Supreme Court hears arguments challenging legislative bills

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Dozens packed the Oklahoma Supreme Court room at the state capitol Tuesday morning to hear challenges against several bills passed in the final days of the legislative session.

Four different bills are being challenged in three different lawsuits.

The first heard Tuesday morning was brought by the Oklahoma Automobile Dealers Association over the removal of the exemption of a 1.25 percent excise tax on motor vehicles.

The second was filed by cigarette manufacturers over the $1.50 per pack tax on cigarettes.

And, the third lawsuit was brought by Gary Richardson, an Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate.

His lawsuit encompasses three different bills: the motor vehicle excise tax; the motor fuel tax fee, which charges a fee to owners of electric and compressed natural gas vehicles; and a bill over the state deduction rate.

All of the bills passed in the final days of the legislative session with only a simple majority.

The attorneys arguing against them Tuesday morning said that violates our state constitution.

“The legislators know what the purpose was. Every citizen of this state knows what the purpose was. It was to raise money, to raise fees, to raise taxes,” Richardson said.

Richardson’s attorney, Stan Ward, wrote State Question 640, passed by voters in 1992.

It changed our constitution to say revenue-raising measures could not be passed in the last five days of session and they had to pass by a three/fourths majority in both Houses or go to a vote of the people.

“People were tired of a tax arising out of every legislative session, and they wanted to have some control,” Ward said.

Now, Ward said legislators are trying to skirt the constitution by disguising the measures as other things.

The state’s attorney told the justices Tuesday morning the goal of the cigarette fee was not to plug the budget hole but to save lives.

“On the smoking cessation fee, there were some very tough questions for the solicitor general,” said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Blatt said, after hearing the arguments and the justices questions, the smoking cessation fee might be in the most jeopardy.

He said that one and the 1.25 percent car excise fee are raising the most money for our state.

“If those get struck down, then we have a giant hole in our budget. The smoking cessation fee, that’s over $200 million all going to core agencies,” Blatt said. “I don’t think there’s any alternative but for the governor to call the legislature back into special session in order to find another way to raise revenue that would avoid devastating cuts.”

Michael McNutt, Governor Mary Fallin’s Communications Director, sent us this statement:

“The governor and her staff have developed options, but it’s premature to discuss them before the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules on the challenges.”

Blatt said, since the smoking cessation fee goes into effect in just two weeks, he thinks the justices will try to rule on the cases soon.

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