MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

December 4, 2012

Attorney challenges state charter school bill

— OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City attorney told a state Supreme Court referee Tuesday that a charter school bill amended in the final days of the 2012 Legislature to include a $30 million appropriation for textbooks is unconstitutional.

Attorney Jerry Fent said that Senate Bill 1816, which was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin and went into effect on July 1, contains two subject matters in violation of the Constitution's prohibition on logrolling, or passing legislation with multiple subjects.

Fent said the practice gives lawmakers an all-or-nothing choice and that the entire bill should be struck down as unconstitutional.

"Appropriations in a bill with substantive law rings a bell. It's two subject matters," Fent said.

But Assistant Attorney General Nancy Zerr said the appropriation and the portion of the bill dealing with charter schools all deal with education and aren't logrolling.

"This is an education bill," Zerr told court referee Gregory Albert. "The provisions are not misleading. It's not so broad that it covers other areas of state government."

Albert said he will write a report on the issue and present it to the Supreme Court's nine justices, who will make the final decision. He did not indicate when the Supreme Court might hand down a ruling.

Fent sued Fallin and other state officials in October, alleging that the measure amounts to illegal spending of public funds. Fent said he had no problem with the substance of the legislation, just the form in which it was passed.

Zerr said the textbook appropriation is a special appropriation that funds a single state government purpose and does not leave lawmakers with an all-or-nothing choice. She suggested that any part of the bill considered unconstitutional by the state's highest court could be severed and the remainder of the legislation could still remain in effect.

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz has said the governor is confident the Legislature acted appropriately.

Fent's lawsuit also names state Treasurer Ken Miller and the Board of Education as defendants.

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