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“This slipped past everybody,” Oklahoma passes law many claim is a mistake

OKLAHOMA CITY - House Bill 1470 aimed to extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex crimes.

The bill started in the House then moved to the Senate, where Senator Anthony Sykes added language that inadvertently affected every civil lawsuit filed in Oklahoma.

"There are quite a few lawyers in both bodies, but we had all just missed a very subtle effect perpetuated by this one amendment," said Oklahoma State Senator David Holt.

Lawyers are calling this the "loser pays" amendment, because it now requires the losing party in a civil lawsuit to pay all court costs of the winning party.

"In this case, one number would have made all the difference," Holt said.

The Senate committee intended the provision to apply to the child sex crimes only.

But, without a title-specific label, it could be argued it applies to every single civil lawsuit filed in Oklahoma.

The law would take effect November 1.

Starting in November, any Oklahoman considering a lawsuit should also consider they will be on the hook for legal fees of the winning party, potentially $100,000 or more.

"This bill will close the door for a lot of people, who have been done wrong and don't have another option to make it right," said attorney Chris Smith. "It's a bad thing for middle class Oklahomans."

The language was posted online for a month.

The bill passed out of the Senate unanimously and the House by a wide margin.

"This slipped past everybody," Holt said.

A lawyer in the governor's office noticed the implication of the amendment.

Governor Mary Fallin, aware of the slip, signed the bill anyway.

"I was under the impression she was going to veto it. But, she signed it anyway," Holt said.

NewsChannel 4 tried to talk to Sykes about the intent of his amendment. He was on the floor and unavailable.

Multiple sources inside the state capitol said a fix is in the works.

NewsChannel 4 contacted the governor's office to ask why she signed the bill into law, even though she was aware of the mistake.

Fallin's spokesperson tells NewsChannel 4 her priority is the state budget.

Michael McNutt, the communications director for her office, sent NewsChannel 4 this statement:

"Governor Fallin realizes the trauma that survivors of child abuse go through and signed House Bill 1470, which gives them more time to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. It often takes many years for victims of such abuse to talk about what happened to them. The governor felt such an important provision should be allowed to proceed to provide added protection for countless victims of child abuse. The governor’s office notified authors of the legislation about the broadness of the language in the amendment and suggested they may consider correcting it in a trailer bill. Legislators who want to correct language in the amendment have several avenues they may pursue before the measure takes effect Nov. 1."