This year, Governor Fallin signed 394 pieces of legislation. I was the primary Senate author of 11 of those bills. Over 11 days, I am telling the story of each bill – where it came from, how it progressed through the Legislature, and what it means to the people of Oklahoma. This is in keeping with my longstanding support of transparency, and hopefully you’ll find this exercise insightful.
Today, we continue with Senate Bill 1327, which made updates to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.
Like I have in many of these episodes, I again encourage you not to give up just because your eyes glazed over at that last sentence. Most of this stuff ultimately matters to someone’s daily life, and it’s always interesting if you know a little about it.
In this case, this bill presents an interesting look at uniform laws. There is actually a Uniform Law Commission of the United States (incidentally, I was recently appointed to it) that drafts laws intended to be enacted in every state. These are kind of like model bills (discussed in Episode 4), but many of them are more than suggestions. They really need to be adopted in all 50 states, and they need to be uniform to the greatest extent possible. It’s important to remember that though we are 50 separate states, important functions like interstate commerce depend on some uniformity across our boundaries. I don’t believe that adopting uniform laws is a sacrifice of our state sovereignty. It’s simply an acknowledgement that some functions we rely on themselves rely on predictability and uniformity. In this case, the important function at issue is the collection of child support payments.
The UIFSA updates were drafted by the Uniform Law Commission with the intent of keeping up with modern trends, and specifically the need to collect child support not just across state lines, but international boundaries. Adoption of the act was considered so important that Congress made its adoption by every state in 2015 or 2016 a requirement to continue receiving federal funding that facilitates the collection of child support. In Oklahoma, that amounted to at least $50 million.
In 2015, at the request of the Department of Human Services, I authored the bill to make the updates to the UIFSA. In the legislative parlance, this made that bill a “request bill.” You’ll often hear legislators describe a bill as a “request bill” from such-and-such entity. As I’ve stated here in previous episodes, very few bills are not requested by somebody, often a paid lobbyist. I pride myself on introducing a lot of bills that reflect my own ideas and my own vision for where the state should be headed, but there’s no denying that bills requested by an outside entity that has hired a lobbyist are going to have the most success in the process. In this case, DHS is not represented by an independent paid lobbyist, but is instead assisted by state employees who serve as liaisons between the agency and the Legislature. They may not make political donations or do other things lobbyists are known to do, but inside the Capitol, their functions are very similar. They request bills and they help shepherd those bills through the process.
With the threat of losing $50 million, failure to pass the 2015 legislation was simply not an option. And we got it done, but it was not easy. This was because such bills are generally assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the chair opposes all uniform laws and will not hear them. So we had to get Senate leadership to intervene and move the bill to a different committee at the last minute to get it through the process. Additionally, many legislators voted “no” because the bill mentioned the U.S. making agreements with other countries to collect child support. No one could ever explain to me why that was an issue exactly, but I got the impression some people don’t like to acknowledge that there are other countries. Or something.
Anyways, I was glad to be done with that project. But then the DHS liaisons came to me before the 2016 session with some bad news. They had made errors in the legislation and needed to run it again to get the updates correct. This was a reminder of the human element inherent in legislating, especially when we don’t have an army of staff and the process is so rushed.
So, I filed SB 1327 to do it all over again. Since this was a request bill, I advised the DHS legislative liaisons they should probably work with the Floor Leader (who assigns bills to committees) to make sure the bill is not assigned to Judiciary. But it was. And so again, with the intervention of Senate leadership and the blessing of the Judiciary chair, the bill was withdrawn and reassigned to Appropriations.
Title was struck in Appropriations (see previous episodes for a discussion on striking title), not because it was a work in progress (changing even a word of this uniform law would have defeated the purpose) but because all titles are struck in Appropriations as a matter of practice. This is theoretically because bills assigned to Appropriations cost money, and the practice of striking title gives more power to the chairman of the committee to control the progress of the bill. I have not mentioned this in a previous episode, but it is the practice in the Senate that to restore title to your bill on the Senate floor, you must have permission from the committee chairman. In this case, that permission was granted and I presented the bill and an amendment to restore title on the Senate floor on March 7th. It passed 38-8. It was my preference not to get into the issue of the potential loss of $50 million, because part of me thought that information would make people angry and willing to vote against the bill just to spite the federal government. I kept my explanation of the bill to the merits. As it turned out, that was enough.
In the House, we had secured Rep. Randy Grau as the House author. I talked in Episode 7 about how you can author something one time and then the issue becomes yours forever. That was the case here, as Rep. Grau had been the House author in 2015.
Randy had less trouble with the bill and passed it through the House, 81-0. The Governor signed it April 21st.
Failure of SB 1327 would have exacerbated our state’s budget shortfall this year to the tune of at least $50 million. Its passage also facilitates the collection of child support payments, a good thing for kids here and everywhere. As I’ve said in past episodes, some of my bills get attention and some don’t. SB 1327 is representative of the latter, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t significant.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue with another episode of #11BillsIn11Days.