A state senator said Thursday that Oklahoma lawmakers should work with state Supreme Court justices on how to deal with the single-subject constitutional provision that has resulted in the overturning of several laws in recent years, including a 2009 comprehensive law that deals with the filing of lawsuits.
Sen. Kyle Loveless said the single-subject provision should be kept, but guidelines could be defined that would allow more than one section in a bill as long as they deal with the same subject.
“If there's a way for us to legislatively define what single-subject matter is, I think that needs to be looked at,” he said.
Otherwise lawmakers are looking at passing separate bills for each section, which will be time-consuming and impractical in a four-month session, said Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. Measures have to pass separate House and Senate committees and a vote in each chamber in order to win approval; changes along the way result in a measure going to a conference committee for additional consideration.
Gov. Mary Fallin is considering calling a special session to come up with new legislation after the state Supreme Court last month threw out a 2009 law dealing with how lawsuits are filed. In a 7-2 vote, they said the law violated the state constitutional requirement that bills deal only with a single subject.
Loveless said he agreed with the two dissenting justices who wrote that legislators and the public understood the common themes and purposes in the law dealt with regulations on the filing of lawsuits.
“Logrolling is when you take an unpopular subject matter and put it with a popular item that has nothing to do with the other,” he said.
If a special session is called, lawmakers would have to deal with about two dozen measures to rework the 2009 law, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, has said.
Loveless said that appears to be the only option for a special session, but he hoped lawmakers could work with justices on coming up with an alternative by the time next year's regular session starts in February.
The state Supreme Court in recent years has been critical of logrolling, or putting several subjects into one measure. Justices have tossed out sections of law or entire laws they found to be violating the single-subject rule. In a 2010 logrolling case, the high court said it was “growing weary of admonishing the Legislature for so flagrantly violating” the single-subject rule of the constitution.
Loveless said he is concerned the Supreme Court, based on last month's ruling, could interpret the income tax cut measure passed and signed into law earlier this year as violating the single-subject rule. In addition to cutting the top personal income tax rate in 2015, House Bill 2032 provides $120 million over two years to pay for repairs to the crumbling state Capitol.
A legal challenge has been filed to the measure asking the high court to rule on the matter.