OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Senate voted Monday morning to overturn two vetoes on tribal compact agreements, which would allow the tribes more than a year to reach an agreement with the Governor.
HB 1005X would extend the motor vehicle licensing/registration compact with tribal nations until Dec. 31, 2024. Senate Bill 26X would extend the tobacco products excise tax compact until Dec. 31, 2024.
The Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told KFOR if the state allows the compacts to expire, “What it means is overnight is there’s so much uncertainty on taxation. Literally people walking in the smoke shops and depending on who they are, will depend on how they’re taxed. And if we listen to the Governor, he doesn’t like a world in which there’s that sort of uncertainty and so the compacts actually instill that certainty and it makes the market make sense to everyone. It means revenue comes in.”
At the start of this year, there were 24 tribal compacts relating to tobacco taxation in place.
According to Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, 23 of those will expire before the new year.
There are several car registration compacts set to expire as well, including The Cherokee Nation’s on August 16.
“The dates are important, but what happens on those dates are important,” said Chief Hoskin Jr..
Chief Hoskin Jr. said with The Cherokee Nation’s compacts, that revenue is not only invested in the tribes but also into roads, bridges, public education and more.
Gov. Stitt has previously mentioned the reason he doesn’t agree with the tribes’ compact agreement in general is because he says the term ‘Indian Country’ is being redefined unfairly.
“These two compacts are almost identical. We have offered [the tribes] the exact same financial terms. 50/50 split for a one year extension,” explained Gov. Stitt. “That’s the way Govenor Keating had it. That’s the way Governor Henry, Governor Fallin and myself has it.”
Gov. Stitt’s version wants to limit the compact to trust land whereas the tribes’ version could potentially cover 42% of the state, according to Gov. Stitt.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives overturned the Governor’s veto on the car registration extension mid-June.
The Oklahoma Senate met on Monday morning for a special session to vote on whether or not to overturn HB 1005 as well as SB 26X.
“We also have the opportunity to insist on good faith negotiations by affirming the sovereignty of the 39 federally recognized tribes to tax their citizens in cooperation with the state of Oklahoma,” stated Senator Mary Boren (D-Norman). “We could have just let this go off into the world of chaos, but we chose not to.”
On the flip side, Senator Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) said he would not vote in favor of the compact extensions because he believes the process is illegal both statutorily and constitutionally. He added the negotiations should be left up to Governor and the Legislature should not intervene.
Senator Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, echoed the same opposing remarks.
Senator Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, referred back to Sen. Boren’s comments. He said the State of Oklahoma is supposed to work with the tribes and welcome them in.
“The tribes have every right to negotiate for what is in their best interest. But the state of Oklahoma has the right to know that when they elect the Governor of the state of Oklahoma as the chief executive, he represents every single corner of the state of Oklahoma, and he’s representing everybody. Regardless of who the Governor is, that’s the best policy,” explained Sen. Jett.
The Senate voted to overturn the Governor’s vetoes on both HB 1005 and SB 26X.
The Senate’s overturn on HB 1005 was the last vote the bill needed to be fully overturned.
However, SB 26X will have to go back to the House to finalize the overturn.
“Despite real concerns for the future of our state, the Senate has chosen to disregard the Governor’s compact in favor of compact language the tribes wanted. I am trying to protect eastern Oklahoma from turning into a reservation, and I’ve been working to ensure these compacts are the best deal for all four million Oklahomans. Unfortunately, the Senate seems to disagree and used an illegitimate process to do so.”Governor Kevin Stitt
Pro Tem Treat said the Governor is essentially in a “probationary period” now to see if he can act in good faith and get “true negotiations going.”
“The role of the legislature is clear. We have a role now to approve those compacts or disapprove at our will if we wish to get more involved. Having negotiators from the House and Senate get involved, it’s a little less clean. You would hope that you’d have a central point on negotiating but if we see that is not fruitful, we reserve the right to change that law,” stated Pro Tem Treat.
Pro Tem Treat referred back to the Governor trying to go around the Legislature on other tribal compacts, saying it won’t be tolerated.
“You saw the letter I sent to the Attorney General. Treat I and Treat II very clearly establish the legislature’s role, and also said that the Governor had violated state law in entering those contacts with those four tribes. He is now seeking to have a federal bureaucracy overrule state law and say that he can do things that state law and the state constitution says he can’t. So there’s a much bigger issue. If the legislature so desires and we have the votes to do it, we could take it over but that’s not my deepest desire right now. I’d say I reserve the right to advance next session if I see it’s not advancing,” added Pro Tem Treat.
Pro Tem Treat is hopeful the negotiations will expeditiously advance in the coming months, but he’s not “holding my breath for that.”
Chief Hoskin Jr. said he’s optimistic in reaching an agreement.
“We’ve got to find ways to work together. It’s difficult, though. I think fundamentally, he doesn’t see a role for tribes in the 21st century and he’s on an island when it comes to that sort of mindset,” said Chief Hoskin Jr. “I also think he’s using this as an opportunity to tell the people of the state of Oklahoma that any increase in tribal sovereignty comes at their expense. That’s not the world that the rest of us live in. We live in a world in which there can be win-win. If he would join us in that world we can get past these, frankly, phony concerns.”
Chief Hoskin Jr. explained the Governor’s concerns over Indian Country are only troublesome to the Governor.
“There’s nothing troublesome about the fact that our reservation exists now and has always existed,” said Chief Hoskin Jr.
“We appreciate the work of the Oklahoma Senate in successfully overriding these vetoes. Legislators have worked diligently to provide us all with much-needed time to develop a durable compact agreement. Throughout the years, we have consistently adopted a collaborative approach to working with both Governors and Legislators concerning matters of significance to both the Chickasaw Nation and the State of Oklahoma. We embrace legislative participation and remain committed to upholding our cooperative approach, fostering open and honest dialogue.”Governor Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation
“Despite Gov. Stitt’s attempts to muddy the waters, the Oklahoma Senate did the right thing today by overriding his veto of compacts regarding tobacco sales and motor vehicle tags. These important agreements provide massive benefits for tribes and all Oklahomans, and we thank the Legislature for doing what is right. The Choctaw Nation remains open to negotiating on long-term compacts, and we trust good-faith discussions will start soon All Oklahomans benefit from fair agreements between tribes and state government, and we look forward to continuing our partnerships.”Chief Gary Batton, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
The House will reconvene for a special session Monday, July 31 to either complete the overturn of SB 26X or kill it.