Before adjourning the 2018 Legislative Session on May 3, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a number of bills that could face legal challenges or vetoes from Gov. Mary Fallin.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1140, a bill allowing private adoption agencies that contract with the state to act in accordance with their “written religious or moral convictions or policies.” The bill includes language prohibiting the agencies from violating federal and state law, but it’s unlikely to evade legal challenges, according to eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley.
“It seems certain that this bill will be challenged,” Ashley said. “The issue becomes whether the various criteria that these organizations use to select foster parents and adoptive families are in fact some form of discrimination. And really that would be up for the court to decide.”
Lawmakers also unexpectedly amended and passed House Bill 2177 to designate the Ten Commandments as a historical, rather than religious, document. It will likely fall under the same scrutiny as a monument of the Ten Commandments displayed at the state capitol in 2015, which led to a state Supreme Court case.
“Proponents of that monument argued at the time that they were not promoting religion, but that it was the historical significance of the issue that was being pursued. The court ruled against them,” Ashley said.
Oklahoma also became the eleventh state to pass a so-called constitutional carry law. The bill allows anyone over the age of 21 to carry firearms openly without a permit, background check or training, as long as they do not have a felony conviction. Supporter say it allows citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights. Oklahoma law enforcement and the business community, however, are opposed to the measure, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Fallin.
Although lawmakers went home early, they may be called back to the capitol prior to the beginning of the 2019 session. If State Question 788 passes in June, lawmakers will need to settle on a regulatory framework. And they may need to revisit the budget if a veto referendum being pushed by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite lands of the November ballot, jeopardizing the tax increases for teacher pay raises.
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Dick Pryor: Shawn, the long, long legislative session is finally over...Early. That may sound like a contradiction, but this legislative session was truly historic.
Shawn Ashley: It was historic in a number of ways. In all, they met close to more than six months in terms of the number of actual legislative days, which is relatively unheard of.
Pryor: During the last week of the regular session. A couple of highly contentious bills passed, and one of them concerned private adoption agencies and their moral and religious beliefs. This is a fascinating bill.
Ashley: It's really a fascinating bill, and this came about as a result really of the Pinnacle Plan several years ago, when the state was sued due to problems in its foster care and adoption system. As a result they invited in private organizations to provide those services. And these organizations were concerned about being sued. There have seen lawsuits in other states where they're accused of discriminating based on their moral or deeply held religious values. This would protect them from that.
Pryor: This is a bill that sounds like, if it becomes law, it will take on legal challenges.
Ashley: It seems certain that this bill will be challenged. There are groups that are concerned that it will allow these various agencies, which are private organizations contracting with the state, to discriminate in some way. And one area of concern was that dealing with same sex couples. However, the bill contains very specific language that says that organizations are required to abide by state and federal laws. The issue becomes then whether the various criteria that these organizations use to select foster parents and adoptive families are in fact some form of discrimination. And really that would be up for the court to decide.
Pryor: Shawn, the legislature also passed and sent the governor a bill that greatly expands gun rights, the so-called Constitutional Carry bill.
Ashley: Right. This eliminates the need to obtain a permit to carry a gun either open carry or concealed. You simply need to be at least 21 years of age and not have a felony conviction. If you served in the military, if you're 18 years of age, you would also qualify under current law. Oklahomans have to go through a training class and then they can apply for and receive a permit. This would eliminate that. Proponents of the measure say this really removes barriers to exercising the Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms. Both law enforcement and the business community seemed to oppose this bill for a variety of reasons.
Pryor: In the waning days of the session there was also a new development regarding public display of the Ten Commandments right near the end of the legislative session.
Ashley: A bill was amended in the Senate that would allow the display of certain historical documents in public buildings and classrooms across the state. This bill specifically lists a series of those documents and includes among them the Ten Commandments, which most of us know from Exodus in the Bible. The argument on the floor of the Senate and the House was that by declaring this a historical document it relieves it of its religious connotation.
Ashley: This is not the first time Oklahoma has dealt with this issue. Several years ago a Ten Commandments monument was donated to the state of Oklahoma and displayed on the north side of the Capitol. That ended up in a lawsuit challenging the display because Oklahoma's Constitution has a specific provision that prohibits the use of state property and money for the promotion of religion. And so this ended up in the Supreme Court. Proponents of that monument argued at the time that they were not promoting religion but that it was the historical significance of the issue that was being pursued. The court ruled against them and ordered essentially that the monument be removed and it eventually was.
Pryor: So what would be different this time?
Ashley: It seems that there's very little that's different this time.
Pryor: Now the last bills are in the governor's hands. What should we watch for over the next few days?
Pryor: The governor has 15 days including Saturdays and Sundays to decide whether to sign or veto these measures that were passed in the final five days of the legislative session. The governor has been moving bills off her desk really quickly. The question is what is she going to do with some of these hot button issues: the adoption bill, the concealed carry bill, as well as the Ten Commandments Bill.
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Copyright © 2018 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.
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