OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill some believe will effectively limit property owners’ ability to sue oil and gas operators survived a challenge in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday, passing 57-36 on sponsor Kevin Calvey’s assurance that he will keep members posted on the legislation’s status.
Senate Bill 356, by Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, would give prevailing parties in oil and gas lawsuits some right to recover legal costs, but the extent of that recovery is unclear.
Calvey, an Oklahoma City Republican, said those details are still being negotiated, but he disputed an assertion by Slaughterville Republican Bobby Cleveland that “only rich people will be able to sue” if SB 356 passes.
Calvey said the bill was requested by the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. It now goes to a conference committee for further negotiations.
“If anything changes, I will come to you,” Calvey said in urging the House to keep the measure alive.
Coincidentally, the House later passed legislation intended to help those of limited means access the courts. SB 459, by Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, would reallocate 45 cents from a $2 court filing fee to the Access to Justice Commission.
The entire $2 now goes to the Council on Judicial Complaints, which is running a surplus.
The bill ran into Republican opposition on two fronts. Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, tried to amend SB 459 to increase the allocation to 65 cents. Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, wanted to eliminate the fee altogether.
At least part of the resistance was related to a belief that the Council on Judicial Complaints intends to use 20 cents of its remaining $1.55 fee to underwrite continuing legal education.
SB 459 must go back to the Senate for final approval.
Also in the House Tuesday:
Members signaled continued skepticism about charter schools, and especially online charter schools, by voting down a relatively routine measure dealing with the board created to oversee them.
SB 505, by Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, authorizes a revolving fund for the board. A revolving fund is like a bank account for operating expenses, but some members questioned the need for it and the amount — $2 million — to be deposited in it. The measure failed 43-52, but it could be brought back up for reconsideration later this week.
With only one dissenting vote, SB 549, by Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, advanced from the House floor. The bill would decouple judicial salaries from those of statewide elected officials and would raise the salaries of the elected officials, effective with each office’s next term. The increases would not apply, for instance, to anyone elected until after the 2018 election.
SB 438, by Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, passed with only one vote more than the minimum 51. The bill would allow municipalities to set their own limits for contributions to local elections.