Refuting Your Legislators’ Excuses for Not Abolishing Abortion

Tim GillespieAbolitionism

As we prepare for another Oklahoma legislative session set to begin Monday, it is important to understand some of the excuses you are likely to hear from legislators that do not particularly want to deal with the controversy surrounding the abolition of abortion. But before we get into those, there are a few things you need to understand about the process.

The legislature works on a two-year cycle.  The 58th Legislature was seated following the 2020 elections.  They have two regular sessions: the 2021 Session and the 2022 Session. Bills submitted for the 2021 session that were not either voted down or voted through are still alive for the 2022 Session. (This is why the bill numbers continue into the second year but are reset at the beginning of the next two-year cycle, or the next Legislature).

Generally the Legislature operates within 3-to-4 week “windows.” They start with committee hearings where bills are heard in the committees in the chamber of origin (House Bills in House committees and Senate Bills in Senate committees). The next deadline is for bills to be heard on the floor (by the entire chamber) in the chamber of origin. When passed by the committee by the floor, bills then move to the opposite chamber to be heard in committee, then on the floor. There are deadlines for each of these windows. That said, there are ways around these deadlines. No bill is ever really dead until it is either voted down or until the final gavel falls in late May of even-numbered years.

A term you will hear often is “shell bill.” A shell bill is a bill that has minimal language in it, usually just the title of law and the title of the act. I will explain the title of law in the next paragraph. The title of the act is simply that: “The Act for X, Y, and Z in Oklahoma,” or something similar.  In other words, it is the shell of a bill and the rest is added as an amendment or substitute at a later date.

You also need to understand title in relation to law instead of the act or bill. This title does not mean “The Act for This, That, or The Other in Oklahoma.” It is the title of law where the new or updated law will reside. For example, Title 21 is for Crimes and Punishment. Title 63 is for Public Health and Safety.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, what are some excuses you will most certainly hear this year?

The bill must be in the correct committee.

Generally, bills dealing with abortion are assigned to the committee dealing with health issues (House Public Health Committee or Senate Health and Human Services Committee), but they do not have to be assigned there. In my years with the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association (OK2A), we had gun bills assigned to a number of Committees, including the Judiciary Committee and even Rules Committee. For a Senate bill of abolition, the Judiciary and Public Safety (dealing with criminal code) are both possibilities. In the House, they have a State Powers Committee; this is a committee that was tailor-made for nullification bills. In short, there are any number of committees to which a bill of abolition could be assigned. In fact, the committee name really doesn’t matter at all. Do not let them tell you otherwise.

The bill must be in Title 63.

If your goal is to regulate abortion, then yes, Title 63 is where the law belongs. Our goal is not the regulation of abortion as health care.  The criminalization of abortion belongs with the other homicide laws in Title 21. Do not let them tell you otherwise.

I’ll have to get with “staff.”

The respective staffs work for the legislators, not the other way around. However, weak-kneed legislators that want to avoid controversy will often try to deflect blame onto the House or Senate staff. When I was with OK2A I saw several situations where we gave language to a legislator who passed it on to the staff to prepare it for submission and staff changed something (perhaps on accident, perhaps not). The legislator then had staff correct the error. Do not let legislators tell you that staff is telling them they can’t do something. The legislator is the one in control, not the staff.

The Senate likes to “Strike Title.”

You generally won’t see this in the House but the Senate employs this regularly. Striking Title has its legitimate purpose, but it is also used as a quiet way to kill a bill. A bill cannot be passed into law without its Title. Remember, the Title is the section of law where the new law will reside. It is its permanent residential address, so to speak. You cannot put a law into statutes if you don’t specify where it goes. Sometimes they use this to keep the bill moving while they work on some issues with the wording. Often, though, this is done to keep it from ever passing. It is easy enough to determine which is the case. If the one asking to strike the Title is hostile toward the bill, he simply will not give consent to reinstate the title, thus killing the bill. Do not let them tell you otherwise.

The Committee Chair / Floor Leader won’t hear the bill.

Sometimes this is genuinely the situation, but often it is nothing more than an excuse to provide cover for the author when he or she has no intention of championing their own bill. Why would they do that? If a constituent approaches their representative or senator with an issue, sometimes they will submit a bill just because they don’t want to anger a constituent but will tell the chairman they don’t really want them to hear the bill. Sometimes this is done between the representative/senator and the chair and sometimes this is a caucus-wide decision. In other words, there is often collusion with the intent to dupe a constituent.

Passing the buck off to someone else is politics 101. If a legislator doesn’t want to support an abolition bill, it is common for them to blame everyone else at the capitol. “The committee chair won’t hear it.” “The pro tem won’t let it pass.” “The governor won’t sign or enforce it.” But the truth is, if your legislator won’t support the abolition bill with the influence they have, they are no better than the committee chair, pro tem, and governor. Do not let them tell you otherwise.

There are simply too many bills and not enough time to hear the bill.

A few years ago, there was a bill filed to require that barbeque restaurants in Oklahoma use cloth napkins. Another bill would have implemented a Bigfoot hunting license and a Bigfoot hunting season. These are frivolous bills that are a waste of taxpayers’ money and time. There are daily rituals that take place that are also a waste of time. They have time for such things but not to protect the lives of our unborn neighbors?  No; they have plenty of time. Do not let them tell you otherwise.

A couple of final notes:

First, when you walk into the Capitol building you are walking onto the archetypal middle school playground. Almost every year, at some point the Senate gets mad at the House and refuses to hear any House bills until the House agrees to the Senate’s demands…and vice versa. Committee chairs won’t hear a legislator’s bills because he or she didn’t vote for one of their bills. One legislator won’t vote for another’s bill for the same reason. It is quite sophomoric, really. I would like to say that these men and women are there for the greater good and seek to do the right thing, but unfortunately, that is often not the case.

Finally, when they adopt their rules at the beginning of each two-year cycle, they ALWAYS include loopholes for them to get around their self-imposed hurdles. They use the hurdles, and the loopholes, to their advantage. In 2019, when Governor Stitt took office, he let it be known that he wanted the bill allowing permitless carry of a handgun (Constitutional Carry) to be the first bill he signed into law. They threw out the process and deadlines and got that bill on the Governor’s desk in about a month.

When it is a priority, they will make it happen. If it isn’t happening, it isn’t a priority. Do NOT let them tell you otherwise.

Three things to do!
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