OKLAHOMA CITY — In the past few years, Oklahoma lawmakers have passed more than a dozen bills that later were found to be unconstitutional. Sen. Kay Floyd wants to determine how much that has cost the state.
Her idea is among 44 interim studies approved last week and assigned to legislative committees. Committee chairs will have the final say on whether a study is conducted.
Officials with the Attorney General’s Office, which defends the state in legal challenges, have said they can’t put a dollar amount on what the challenges to bills have cost because their staff members are salaried. Floyd, an attorney, said it would not be difficult to track how much is spent defending unconstitutional bills if attorneys kept track of billable hours.
In addition to the cost for attorneys, the courts have in the past awarded attorney fees to those who brought successful challenges to state laws.
The courts have repeatedly struck down bills that contain more than one subject.
Many of the bills later found to be unconstitutional were seeking to put more restrictions on abortion.
The state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds was unconstitutional and ordered it removed.
Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said it is not just the money spent defending the bills. She said there is a non-monetary impact — loss of credibility in government.
“If you have lawmakers who can’t pass legislation found to be constitutional, that erodes how people look at their government,” she said.
Floyd has requested the interim study in years past, but it was never done. She hopes this year will be different.
Her request has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter. David was not available for comment.
In the last legislative session, Floyd said, there was a lot of discussion about whether various bills were constitutional.
Some significant bills passed last session have drawn legal challenges in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, including a bill to add a $1.50 smoking cessation fee to cigarettes.
The state’s high court is expected to hear oral arguments on the challenges Aug. 8.
Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, has an interim study on deaths and near deaths during dental procedures. He said the study will look at Oklahoma’s situation and whether rules or legislation need to be crafted.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, has an interim study focused on apportionments, or tax dollars taken “off the top” to fund various items, such as education and transportation, rather than being put in the General Revenue Fund.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and fees paid by Oklahomans are being spent via apportionment,” Schulz said. “Apportionments act like automatic paycheck deductions and are useful to ensure priority expenses are paid reliably.
“But they also greatly reduce the flexibility to shift resources away from lesser priorities because of unexpected or unforeseen costs like a home repair, or in the case of state government, budget shortfalls brought on by economic contraction.”
Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, D-Norman, is seeking hearings on his interim studies on school consolidation and the capping of superintendent salaries.
Sparks said Republicans have said education funding will increase once schools are consolidated and caps are placed on superintendent salaries. He said it is time to find out if Republicans are serious or just using those issues as excuses.