Oklahoma residents soon might be able to direct a portion of their state income tax refunds to defend state laws against federal constitutional challenges, an ironic and unintended consequence of a lawmaker's tongue-in-cheek skewering of the cost of such court fights.
Rep. Joe Dorman, a Democrat from Rush Springs, said he had grown tired of seeing Oklahoma spending millions of dollars defending its proposed laws in the courts, and suggested a tax form “checkoff” as a way to draw voters' attention to the costs of legal action.
But the idea of aiding Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in his defense against constitutional challenges and fighting federal statutes has been a hit. Instead of being shuffled off to a committee where it wouldn't get a hearing, the measure sailed through the House last month on an 80-15 vote, and the Republican Senate sponsor said he intends to bring the bill to the full Senate for a vote — perhaps this week, right before federal taxes are due.
“It's getting more momentum than I expected,” Dorman said. “I honestly did not expect the bill to even get a hearing, and here it is flying right through.
“But people do realize that we're spending a lot of taxpayer dollars — millions of dollars in taxpayer money — fighting these lawsuits,” he added.
Recently challenged laws included restrictions on immigrants, abortion and the use of international law in state courts.
The bill, which Pruitt did not request, would create a special fund in the state treasury that the attorney general's office could access “for the purpose of defending the statutes of this state from constitutional challenges or challenging federal statutes.” Oklahoma has more than 20 funds to which taxpayers can designate a portion of their state tax refund, including programs for wildlife diversity, food banks, abused children and breast cancer.
State attorneys general launching legal challenges against the federal government is nothing new, but the effort has particularly gained steam among Republican AGs during the administration of President Barack Obama, said Jill Bader, a spokesman for the Republican Attorneys General Association.
“I think this trend is a direct result of this president's unprecedented federal overreach that is incredibly strong,” Bader said.