Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey

Chairman Government Modernization Committee

Oklahoma Osage Shield

"Excused" Does Not Always Mean Excused

01.15.2018

Here is an antiquated House procedure that should be corrected: members of the House of Representatives vote on key legislation during a limited two-minute time frame.

Each year, members of the House cast votes impacting almost every aspect of life: from public safety to education to the expenditure of billions of your taxpayer dollars. These votes occur in two-minute segments during which time the lawmaker must make up his mind.

If the pressure on the lawmaker is too much, this antiquated system allows him/her to duck the vote completely by simply walking out of the chamber and refusing to vote at all. This deprives the constituents from holding their legislator accountable.

There should never be a reason for a lawmaker not to vote.

I once watched this abuse occur as the House considered a bill that removed the salary cap of several agency directors. Several years ago, before the state went through the energy sector downturn, these types of bills were rather popular in the Legislature.

This was obviously a terrible policy because it would allow the boards of various bureaucracies to potentially grant very large salary increases to agency directors. These caps serve as an important check and balance on state agencies and should always remain on the books.

As the House vote on one of these bills was ongoing, several agency officials who would potentially receive raises watched from the enclosed gallery above the east wall of the House.

During the vote, I observed one of of the legislators slowly walk back to the voting box only to react with apparent feigned disgust when the vote was closed before he could register his vote.

Straightaway after missing the vote, he looked up to the east gallery where one of the agency heads directly acknowledged his cowardly act with an exaggerated and enthusiastic gesture of appreciation.

Observing moments like this has been one of the most difficult parts of being a State Representative because I knew the legislator had aggressively campaigned to his constituency as an opponent to bad policies just like this. I also knew that not one of that legislator’s constituents will probably ever know what he did that day.

He was never held to account by those who put their trust in him to guard their taxpayer dollars from these abuses because the official vote simply shows him as “excused” from having taken a position on the bill.
Most voters won't have any idea what the term "excused" means. Was the lawmaker sick that day? Did he have some other good reason for not making the vote?

There simply isn't a column to show voters that their lawmakers "intentionally slow played the vote in order to not offend agency persons who are going to get a large, taxpayer-funded raise" because of this bill.

A review of voting tally sheets will show there are several lawmakers who are excused on many, if not most, votes. Sometimes this is for very valid reasons, but even then, the reality is that constituents are deprived of their representation.

The Legislature should utilize an updated system to register lawmakers’ votes, regardless of arbitrary time limits or location.

With the use of today's technology, there is almost never a good reason for a lawmaker to miss a vote. And there is never a good reason why all of those votes should not be recorded and published for all to see.

Technology has advanced to the point where policymakers could easily vote from their computers wherever they are, those votes could be immediately published in an open and transparent manner, and never again would a politician be able to duck a vote by claiming he didn’t get to his voting box in time.

Jason Murphey
@JWMurphey