The chairman of a new state House committee doesn't know yet what bills will be assigned to it, but he says he can guarantee one topic won't come up for a hearing.
“The one thing that people have confused this with is preparing or trying to secede from the Union,” said Rep. Lewis Moore, chairman of the House of Representatives States' Rights Committee. “We're not trying to do that.
“There's been in no way, shape or form any desire to do that,” said Moore, R-Arcadia. “We want to work within the system that we have to be both American citizens and the best Oklahoma citizens that we can be.”
It's just as well. President Barack Obama's administration last week told petitioners seeking to allow Texas to secede from the United States and create an independent government that it wasn't permitted. A White House official said the Founding Fathers established the United States as a perpetual union. The Texas petition, with 125,746 signatures, declared that withdrawing from the Union was feasible because the state had a balanced budget, as does Oklahoma.
Rep. Mike Shelton, one of four Democrats on the 12-member committee, said any legislator who brings up secession breaks the oath office to defend the U.S. Constitution.
“I hope that we don't have to deal with situations like that,” said Shelton, of Oklahoma City. “Oklahoma's clearly a better state by partnering with the government on a lot of programs.”
Moore, who three years ago switched Obama's portrait in the House chamber with that of then-Gov. Brad Henry, said the point of the States' Rights Committee is to oppose intrusive federal regulations that duplicate what state agencies are doing or what they can do.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, during his acceptance speech earlier this month, said House Republicans will oppose intrusion by the federal government.
“We will fight every invasive regulation,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “We will refuse each costly expansion.”
Possible bill topics
Moore said he won't know until House Republican leaders assign bills which measures his panel will consider. The bill filing deadline was Thursday; about 1,300 measures were filed in the House.
Moore said it would appear that a measure seeking to exempt guns made in Oklahoma from federal regulations could be heard in his committee, but more than likely will be assigned to the House Public Safety Committee, which traditionally has heard bills dealing with guns.
The same is true with a measure that would punish any official with the federal government who attempted to enforce the national health care law by being charged with a felony, he said. It could be heard in his committee, but more than likely will be assigned to a committee dealing with health or insurance issues.
“This committee could in its first year be a backup committee,” Moore said. “It could take over bills because it basically deals with everything. It could take over bills that are having a hard time ... or are not being heard by a committee. They can bring it over here to be heard.”
Shelton said he is optimistic the panel will focus on issues that could help the state.
“I was shocked on the members that I saw on the committee,” said Shelton, of Oklahoma City. “I expected a certain group of members and I feel like he got a very collective group of members on that committee that will offer a lot of conversation and it should be fun.”
Moore said he hopes the committee will hear a measure he filed. House Bill 1252 would drastically change how Oklahomans pay their state and federal taxes. It calls for taxpayers to pay a flat tax to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. It would deposit the money in the state treasury and the federal government's share would be paid monthly or quarterly. The state could use the interest money earned on the funds to pay for a variety of state services.
Setting up the new tax method would require cooperation from the federal government and eliminating all income tax deductions and credits. Proposals last year to reduce or eliminate the state personal income tax stalled partly because of opposition to their being dependent on getting rid of certain deductions and credits.
“Everything's fair,” Moore said. “Everything's completely even, and it's giving a fresh start, hitting the reset button on how we tax in Oklahoma.”
The committee also might look at the amount of federal money coming to state agencies and how agencies are spending it, he said. In addition to the $6.8 billion lawmakers appropriated for this fiscal year, state agencies received about $7.5 billion from the federal government.
“We don't really have a good way to account for that money,” Moore said. “We don't have a way to see if it is being used in the best possible manner.”
One possibility is that all the federal money should go instead to the state treasury, and then lawmakers would appropriate it, he said.
“The state Legislature which is the representative of the people has a chance to see and figure out where that money's going to go, what strings are attached to that money, what mandates are attached to that money,” Moore said. “It's like right now we have a shadow government in and amongst us working with our state agencies that we don't really ever get to see.”