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Politics and Government

Oklahoma legislature overrides several governor vetoes, will return for special session in June

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On Thursday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed parts of the $9.8 billion state budget, and called for a special session of the legislature to address eliminating the state grocery tax and reducing the personal income tax.

Under Oklahoma's constitution, the legislature must adjourn by 5 p.m. on the last Friday of May, which was the following day.

So, the state legislature moved quickly on Friday, expressing their displeasure with Stitt's criticisms and overriding several vetoes.

Among the six vetoes lawmakers successfully overrode was a public safety bill.

House Bill 3501 requires the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to recognize traffic convictions that occur in a Tribal court of any federally recognized tribe in Oklahoma, and treat them the same way they would in an Oklahoma state or municipal court. Stitt vetoed HB3501 in early May, despite it having more than 90% approval from both chambers of the legislature. Stitt claimed the bill eroded state jurisdiction and sovereignty.

Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation praised the legislature's veto override, saying he thinks the new law makes Oklahoma's roads safer.

"When this law takes effect, people will know dangerous drivers will face consequences whether they are convicted in state or Tribal courts," Batton said.

Other vetoes successfully overridden by lawmakers were:

  • Senate Bill 1695, which requires the governor's appointed cabinet members and agency directors to fill out financial disclosure forms
  • Senate Bill 1052, which provides more than $7.8 million in contractual per diem increases at the Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility and the Davis Correctional Facility
  • House Bill 4412, which creates a healthy soil program to be administered by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission
  • House Bill 4457, which establishes an Oklahoma Route 66 Commission
  • House Bill 2046, which would let certain two-year colleges establish higher education funding districts

Stitt's comments enrage lawmakers

In his Thursday press conference, Stitt said legislators were using political gimmicks and taking pages out of "Joe Biden's liberal playbook." Stitt also claimed legislators made backroom deals with lobbyists, while he and his advisors were purposely cut-out of budget negotiations.

Those comments drew intense anger from several state lawmakers.

House Majority Leader Josh West (R-Grove) lashed out on Twitter on Thursday, calling Stitt a "narcissist" and saying he hooks up "his cronies with jobs and projects."

That was just the beginning of verbal attacks aimed at the governor.

On Friday, while speaking on the House floor during the veto override of HB3501, Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations & Budget Committee Ryan Martinez (R-Edmond) classified Stitt's behavior toward tribes as "racist and hateful."

In particular, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) did not mince his words.

"We're glad the governor supports inflation relief, but his glory-mongering tantrum Thursday was wholly unbecoming of the office he holds," McCall said in a statement. "As we do every session, legislators will move forward in a stately, truthful manner that respects all parties without the unnecessary insults and falsehoods the governor excreted Thursday."

The responses to Stitt's comments were not just verbal. One lawmaker included a prop — a bottle of mayonnaise — on their desk. This was in reference to Stitt's comments that he fears federal coronavirus aid will be "spread like mayonnaise" across the state.

A special session awaits in June

The legislature did not override every veto — specifically that of Senate Bill 1075, which would have eliminated the 1.25% sales tax on motor vehicle purchases, and House Bill 4474 and House Bill 4473, which would have created the Inflation Relief Stimulus Fund and appropriated money to that fund, in the form of one-time payments of $75 for each individual tax filer and $150 for joint filers.

Stitt called those bills "a slap in the face to hardworking Oklahomans."

Lawmakers will now return for a special legislative session in June to consider potential tax reform measures.

Those may or may not include Stitt's call for them to eliminate the state's 4.5% grocery tax and reduce the personal income tax. Stitt claims those two actions would save the average Oklahoma family $453 a year.

There is bipartisan support for eliminating the grocery tax, but no bills filed this session made their way though the full legislative process. Oklahoma has one of the higher grocery tax rates out of the 13 states in the U.S. that taxes groceries.

The timing of the special session is also drawing concern, at least from McCall. He said its position in the middle of June could harm some House incumbents as they seek reelection. Primary elections take place on June 28.

"The ones that I'm most concerned about are the ones in the House of Representatives. Those primaries — we have roughly 18, I think, members...incumbents that have primaries come June. I think it's incredibly disingenuous, again, of the governor to call for a special session for the middle of June," McCall said. "That's being punitive, and another example of just trying to whip up on the legislature."

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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