The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a campaign to expand government health insurance for low-income residents can move forward. KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the court's decision, which came just hours after hearing oral arguments.
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley.
Shawn, legal challenges headlined the latest news from the state capitol. One involved a challenge to Senate Bill 608, which requires any top wine or spirit brand to offer those products to every wholesaler in the state. What was the challenge?
Shawn Ashley: When voters approved State Question 792 back in 2016, it changed a constitutional requirement that had required those beverages to be made available to every wholesaler. What the change allowed was that a manufacturer could choose just to use one wholesaler, a small group of wholesalers, or a large group of wholesalers--as long as they didn't discriminate on price.
This created a concern for some in the alcoholic beverage wholesale community in Oklahoma, so during the 2019 legislative session, Senate Bill 608 was approved. That went back to the language requiring manufacturers to make it available to every wholesaler. A group is challenging that bill, saying that it violates the constitutional provision approved by voters.
Pryor: Now this challenge was heard by a Supreme Court referee. What is the difference between being heard by a referee as opposed to the justices of the court?
Ashley: Well a referee sort of triages the case, if you will. The referee will make a report to the justices who will then decide what to do, whether it's to assume original jurisdiction, whether to make a decision either way immediately on the constitutionality of the bill, or they could even send the matter down to district court to begin to be heard there.
Pryor: The state Supreme Court did hear a challenge to an initiative petition for State Question 802 which, if approved, would expand Medicaid. What was the basis for that challenge and what did the court decide?
Ashley: Most of the arguments focused on the gist of the initiative petition and this is that very brief description that you see on the top of each page of signatures when an initiative petition is being circulated. The question was whether a number on that page was the correct number to be used. And what the court found was that--on a 6 to 3 decision--was that that was the appropriate number. The number is 133 percent of the federal poverty level. That is the base level in the Affordable Care Act at which Medicaid can be expanded.
Pryor: So what's the bottom line and what's next?
Ashley: So now the secretary of state will establish a signing period. They will have 90 days to collect approximately 178,000 signatures and then those signatures will be verified. And if verified, it will be up to the governor to set that on the ballot--most likely the November 2020 ballot. But in between those signatures and it going to the ballot, there is an opportunity for additional legal challenges.
Pryor: We've talked about major agency heads who may be changing due to the legislature giving increased hiring and firing powers to the governor. Now the governor has already retained a couple, but one recently resigned: Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh. He quit unexpectedly. Why?
Ashley: After a vote--a rather contentious vote--on who would lead the board of corrections, which oversees the agency, director Allbaugh asked for a moment of personal privilege ans unexpectedly quit. Shortly after that, he told some reporters that there was an issue for him as to who was directing the agency--who he was to report to. Was he now reporting to the governor, as the bills passed by the legislature earlier this year were supposed to establish? Or was he reporting to the board? Or was he reporting to the legislature?
Pryor: For three years, director Allbaugh had asked the legislature for more money for operations and also construction of two new prisons. But it did not happen.
Ashley: Keep in mind, these were very large increases proposed in their budget. It went from about $400 million to more than $1.5 billion. And he said this was based upon the information he was getting from those people under him, who said more money was needed in the various programs there at the department and, in particular, that two additional prisons were needed--even with criminal justice reform--to house the inmates that are flowing into the system.
Pryor: Thanks Shawn.
Ashley: You're very welcome.
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