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All articles by Steve Lewis

Do lawmakers have a Plan B if the court throws out their budget? (Capitol Update)

by | July 21st, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I’m hoping — wondering without knowing — if anyone is doing some serious planning for what will happen if the Oklahoma Supreme Court holds a substantial portion of the funding for the current state budget unconstitutional. Most of the legislative leaders I’ve heard speak since the adjournment last May have acknowledged without admitting that an adverse ruling is a pretty good possibility.

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for the lawsuits challenging the revenue increases for August 8th. The Justices are likely researching and circulating opinions in advance of oral argument, and if nothing is said to significantly change their opinions, I think we can expect a ruling within a fairly short time after the oral arguments.

Since the fiscal year began July 1st, the state agencies are already depending on that money. If the court rules the funding unconstitutional, it will likely create an immediate revenue failure. Allocations of state funding go out to the various state agencies on a one-twelfth per month basis, so if there is a revenue failure, monthly allocations will be cut across the board in whatever percentage the court rules unconstitutional, plus whatever amount has already been spent that may have to be returned. The longer the court takes to rule, the more aggravated the problem could become.

If the legislature is required to go into special session to deal with the budget crisis, it would sure be a good thing if the governor and legislators have a plan. If they start from scratch and begin wrangling as they did during the regular session, throwing one potential tax increase after another against the wall to see if it sticks, the problem will simply get worse. It’s not only state agencies that will suffer, but schools and providers that contract with the state to provide state services — to say nothing of the Oklahomans who rely on the services. It’s a sobering prospect, and it will likely be happening about the time school starts.

Will interim studies create stronger momentum for justice reform? (Capitol Update)

by | July 14th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

The House legislative interim studies for this summer and fall have been approved, assigned to committees, and published. The issue that attracted the most attention is criminal justice reform. In fact, Speaker Charles McCall combined several study requests and will appoint not one, but two special committees to deal with the various criminal justice studies that were approved. It will be interesting to see if much real progress is made next session.

Governor Fallin issued an Executive Order in July of 2016, establishing the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force and charging it with “develop[ing] comprehensive criminal justice and corrections reform policy recommendations designed to alleviate prison overcrowding and reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate while improving public safety.” The membership consisted of representatives of the courts, governor’s office, attorney general’s office, district attorneys, public defenders, private advocate organizations, chambers of commerce, YWCA, Board of Corrections, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, Department of Public Safety, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and two legislators, Sen. Greg Treat (R-OKC) and Rep. Terry O’Donnell (R-Catoosa).

continue reading Will interim studies create stronger momentum for justice reform? (Capitol Update)

Under health care bill, many could lose coverage to pay for tax cuts for a few (Capitol Update)

by | July 7th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Most of the action last week seemed to come from the federal level, and it was focused primarily on the health care debate. Well, as much as it was focused at all. There seems to be a consensus that changes in the Affordable Care Act are necessary to keep health care insurance companies in business and profitable at a premium rate that Americans can afford to pay. While some think the answer is a single-payer system, it’s fair to say we are at least one election away, probably more, from serious consideration of that idea. In the meantime, we will likely go through several variations of private/public insurance.

continue reading Under health care bill, many could lose coverage to pay for tax cuts for a few (Capitol Update)

The Republican governor candidates competing for the ‘no-tax’ vote (Capitol Update)

by | June 30th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Gary Richardson

Republican gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson announced last week that he will file a lawsuit challenging three of the measures that produced enough revenue during the legislative session to get the Legislature adjourned by the mandated last Friday in May. I think it was a smart political move by Richardson, who is attempting to consolidate the formidable anti-tax wing of Republican primary voters behind his candidacy. In his announcement for governor last February, soon after the Legislature went into session, Richardson said, “The current budget crisis in Oklahoma proves to me that Oklahoma isn’t a poor state but a state run poorly. It’s important that the people of Oklahoma have a Governor who will make the right decisions to get our state out of this budget crisis without raising taxes.”

continue reading The Republican governor candidates competing for the ‘no-tax’ vote (Capitol Update)

Child abuse prevention and at-home care for seniors are latest services at risk due to shrinking state government (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Even with the legislature adjourned, there seems to be no dearth of activity emanating from Oklahoma City. The State Supreme Court has set oral arguments on the constitutional challenge to the cigarette “fee” for August 8, to be heard by the entire court. I haven’t seen the pleadings in the case, but oral arguments are usually among the last things to happen before an appellate court makes its decision. This must mean the Court decided to assume original jurisdiction and rule on the case quickly. Given the importance of the funding to the recently-passed budget and the havoc that would be created if the fee were implemented, then held unconstitutional, it’s a good thing to get the ruling before the fee is set to go into effect on August 25th.

continue reading Child abuse prevention and at-home care for seniors are latest services at risk due to shrinking state government (Capitol Update)

Time for teachers to use their outside voices (Capitol Update)

by | June 16th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Where are the teachers? I don’t blame the teachers who have decided to leave the classroom or leave the state. But are those who are staying willing to fight in Oklahoma for their profession and their children? After four months of wrangling, legislators closed the 2017 session with a so-called “flat” education budget. Many of them wanted to do better, but they could have used a little help. We’re number one in cutting education in the past eight years.

continue reading Time for teachers to use their outside voices (Capitol Update)

What supporters of SQ 640 didn’t foresee (Capitol Update)

by | June 9th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

blindfolded man in danger of walking off cliff

This is the first year that SQ 640 has come into play. In 1992, SQ 640 put the requirement in the state constitution that compels a three-fourths majority vote in the House and Senate to enact revenue bills. For most of the years since 1992 the measure served to kill any talk of revenue raising by the Legislature. Legislators were content to avoid the bitter pill of voting on tax increases by adhering to the consensus that a three-fourths majority is just too high a hurdle. The prevailing view held that the Legislature “can’t” raise taxes.

The problem is that legislators can cut taxes, usually a popular vote, with a simple majority. And in good times they take the opportunity to do that. You can think of quite a few political careers that have been built on cutting taxes, few if any that were built on raising taxes. But now, in the face of repeated budget shortfalls and revenue failures, the need for more revenue in Oklahoma has been acknowledged by all but a small faction in the Legislature.

continue reading What supporters of SQ 640 didn’t foresee (Capitol Update)

State budget sitting on shaky constitutional foundations (Capitol Update)

by | June 2nd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Wow! I admit I never saw this coming. When the legislature returned for its last week of regular session, I thought members would quickly come to some sort of revenue and budget agreement to at least keep the state going, if not to fix our fiscal dilemma. I thought that because I know there are enough people of good will in the House and Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, who understand the situation and want to make things work. Apparently, they tried briefly on Monday to do that, and then the governor and legislative leadership decided to move on into troubled legal waters.

If you’re looking for a silver lining, the bright side of this is that, even in the face of a fiscal crisis, Republican legislative leaders decided not to proceed with alarming budget cuts to state agencies, most of whom — from education to corrections — are already unable to responsibly fulfill their duties to the public. But my fear, and prediction, is that the relief of the fiscal crisis is only temporary and will soon be replaced with both a fiscal and constitutional crisis. Legislative leaders, with the active collusion of the governor, decided to simply interpret away State Question 640. I don’t like SQ 640. I didn’t vote for it when it passed a vote of the people, and I regret that it passed. But, for the love of Life, it is now Article V Section 33 of the Oklahoma Constitution!

continue reading State budget sitting on shaky constitutional foundations (Capitol Update)

A test of leadership for Speaker McCall (Capitol Update)

by | May 12th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

With only two weeks of session remaining (one week to pass revenue bills), legislators seem determined to paint themselves into a corner. This week, the logjam needs to be broken. There is nearly unprecedented support, almost demand, for increased revenue. This is not because Oklahomans have suddenly become a population of tax-and-spend liberals. It’s because the combination of tax cuts, the decline in record-high oil prices, and reliance on a hoped-for quick economic recovery have created a crisis. The cupboard is bare, and everyone except the willfully blind can see it.

In our kind of government there are times when each of our leaders must take his turn at leading. This is a genuine test of the nascent administration of House Speaker Charles McCall and his leadership team. Speaker McCall, in his fifth year in the legislature and first year as Speaker, is at the helm of a sinking ship of state. If it’s not apparent now, it will be in a few weeks if the Legislature doesn’t act. It’s not his fault, but it is his turn. The House must start the revenue-raising process, and if they don’t do it, nothing can happen.

continue reading A test of leadership for Speaker McCall (Capitol Update)

House and Senate vacancies should make passing revenue bills easier (Capitol Updates)

by | May 5th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (3)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Several revenue-raising measures were introduced last week, and at least some will soon be making their way to the House and Senate floors for a vote. The revenue bills were introduced in the House and must be passed by 75 percent of the members of each chamber to become law. Discussion continues between House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office on which revenue bills to bring to a vote. A consensus seems to have developed that more revenue is necessary, but the debate now is over how much and how to raise it. A 75 percent vote on any controversial issue is a high bar, but it was intentionally created for revenue bills by the Oklahoma Constitution as the result of SQ 640 passed in 1992.

continue reading House and Senate vacancies should make passing revenue bills easier (Capitol Updates)

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