“Black Friday” reform signed into law after years of debate

Legal protections for discounted pricing in retail sales will result from Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 550.

For the first time since the 1940s, so-called “Black Friday” tactics will be formally allowed in the Sooner State, thanks to the law sponsored by state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, which Gov. Mary Fallin signed last week.

Fallin held a ceremonial signing for sponsors at the Capitol June 10 (Monday).

Since 1941, state retailers in most cases had to sell products for at least six percent more than they paid for the items. A December 2011 formal opinion from Attorney General Scott Pruitt affirmed the decades-old populist law meant what it said, even in the era of Wal-Mart and other “Big Box” operations known for below-cost discounts as a means of attracting buyers – particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“Black Friday” is a popular designation for that and subsequent days, known among retailers as the time of year when they begin to operate “in the black” for the calendar year.

For decades, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have had the most restrictive limitations on discount pricing, but after Nov. 1, when S.B. 550 goes into effect, that will change.

Advocates of reform have said the old law put retailers in the state at a competitive disadvantage because neighboring states allowed bargains that were barred by the Oklahoma laws.

Discount pricing as a promotional tactic is not limited to the day after Thanksgiving, of course, and includes “Back-to-School” and holiday sales events.

According to a House staff summary of S.B. 550, it “allows Oklahoma retailers to sell general merchandise products at any price below their cost up to 15 days in a row on a specific product, up to 10 times a year. Groceries, drugs, gas, and lumber will still be subject to the law as before, but the pricing of all other products will fall under the provisions of SB 550.”

Sen. Holt told CapitolBeatOK, “I have never believed that Oklahomans should pay higher retail prices only because the government says they should. Under the provisions of SB 550, the consumer will enjoy low prices on the products they expect when they expect, and that’s the way it should be.

“The previous law undermined a free market economy and its effects had been detrimental to our citizens. Nevertheless, it’s taken 70 years to amend it.” 

Rep. Newell commented, “This bill is good for our economy, it’s good for retailers and it’s certainly good for consumers. We’re basically removing a government hurdle for businesses and allowing the free market system to work for Oklahoma.”

Ron Sharp, R-Pottawatomie County, was Holt’s Senate co-author. Also backing the measure was state Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Osage County, who asked for the 2011 AG opinion.

After years of debate, the “Black Friday” reform took on critical mass at the Capitol this year, thanks in part to support organized by the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-OK), one of the state’s largest and most effective grass roots impact groups.

S.B. 550 gained final passage in the Senate on a 29-15 vote; then sailed through the House 65-15, with 21 members not voting. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.