The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

June 9, 2013

Two new state laws said to violate one-subject provision in Oklahoma’s constitution

ENID, Okla. — Two much-ballyhooed state laws are under fire in the courts.

One actually has been declared unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and another is the subject of a new lawsuit.

In both instances, the single-subject provision in the Oklahoma Constitution is being touted as the issue. Both pieces of legislation are said to violate the rule, which states: “Every act of the Legislature shall embrace but one subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.”

The law struck down by the state Supreme Court early last week was the 2009 tort reform law that, among other things, set limits on lawsuits and made it easier to dismiss frivolous suits.

Justices, in a 7-2 ruling, said the legislation amounted to logrolling, the practice of passing legislation that contain more than one subject. The court’s decision said the bill contained 90 sections that encompassed a variety of subjects that do not reflect a common, closely akin theme or purpose.

Then, on Thursday, an Oklahoma City attorney with a history of successfully challenging legislative actions filed a lawsuit against a bill approved in the just-completed legislative session that would cut the state income tax and provide funds to repair the crumbling state Capitol.

Jerry Fent says in his lawsuit the legislation violates the single-subject provision in the constitution.

What happens in this case remains to be seen. We won’t know until the courts rule.

In the case of tort reform, lawmakers already are talking about what they can do in the 2014 legislative session to get the rules passed again.

One thing they could do is break the sections out and pass them as separate bills. The Supreme Court didn’t rule the changes were unconstitutional, just that they shouldn’t have been included in one bill.

The court actions are a reminder to lawmakers to be mindful of the constitution. Now, we see legislation that enjoyed strong support in jeopardy because lawmakers didn’t do that.

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