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Legislature leans heavily on copy-paste legislation

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Paperwork and bills are stacking up on the desks of some legislators as Oklahoma lawmakers near the end of their work for the 2018 session. Shown here are state senators consulting on the floor of the chamber. [Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives]
Paperwork and bills are stacking up on the desks of some legislators as Oklahoma lawmakers near the end of their work for the 2018 session. Shown here are state senators consulting on the floor of the chamber. [Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives]

The Oklahoma Legislature has one of the highest rates of introducing and passing copy-paste bills, largely written by conservative and corporate entities pushing similar legislation across the country.

Oklahoma’s Legislature is second in the country for introducing and passing so-called "model legislation," according to a two-year investigation by USA Today, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity.

In an eight-year span, Oklahoma lawmakers introduced more than 400 pieces of model legislation and passed more than 120 of those bills.

Various special interest groups, think tanks and corporate entities write model legislation and the report studied when and where lawmakers copy and pasted those bills into their state legislature.

In terms of model bills that were introduced and passed, Oklahoma was second only to the Illinois General Assembly, which passed about 130 copycat bills from 2010 to 2018.

Oklahoma’s Legislature was fifth overall for introducing model bills.

While lawmakers have copied some liberal-leaning model bills, the vast majority have come from conservative or corporate groups, according to the report.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin called it a lazy way of legislating.

“It doesn’t take into account the unique challenges and problems that our state faces and so, when we see copycat legislation like that, oftentimes it’s clearly not customized to what’s going on in Oklahoma,” said Virgin, D-Norman.

USA Today, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity did not release a detailed state-by-state breakdown showing specifically which bills they classified as model legislation. But the investigation broadly talks about some model bills that were introduced in many states, including Oklahoma.

Some model bills introduced in Oklahoma include:

• The 2015 “right to try” bill that expanded patient access to experimental drugs and treatments not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

• Legislation that made it harder for patients to pursue asbestos-related claims against companies.

• The "American laws in American Courts" bill banning state courts from considering concepts from international legal systems, namely Sharia law.

Last week on the House floor, Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, pointed to a bill that would require doctors to inform abortion patients about reversing their abortion — a scientifically unproven medical practice — as an example of this model legislation.

Other states have taken up or passed similar versions of the bill in recent years, demonstrating its copy-and-paste nature.

Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, House sponsor of Senate Bill 614, said he didn’t actually know if the abortion reversal bill was model legislation.

But he said when he first saw the bill, he assumed the measure was a part of the National Right to Life and believed the national anti-abortion group provided the bill language. The National Right to Life, on its website, notes that the group did come up with the model for abortion reversal legislation.

A member of the conservative-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Lepak said he sees value in model legislation.

As a state chair for the group, Lepak said he’s seen the vetting process that goes into the model legislation put out by ALEC, which churns out model bills on a vast range of subjects.

The review of model legislation at ALEC includes separate votes by lawmakers and private sector members who represent businesses and corporations. Both factions have to approve a model bill and there’s debate on proposals just like lawmakers debate bills in the Legislature, Lepak said.

Then lawmakers have the choice to introduce model bills, he said.

“Nobody’s required to run these,” he said. “Everybody’s free to adjust them for their state. If they like the idea, and that’s what’s helpful about it, you come in with an idea and then there’s some structure around it and you can tailor it.”

Coming in with a template can put lawmakers a step ahead in the bill-writing process, Lepak said.

Model bills also allow Oklahoma to try out ideas that have been tested elsewhere, he said.

“If you don’t like the fact that we’re ranked so low in so many things, why wouldn’t we want to look around and see what other states are doing or suggesting and try to analyze that for application here?” he said.

In 2011, Oklahoma passed the Castle Doctrine Act, one of the most well-known model bills to come out of ALEC. The castle doctrine, which protects homeowners who defend their homes with the use of deadly force, is not the only copy-and-paste bill created by ALEC and adopted in Oklahoma.

Last year, Rep. Collin Walke, D-Oklahoma City, introduced legislation that would require lawmakers to show who wrote the bills they introduced. The measure was never heard, but Walke intends to bring it back next year and beef it up by adding consequences for lawmakers who don’t reveal the sources of their bills.

Model bills are getting more, much-needed attention and that could mean more support for a transparency measure that informs the public about where bills are coming from, Walke said.

Citing the growing influence of ALEC and powerful corporations, Walke said the influx of model bills at the state Capitol seems to be growing.

“I don’t know when the trend began to run model legislation, but it’s more concentrated now,” he said.

Related Photos
<strong>Lepak</strong>

Lepak

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-784945af82f43db11fedeb6bb5244da8.jpg" alt="Photo - Lepak " title=" Lepak "><figcaption> Lepak </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7086c61c121ffaa8b6adc530fc7d5021.jpg" alt="Photo - Virgin " title=" Virgin "><figcaption> Virgin </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b11abef5d2dc43bde96747ba47068e7c.jpg" alt="Photo - Paperwork and bills are stacking up on the desks of some legislators as Oklahoma lawmakers near the end of their work for the 2018 session. Shown here are state senators consulting on the floor of the chamber. [Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Paperwork and bills are stacking up on the desks of some legislators as Oklahoma lawmakers near the end of their work for the 2018 session. Shown here are state senators consulting on the floor of the chamber. [Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Paperwork and bills are stacking up on the desks of some legislators as Oklahoma lawmakers near the end of their work for the 2018 session. Shown here are state senators consulting on the floor of the chamber. [Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure>
Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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