Close to half of the states have enacted Qui Tam laws modeled on the federal False Claims Act to combat fraud against state and local governments. Most of the reforms deal with Medicare and Medicade fraud.
Senator Johnson says the increase will make it more difficult for a small group of disgruntled citizens to stop a government project. He believes the increases to be reasonable. Evidently his colleagues in the Senate agreed, passing SB331 by a vote of 43-0. The measure passed the House by a vote of 65-34. See House votes at http://e-lobbyist.com/gaits/rollcall/64856
On Thursday, Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent filed a lawsuit directly with the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeking to stop SB331 from taking effect on November 1st. Fent says the law will make it more difficult for taxpayers to stop government corruption. Fent named only Governor Fallin in the suit since she signed the bill.
Fent has a history of suing government when he disagrees with their actions. He has been called both a watchdog and a nutcase by various groups. Fent sued the state in June of this year over the state budget. In 2010, he won a lawsuit against the state when the State Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in his favor after he successfully argued the legislature could not collect ‘a fee’ from one area and use it somewhere else. In that case, it was a clear violation of SQ 640 and the state constitution.
Fent has also argued before the State Supreme Court the current Judicial Nominating Committee is unconstitutional because it operates from old historical congressional lines and not the new lines. He lost that argument in February. He argued unsuccessfully in 2009 that Oklahoma’s acceptance of federal stimulus money was not handled properly.
No one should be able to get rich by suing taxpayers. The provision to limit awards to only attorney fees and court costs is needed reform, but raising the number of discontented citizens necessary to file a suit against the state from 10 to 100 is too much. It appears this bill may have been targeted at Fent and like-minded individuals who file frequent lawsuits against government, but when legislators ‘target’ a citizen because he uses his ‘right’ too much, they hurt all of us. The average citizen must have a mechanism to appeal laws that are not well thought out.
Taxpayer lawsuits against government do cost taxpayers money, are sometimes frivolous and take up valuable time for courts, but we need them left in the tool chest. Let’s hope Fent wins this battle in the Supreme Court. In this case, he is battling for all of us.