Oklahoma Legislature

Oklahoma Legislature
Coat of arms or logo
Type Bicameral
Houses Senate
House of Representatives
President Pro Tem of the Senate Brian Bingman, (R)
since January 4, 2011
Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, (D)
since January 4, 2011
Speaker of the House Kris Steele, (R)
since January 4, 2011
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, (D)
since January 4, 2011
Members 149
Political groups Democratic Party
Republican Party
Last election November 2, 2010
Meeting place
Oklahoma State Capitol.jpg
Oklahoma State Capitol, Oklahoma City

The Legislature of the State of Oklahoma is the biennial meeting of the legislative branch of the government of Oklahoma. It is bicameral,[1] comprising the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate, with all members elected directly by the people. The House of Representatives has 101 members, each serving a two-year term. The Senate has 48 members, each serving a four-year term. Members of both houses are elected from single member districts of equal population. Senators serve a staggered term, such that only half of the senate districts have elections in any election year.

The Oklahoma Constitution vests all legislative powers of the state government in the Legislature. The Legislature exercises the legislative power by enacting Oklahoma law. The Legislature may legislate on any subject and has certain "necessary and proper" powers as may be required for carrying into effect the provisions of the Oklahoma Constitution. The powers of the Legislature are only limited by the powers reserved to the people, namely initiative and referendum.

The Senate and House of Representatives are co-equal houses. However, there are some special powers granted to one chamber only. The Senate's advice and consent is required for gubernatorial appointments to high-level executive positions. Bills for raising revenue may only originate in the House of Representatives. All bills approved by the Legislature must be sent to the Governor of Oklahoma for approval.

The Oklahoma Legislature meets in the Oklahoma Capitol in Oklahoma City. The upcoming (2011–2012) legislative session will be the 53rd Legislature of the State of Oklahoma.


Requirements to hold office


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Section 17 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution established the requirements a person must meet in order to become an elector in either House. Members of the Senate must be at least twenty-five years of age, and members of the House of Representatives twenty-one years of age at the time of their election. They must be qualified electors in their respective counties or districts and must reside in their respective counties or districts during their term of office. To file as a candidate for the House of Representatives or the Senate in any representative district, a person must have been a registered voter in such district and a resident residing within such district for at least six months immediately preceding the filing period prescribed by law.

Restrictions on office holding

Section 18 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits members of the Legislature from also serving as another officer of the United States or Oklahoma State government. The same Section also provides that no person is eligible to election to the Legislature who has been adjudged guilty of a felony.

Also, Section 17A of the same Article implements a 12-year term limit, restricting legislators to a total of 12 years in the Oklahoma Legislature. The 12-year term limit is a cumulative' term limit of 'all service in either chamber, consecutive or non-consecutive, with one exception: any years served by a member elected or appointed to serve less than a full legislative term to fill a vacancy in office are not included in the 12-year limitation. However, no member who has completed 12 years in office is thereafter eligible to serve a partial term.

To prevent the Legislature for engaging in activities or having interests which conflict with the proper discharge of their duties and responsibilities, the Constitution requires the Legislature to enact laws barring such behavior.

In the event of a vacancy in the Legislature, the Governor issues writs of election to fill such vacancies.


The House of Representatives consists of 101 members, representing 101 single-member districts, each with identical populations.

Until the U.S. Supreme Court's 1964 ruling in the case of Reynolds v. Sims, each of Oklahoma's 77 counties was guaranteed at least one House seat. Now though, many of the less-populated rural counties form part of multi-county districts. House District 61, for example, includes the entirety of Cimarron, Texas, Beaver and Harper counties as well as parts of the counties of Ellis and Woodward.

The Senate consists of 48 members, representing 48 single-member districts, each with identical populations.

Current composition

The Oklahoma House of Representatives

Affiliation Members
  Republican Party 69
  Democratic Party 31
 Total 101

The Oklahoma Senate

Affiliation Members
  Republican Party 32
  Democratic Party 16
Seat Vacant 0
Total 48


House officers

The party with a majority of seats in the House is known as the majority party; the next-largest party is the minority party. The Speaker, committee chairmen, and some other officials are generally from the majority party; they have counterparts (for instance, the "ranking members" of committees) in the minority party.

The Oklahoma Constitution provides that the House may choose its own Speaker from among its own members. The Constitution does not specify the duties and powers of the Speaker, which are instead regulated by the rules and customs of the House. The Speaker has a role both as a leader of the House and the leader of his party (always the majority party). Under Section 6 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution, the Speaker is third in line behind the Lieutenant Governor and President Pro Tempore of the Senate to succeed the Governor.

The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House. The presiding officer sits in a chair in the front of the House chamber. The powers of the presiding officer are extensive; one important power is that of controlling the order in which members of the House speak. No member may make a speech or a motion unless he has first been recognized by the presiding officer. Moreover, the presiding officer may rule on any "point of order" (a member's objection that a rule has been breached), but the decision is subject to appeal to the whole House.

The Speaker is the chair of his party's steering committee, which chooses the chairmen of standing committees. The Speaker determines which committees consider bills, appoints most of the members of the Rules Committee, and appoints all members of conference committees. The Speaker is also an Ex Officio voting member on all House Committees. Under the Speaker is a Speaker pro tempore who assumes the duties of the Speaker in their absence. The Speaker and the Speaker Pro Tempore are also Ex Officio voting members on all House Committees.

Each party elects a floor leader, who is known as the Majority Leader or Minority Leader. While the Minority Leader is the full leader of his party, the same is not true of the Majority Leader. Instead, the Speaker is the head of the majority party; the Majority Leader is only the second-highest official. Each party also elect whips, who works to ensure that his party's members vote as the party leadership desires.

Senate officers

The party with a majority of seats is known as the majority party; if two or more parties in opposition are tied, the Lieutenant Governor's affiliation determines which is the majority party. The next-largest party is known as the minority party. The President Pro Tem, committee chairmen, and some other officials are generally from the majority party; they have counterparts (for instance, the "ranking members" of committees) in the minority party.

The Oklahoma Constitution provides that the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Oklahoma serves as the President of the Senate and holds a vote which can only be cast to break a tie. By convention, the Lieutenant Governor presides over very few Senate debates, attending only on important ceremonial occasions (such as the swearing-in of new senators) or at times when his vote may be needed to break a tie. The Constitution also authorizes the Senate to elect a President Pro Tem (Latin for "temporary president") to preside in the Lieutenant Governor's absence. Under Section 6 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution, the President Pro Tempore, is second in line behind the Lieutenant Governor to succeed the Governor. The President Pro Tem is the actual leader of the senate and also serves as leader of the majority party. The President Pro Tem is an ex officio and voting member of all committees.

The presiding officer sits in a chair in the front of the Senate chamber. The powers of the presiding officer are extremely limited; he primarily acts as the Senate's mouthpiece, performing duties such as announcing the results of votes. The Senate's presiding officer controls debates by calling on members to speak; the rules of the Senate, however, compel him to recognize the first senator who rises. The presiding officer may rule on any "point of order" (a senator's objection that a rule has been breached), but the decision is subject to appeal to the whole house. Thus, the powers of the presiding officer of the senate are far less extensive than those of the Speaker.

Each party elects a senator to serve as floor leader, a position which entails acting as the party's chief spokesperson. The Majority Floor Leader is an ex officio and voting member of all Senate committees. Each party also elect whips to assist the leader.


Section 1 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution sets forth the powers of the Legislature. All of the State's legislative authority is vest within the Legislature as well as other powers. The most important among these powers are the powers to levy and collect taxes, borrow money, and to raise and maintain the militia of the State. Just as the US Constitution has a "Necessary and Proper Clause", the Oklahoma Constitution in Section Article 5 section 45 provides the Legislature the power to pass laws as they are necessary for carrying into effect the Oklahoma Constitution. Other than those powers specificlly reserved to the people of Oklahoma, the Legislature's power to legislate extends to "all rightful subjects of legislation" and may write laws on any subject whatsoever.

The returns of every election for all elective state officers are transmitted to the Secretary of State, directed to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who shall, immediately after the organization of the House, and before proceeding to other business, open and publish the information in the presence of a majority of each branch of the Legislature, who shall for that purpose assemble in the hall of the House of Representatives. The persons respectively having the highest number of votes for either of the said offices shall be declared duly elected. In the event of a tie, the Legislate has the power to break deadlocks in the all election involving state officials. If two or more candidates have an equal and the highest number of votes, the Legislature, by means of a joint ballot, may elect one of the said persons for said office.

Among of the foremost non-legislative functions of the Legislature is the power to establish a state printing plant, and to provide for the election or appointment of a State Printer, the establishment of a State Geological and Economic Survey, and the creation of a Board of Health, Board of Dentistry, Board of Pharmacy, and Pure Food Commission, and prescribe the duties of each.

The Legislature is required every 10 years, beginning in 1907 (the date of Oklahoma entrance to the Union), to make provision by law for revising, digesting, and announce the laws of Oklahoma. The Legislature shall define what is an unlawful combination, monopoly, trust, act, or agreement, in restraint of trade, and enact laws to punish persons engaged in any unlawful combination, monopoly, trust, act, or agreement, in restraint of trade.

Section 46 through 53 of Article V of the Oklahoma Constitution places certain limits on the authority and powers of the Legislature. For instance, the Legislature may not meddle in the affairs of local government in the realm of day to day business, such as street lay out or school districts. Legislators may not appropriate any of the public money for the establishment and maintenance of a Bureau of Immigration in Oklahoma, nor pass any law exempting any property within Oklahoma from taxation (except where the Constitution grants such an exemption). The Legislature may not pass laws granting to any association, corporation, or individual any exclusive rights, privileges, or immunities.

Legislative procedure


Legislatures are identified by consecutive numbers and correspond with the election of the members of the House of Representatives. The 2011 session (following the 2010 elections) will be the First Session of the 53rd Legislature, while the 2012 session will be the Second Session of the 53rd Legislature. The 54th Legislature would thus begin in 2013 with the First Session.

Under Article 5 Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution legislative sessions begin at noon on the first Monday in February of every odd-numbered year, shall not exceed one hundred and sixty days, and shall be finally adjourned by no later than five o'clock p.m. on the last Friday in May of each year. The first session, under Article 5 Section 25, cannot exceed 160 days. However, in odd numbered years (those following an election), the Legislature must meet on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January for the sole purpose of determining the outcome of the state-wide elections. This meeting must begin at noon and must be adjourned by five o'clock p.m. on the same day.

At the beginning of each new term, the entire House of Representatives and one-half of the Senate (those who were chosen in the previous election) are sworn in. The House of Representatives also elects a Speaker to preside over debates. The President pro tempore of the Senate, by contrast, holds office continuously; normally, a new President pro tempore is only elected if the previous one retires, or if there is a change in the majority party.

The Oklahoma Constitution forbids either house adjourning for more than three days, without the consent of the other house. The provision was intended to prevent one house from thwarting legislative business simply by refusing to meet. To avoid obtaining consent during long recesses, the House or Senate may sometimes hold pro forma meetings, sometimes only minutes long, every three days. The Constitution prevents the Legislature from meeting any place outside the Oklahoma Capitol. However, the Governor is empowered to convoke the Legislature at or adjourn it to another place, when, in his opinion, the public safety or welfare, or the safety or health of the members require it. However, such a change or adjournment requires consent by a two-thirds vote of all the members elected to each branch.

The Legislature may be called into special session by a written call for such purposes as may be specifically set out in the call, signed by two-third of the members of the Senate and two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives when it is filed with the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives who shall issue jointly an order for the convening of the special session. However, the Legislature may not prevent the calling of a special session by the Governor.

In cases of a disagreement between the two houses of the Legislature, at a regular or special session, with respect to the time of adjournment, the Governor may, if the facts be certified to him, by the presiding officer of the house first moving the adjournment, adjourn them to such time as he shall deem proper, not beyond the day of the next stated meeting of the Legislature. The consent of both bodies is required for the Legislature's final adjournment, or sine die, at the end of each legislative session. If the two houses cannot agree on a date, the Constitution permits the Governor to settle the dispute.

Bills and resolutions

A proposal may be introduced in the Legislature as a bill, a joint resolution, a concurrent resolution, or a simple resolution. Most legislative proposals are introduced as bills, but some are introduced as joint resolutions. Joint resolutions are the normal method used to propose a constitutional amendment. On the other hand, concurrent resolutions (passed by both houses) and simple resolutions (passed by only one house) do not have the force of law. Instead, they serve to express the opinion of the Legislature, or either house thereof, or to regulate procedure.

Bills (and other proposals) may be introduced by any member of either house. However (as with the United States House of Representatives and the majority of state legislatures), Article 5 Section 33A of the Oklahoma Constitution provides that: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives." The Senate, though, retains the power to amend or reject them.

Each bill goes through several stages in each house. The first stage involves consideration by a committee. Most legislation is considered by standing committees, each of which has jurisdiction over a particular subject matter, such as Agriculture or Appropriations. The House has twenty-six standing committees; the Senate has seventeen. In some cases, bills may be sent to select committees (which tend to have more narrow jurisdictions than standing committees. Each standing and select committee is led by a chairman (who belongs to the majority party) and a ranking member (who belongs to the minority party). Committees are permitted to hold hearings and collect evidence when considering bills. They may also amend the bill, but the full house holds the power to accept or reject committee amendments. After considering and debating a measure, the committee votes on whether it wishes to report the measure to the full house.

A decision not to report a bill amounts to a rejection of the proposal. Both houses provide for procedures under which the committee can be bypassed or overruled, but they are rarely used. If reported by the committee, the bill reaches the floor of the full house. The house may debate and amend the bill; the precise procedures used by the House of Representatives and the Senate differ. A final vote on the bill follows.

Once a bill is approved by one house, it is sent to the other, which may pass, reject, or amend it. In order for the bill to become law, both houses must agree to identical versions of the bill. If the second house amends the bill, then the differences between the two versions must be reconciled in a conference committee, an ad hoc committee that includes both senators and representatives. In many cases, conference committees have introduced substantial changes to bills and added un-requested spending, significantly departing from both the House and Senate versions.

After passage by both houses, a bill is submitted to the Governor who may choose to sign the bill, thereby making it law, or veto it, returning it to the Legislature with his objections. In such a case, the bill only becomes law if each house of the Legislature votes to override the veto with a two-thirds majority. Finally, the Governor may choose to take no action, neither signing nor vetoing the bill. In such a case, the Constitution states that the bill automatically becomes law after five days (excluding Sundays). However, if the Legislature adjourns (ends a legislative session) during the five day period, then the bill does not become law. Thus, the Governor may veto legislation passed at the end of a legislative session simply by ignoring it; the maneuver is known as a pocket veto, and cannot be overridden by the adjourned Legislature. No bill may become a law after the final adjournment of the Legislature, unless approved by the Governor within fifteen days after such adjournment.

Quorum and voting

The Oklahoma Constitution specifies that a majority of members constitutes a quorum to do business in each house. The rules of each house provide that a quorum is assumed to be present unless a quorum call demonstrates the contrary. Representatives and senators rarely force the presence of a quorum by demanding quorum calls; thus, in most cases, debates continue even if a majority is not present.

Both houses use voice voting to decide most matters; members shout out "aye" or "no," and the presiding officer announces the result. The Oklahoma Constitution, however, requires a recorded vote on the demand of one-fifth of the members present. If the result of the voice vote is unclear, or if the matter is controversial, a recorded vote usually ensues. The Senate uses roll call votes; a clerk calls out the names of all the senators, each senator stating "aye" or "no" when his name is announced. The House reserves roll call votes for the most formal matters; normally, members vote by electronic device. In the case of a tie, the motion in question fails. In the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor may (if present) cast the tiebreaking vote.


Under the Oklahoma Constitution, members of both houses enjoy the privilege of being free from arrest in all cases, except for treason, felony, and breach of the peace. This immunity applies to members "during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same." The term "arrest" has been interpreted broadly, and includes any detention or delay in the course of law enforcement, including court summons and subpoenas. The rules of the House very strictly guard this privilege; a member may not waive the privilege on his own, but must seek the permission of the whole house to do so. Senate rules, on the other hand, are less strict, and permit individual senators to waive the privilege as they see fit.

Aside from benefits directly facilitating their legislative work, members enjoy a number of other perks. As of 2006 rank and file Legislators received a salary of $38,400. The President Pro Tempore of the State Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are paid an additional $17,932 annually. The appropriations committee chairmen, majority floor leaders and the minority floor leaders of each house are paid an additional $12,364 per year.

Board of Legislative Compensation

In order to regulate compensation paid to the Legislature, the Oklahoma Constitution created the Board on Legislative Compensation. The Board is composed of five members appointed by the Governor of Oklahoma, two members are appointed by the President pro tempore of the Oklahoma Senate, and two members are appointed by the Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The members appointed by the Governor must be from religious organizations, communications media, nonstate-supported educational institutions, labor organizations, and retail business. The members appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate shall be from agricultural and civic organizations and the members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be from manufacturing and from professional fields not otherwise specified.

No member of the Legislature may be appointed to serve on the Board. In addition to the nine voting members, the Chairman of the Tax Commission and the Director of State Finance serve as ex officio nonvoting members of the Board. The Chairman of the Board is designated by the Governor. The members of the Board shall serve without compensation, but shall be entitled to receive necessary travel and subsistence expense as provided by law for other state.

Members of the Legislature are entitled to receive such compensation as determined by the Board. Every two years, the Board reviews the compensation paid to the members of the Legislature and is empowered to change the compensation. Such a change becomes effective on the fifteenth day following the succeeding general election.


  1. ^ Farmer, Rick, "Legislature," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture (accessed June 23, 2010).

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