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State-tribal compacts spark legislative action and controversy

 Capitol - Allan Houser bronze
As Long as the Waters Flow - bronze by Allan Houser

As the special session nears an end, conflict over state-tribal compacts arises, involving the legislature, governor, attorney general, and prominent tribal nations.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. The last few days have been fascinating. Shawn, let's start with the special session. The House returns this Monday to consider overriding Governor Stitt’s veto of a bill that would extend state-tribal compacts on tobacco taxes. The Senate overrode the veto last Monday, so the House vote will determine whether the veto stands or not.

Shawn Ashley: Well, that's right. Now, listeners may recall the Senate first tried to override Governor Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 26X on June 26, but they came up one vote short. There are no limits to the number of times lawmakers can attempt to override a veto. So, the Senate came back this last Monday and with more supporters of the override in attendance, voted 34 to 7 to override it. Now, veto overrides, are like bills themselves, they must pass both chambers. So, the House will take it up on Monday and expected to pass it. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat noted 23 of the 24 state-tribal tobacco tax compacts are scheduled to expire this year, and those compacts contribute approximately $57 million to the state treasury that is used for a variety of programs.

Dick Pryor: Pro Tem Treat indicated the legislature might have more to say and do regarding tribal compacts.

Shawn Ashley: Treat explained that the governor's authority to compact with tribal nations - whether for tobacco taxes, motor vehicle registration or gaming - comes from state law passed by the legislature. And we know that what the legislature has given it can take away or at least modify, Treat said, “I'd call this almost a probationary period to see if it can act in good faith and get true negotiations going, and then we can reassess next session whether or not we wish to amend that.”

Dick Pryor: Interesting. Attorney General Gentner Drummond is also getting more involved in state-tribal compacts. Specifically, he announced he is stepping in to represent the state in a lawsuit involving gaming compacts that were found invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Shawn, why is Drummond intervening and what is his role in this?

Shawn Ashley: Governor Stitt has been represented by outside counsel since this lawsuit was filed in 2020. Neither former attorneys general Mike Hunter nor John O'Connor attempted to intervene in the case. In a notice of appearance filed Tuesday, O'Connor argues the lawsuit is against the state of Oklahoma, not against Kevin Stitt individually. As a result, Drummond said he has the constitutional and statutory responsibility to represent the state in the case. Additionally, Drummond sought and received requests from Senate President Pro Tem Treat and House Speaker Charles McCall to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of the state. Now, keep in mind Drummond and Stitt have different positions in the case. Drummond views the compacts in question as invalid as a result of two Oklahoma Supreme Court decisions. Stitt contends the compacts were approved by the federal government, and those parts that are not in conflict with Oklahoma law should be enforced.

Dick Pryor: The State Board of Education met on Thursday. The board postponed its accreditation decision for Tulsa Public Schools until next month. Why did they push it back a month?

Shawn Ashley: “Tulsa Public Schools,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who chairs the board, said,”has been plagued with scandal.” He called the district “one of the worst performing in the state.” Publicly, Walters has pointed to the reading proficiency rate at some Tulsa schools and an embezzlement case under investigation by federal authorities. At a press conference July 21st, Walters suggested that what he views as a violation of a Tulsa school board member’s religious liberty is an issue as well. Walters said Thursday, “I feel like we need to be able to dig into these issues because of their severe nature and the impact it's having on kids in that district and the staff in that district.”

Dick Pryor: Now, leaders at Tulsa Public Schools pushed back on some of that.

Shawn Ashley: They certainly have. And they will have an opportunity to make their case between now and when the board next meets on August 24th.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capital Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and listen to Capitol Insider where you get your podcasts. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Announcer: The Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast is with you to talk through what you're watching, listening to and reading, what you need to check out this weekend, what you can get next. It's all fair game for pop culture in high spirits. Listen to the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast from NPR.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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