering legislation if the crowd ever wanted to be more involved with politics, or simply to get in touch with their representatives. Help for a bill, he said, could come from anywhere.
To that end, Parette pointed the room towards helpful sources to track bills. The Journal Record Legislative Report (jrlr.net) and eCapitol (ecapitol.net) are two websites that track bills through both chambers of Oklahoma Congress. The Oklahoma Legislature’s page (oklegislature.gov) can also be helpful when looking for more information on bills. Tracking bills, Parette argued, is important when asking or talking to congresspeople about bills.
State legislators are tied to their constituents, and often more easily reached, in part because they have smaller districts than federal congresspeople. Parette suggested that people not only contact their state congressperson, but do so calmly and with clear goals in mind. He also pointed out that it is worthwhile to talk to either the congressmember themselves or their aides, both of whom can usually give the necessary answers. Moreover, people are likely to receive calls back from local offices quickly. He acknowledged that oftentimes bills can seem confusing if people do not know why changes were made, and so calling to ask why a legislator proposed a bill can be helpful.
State Congress legislative sessions run from the beginning of February to the end of May. People can keep up with Congressional voting on the above websites, and get in touch with their representatives through Twitter, Facebook, email and phone messages. The meeting emphasized the importance of using all available resources, such as the internet or phone calls, to participate in local government.