Lawmaker calls for study of ‘unconstitutional legislation’

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OKLAHOMA CITY - For years, State Sen. Kay Floyd (D-Oklahoma County) has kept a list handy when bills become law.

It's a list of bills she expects to be challenged and eventually struck down in court.

"I have had constituents come to me and say, 'There were three pieces of legislation that were found unconstitutional the last couple years. Do y’all not know what you’re doing?'" she said. "I think when lawmakers are perceived as not knowing how to make law, that that hurts the perception people have of how our government is supposed to work."

Floyd wants to make the government work better, which is why she requested an interim study on “monetary and nonmonetary ramifications of filing unconstitutional legislation.”

In other words, she wants to know if passing the usually-controversial bills is worth it.

Floyd said she can't point to any specific bill that pushed her to request the study., but there have been a number of challenges or near-challenges that have recently dominated the headlines.

This session, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed a bill that would have made abortion a felony in most cases, citing what she viewed as near-impossible legal hurdles.

In years past, the courts took up cases on a controversial monument of the Ten Commandments, which was eventually removed from Capitol grounds.

The case made it to the state Supreme Court.

"How much does it cost the state?" Floyd asked. "How much does it cost the citizens of Oklahoma to pay for defending legislation that once passed ends up in a higher court and is found unconstitutional?"

The state Attorney General says the cost is minimal.

"They’re paid what they’re paid," said First Assistant Attorney General Mike Hunter, referring to the lawyers who defend the legislation. "We don’t pay them overtime. I can say with certainty there’s no additional cost when we defend the state."

Often, the AG's office doesn't know if a law is unconstitutional or not until the court decides, Hunter said.

And Hunter dismissed the idea that time and taxpayer money are wasted on the legal challenges.

"I can assure you the public’s interest here is never neglected," he said. "The idea that we’re spending millions of dollars to defend the state’s interests out of our office is a propagandized myth."

Floyd's study has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It will be up to the chairman, Sen. Clark Jolley (R-Edmond), to decide if it moves forward.

Jolley did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.