Oklahoma City -- The chief of executive of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, has exercised his constitutional authority to veto House Bill 1236.
The measure emerged as subject of intense controversy only late in the ongoing legislative session.
A change of presenting legal wording with supporting recovery for costs, including attorneys fees -- and sanctions in instances of frivolous lawsuits -- would have allowed broad judicial discretion.
The shift toward greater judicial discretion came as a result of changes made during the joint conference committee process.
A 'late-in-the-day' legislative final vote reflected some lack of awareness of the bill's provisions.
Members of the Oklahoma Press Association, which had monitored the bill throughout the session, began to intensify opposition as members became aware of the language shift.
Last week, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, the state’s largest free market think tank, assailed the bill in a detailed explanation of its impact, if enacted.
A news story pointed out the risks for both news organizations and the free speech/freedom of association rights of citizens.
The City Sentinel newspaper strongly encouraged the governor to veto the bill.
In his veto message, delivered to the House and Senate and copied to the Oklahoma Secretary of State on Monday, May 22, Governor Kevin Stitt said:
TO THE HONORABLE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE
AND MEMBERS OF THE OKLAHOMA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
FIRST REGULAR SESSION OF THE
FIFTY-NINTH OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE
ENROLLED HOUSE BILL NO. 1236:
"Pursuant to the authority vested in me by Section 11 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution, I have vetoed Enrolled House Bill 1236.
"Enrolled House Bill 1236 would amend the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act, which is designed to deter lawsuits intended to chill Oklahomans' right of free speech, right to petition and right of association. Currently, defendants who secure dismissal of lawsuits under the Act are entitled to mandatory costs, attorney fees, other expenses, and potential sanctions. The Bill would
make discretionary what is now mandatory.
"Such a change would undermine the Act's purpose, ensuring a greater frequency of frivolous lawsuits against Oklahomans exercising free speech. Although I would support an amendment providing for mandatory attorney fees only when a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is found to be frivolous, this amendment would go too far in relaxing a needed deterrent.
"For these reasons, I have vetoed Enrolled House Bill 1236."
Note: Pat McGuigan is editor emeritus for The City Sentinel - Oklahoma City.
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