Challenge heard to Oklahoma virtual charter school law

State Supreme Court referee hears arguments that the measure should be struck down because it violates a constitutional prohibition on placing multiple subjects into a single bill. An attorney for the state says the measure is legal because both fall under the same subject of education.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: December 5, 2012
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A measure that authorizes a statewide virtual charter school and $30 million for textbooks for public schools is legal because both fall under the same subject of education, a state attorney said Tuesday.

Assistant Attorney General Nancy Zerr said the measure, Senate Bill 1816, does not violate the one-subject rule in the state constitution.

“This is an education bill,” she said. “The textbooks directly relate to public education of children and the charter school provision relates to education.

“It clearly falls under the one subject — education,” Zerr said. “The provisions are not misleading. The language is clear. It is not ambiguous.”

But Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, who is challenging the legislation, said the measure should be struck down because it violates a constitutional prohibition on placing multiple subjects into a single bill.

Fent said the high court, if it agrees with his argument, shouldn't decide which legislative matter should remain in effect.

“If they attempt to make part of it unconstitutional and the other part legal, then the court is legislating,” he said. “The court is the judicial branch.”

Zerr disagreed.

“If the court determines that the special appropriation of this bill found in Section 20 shouldn't be in this bill … then Section 20 could be severed and the balance of the bill would still make sense,” she said.

Fent said SB 1816 also is unconstitutional because the state constitution requires that general appropriation bills should consist of nothing but allocating money for the state and that “all other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing one subject.”

Fent and Zerr used the same section of the constitution to argue their cases before Supreme Court referee Greg Albert, who will file a report with the court.

Zerr said SB 1816 was a special appropriation to the state Education Department. She said Article 5, Section 56 of the state constitution states the general appropriation bill shall consist of nothing but appropriations for state government.

But Fent called foul because Zerr didn't include the last sentence of the section, which states, “All other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one subject.”



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