The bill passed the Senate unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed the State House 57-39 and was sent to the Governor, but Henry vetoed it saying, “While HB 2167 is well intended and has many good provisions, the legislation potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences. Many state agencies could easily comply with the contracting restrictions in question, but for those agencies, such as Oklahoma Department of Transportation, that must respond quickly to a lawsuit or that must execute a large volume of legal contracts by virtue of their statutory responsibilities, such mandates would impair their ability to respond to pressing legal issues or to timely complete crucial projects, causing undue delays, increasing costs to the state and causing them to miss court-imposed deadlines. The Legislature should consider legislation that recognizes the unique statutory responsibilities of such adversely-impacted agencies.” Because it was such a close vote in the House, it was not likely the veto could have been overturned, but Sykes has vowed to file a similar bill in the next session.
Secondly, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act is model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and has been passed in Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia. Several other states are considering the same legislation. That means three of our bordering states have enacted this policy to provide more transparency in government. If Oklahoma continues to lag behind the region in dealing with tort reform, we can expect to lose more doctors and health care professionals to states that have enacted true tort reform.
And finally, there is a fundamental moral problem with the practice itself. The head of a government agency should not be able to hire his friends or supporters with taxpayer money without a competitive bid and then solicit campaign contributions from those same friends and supporters. That is a clear conflict of interest and invites corruption.
According to the May 2009 WSJ editorial, “Mr. Edmondson was one of the first AGs to jump into the 1990s tobacco litigation. He gave work to two non-Oklahoma giants of tobacco torts, Motley Rice and Scruggs Millette. Also receiving contracts were three Oklahoma firms, including Riggs Abney -- home to Mr. Edmondson's friend and political ally, another former AG named Mike Turpen. As their part of the tobacco settlement, the firms would ultimately reap $250 million in legal fees. Mr. Turpen's firm collected $30 million.”