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Local & Regional

Unconstitutional Legislation Has Nonmonetary Cost to Oklahoma

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Oklahoma’s state government has had its day in court several times over the past few years to defend new laws from constitutional challenges.

Attorney General Mike Hunter maintains all that litigation is not costing taxpayers a dime.

"We don't pay overtime in the Attorney General's office, and so the additional time that we put into a case does not present an additional cost to the state," Hunter told state senators this week during an interim study about the cost of unconstitutional legislation. "And on constitutional challenges like this, at least since 2015, we can't identify a case where we retained outside counsel."

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Executive Vice President of Economic Development Kurt Foreman said a spate of laws challenged in court the past few years have subjected Oklahoma to scathing articles from international press and jokes on late-night TV.

"Well, we might not care, but someone who might have Oklahoma potential in their future might hear that and mark us off their list," Foreman said.

Foreman said the problem is most pronounced when lawmakers tackle issues that aren’t issues, pointing out North Carolina lost major sporting events over its transgender bathroom bill.

OU law professor Joseph Thai said the state could benefit from a constitutional review of legislation before lawmakers pass it.

"Whenever they pass unconstitutional measures — measures that seem to be clearly unconstitutional under established law — it amounts to a self-inflicted wound on their reputation and, by association, on the reputation of the state that can accumulate over time and can become increasingly difficult to recover from," Thai said.

Though the state has been in court several times recently to defend laws — including the cigarette tax that was struck down — Thai said most of the Oklahoma legislature’s work is constitutional.