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Legislators study state-tribal compacts

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

Lawmakers heard from tribal leaders during a two-day interim study looking at compacts between the State of Oklahoma and sovereign Native American 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. Shawn, a state House committee has just finished a two-day interim study on state-tribal compacts. Speaker of the House Charles McCall requested and approved the study, which was unusual. What was the purpose of this study?

Shawn Ashley: It was unusual. This is only about the second interim study that the speaker has requested, and I think the first that he has actually heard. McCall said the purpose of the study was to examine the number and variety of compacts between the state and the tribes, the current state of the various compacts and the different types of compacting authority and how they work. Now, state tribal compacts have been a source of conflict since Governor Kevin Stitt announced in July of 2019 his intention to renegotiate gaming compacts with Oklahoma tribes that he said expired at the end of that year. That led to a federal lawsuit. And in July 2020, a federal judge ruled the gaming compacts automatically renewed. But conflict regarding compacts continues today after lawmakers passed and Governor Stitt vetoed two bills that allow the state-tribal tobacco tax and motor vehicle registration compacts to be extended until the end of 2024. The legislature overrode the governor's vetoes, forcing the bills to take effect, and Stitt has now sued legislative leaders, alleging the bills are invalid. That case is pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Dick Pryor: The committee heard from four tribal leaders, including Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby, who outlined a proposal on behalf of all tribes to establish a task force to develop guidelines for future compact negotiations. Why do tribal leaders see that as necessary?

Shawn Ashley: Well, there are several different types of compacts. There are model compacts, for example, like the gaming and tobacco tax compacts, which have identical terms, and every tribe involved in those businesses can sign on to those. Other compacts like cross-deputization agreements between local and tribal law enforcement agencies or compacts between individual state agencies and tribes are more flexible and designed to address a particular situation. Governor Anoatubby noted a lot of institutional memory and knowledge about state-tribal compacts has been lost over time. He was serving his first term as Chickasaw governor when the first compact on motor fuels was signed. Muscogee Nation second chief Del Beaver, who also testified before the committee, noted his father was then chief of the Muscogee Nation when that compact was originally signed. Anoatubby a time you said he hoped the task force essentially could develop a road map that would help guide future compacting talks and negotiations.

Dick Pryor: An interesting conflict is developing between the State Department of Education and the Attorney General's office. State Superintendent Ryan Walters is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to allow the department to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Attorney General Gentner Drummond against the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. Now, this concerns the St. Isidore Virtual Charter School, which would become the first religious school in the nation to receive state funds. What's Drummond pursuing in the lawsuit and what is Walters’ objection?

Shawn Ashley: Drummond filed his suit October 20th and is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court essentially to nullify the contract between the statewide Virtual Charter School Board and St. Isidore Virtual Charter School. Drummond's lawsuit notes the Oklahoma Constitution expressly prohibits sectarian control of public schools. Now, Walters points out that the Oklahoma State Department of Education is responsible for the funding of Oklahoma schools through the distribution of state aid, and that includes public charter schools like St. Isidore. But the department was not named in the lawsuit. The State Department of Education's general counsel wrote in the motion to intervene, “the department's interest in lawfully distributing state aid is threatened by the petitioner's suit, alleging that any funding provided to seen Isidore will violate the Oklahoma Charter School Act and the Oklahoma Constitution. Without the inclusion of the department,” the agency's general counsel wrote, “as a party to this case, any ruling of this court on state aid would be little more than a prohibited advisory opinion.” Now, it will be up to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to decide whether the department is permitted to intervene in the case or not.

Dick Pryor: This is an important case not just here, but also nationwide. Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

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

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, which is critical to an informed electorate. Listeners like you provide essential funding for Capitol Insider. Make your contribution at KGOU.org.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 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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