Gumm presses to enforce disabled vet benefit

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 14-May-2010

A bill from state Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, designed to increase penalties for retailers who refuse to honor a sales tax exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans, emerged from a conference committee with more “teeth” than before. The measure won unanimous approval by the full Senate on Tuesday (May 14).

After gaining Governor Brad Henry’s consent, another Gumm proposal to protect taxidermists who get “stiffed” by hunter-customers is now state law, having passed the Legislature last month.

Sen. Gumm, a Democrat from Durant, was the original author of legislation approved in 2005 granting a sales tax exemption to veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability.

When the bill first became law, there were news reports and complaints from veterans that some retailers were not honoring the exemption. Such refusals forced veterans to file for reimbursement from the Oklahoma Tax Commission in order to receive the exemption. Gumm said forcing veterans to take these additional steps was an inconvenience and insulting to them. In response, the senator passed legislation the following year instituting a $500 administrative fine.

“When we did that, compliance jumped to about 90 percent, but we still have at least one nationwide retailer who operates in Oklahoma that has continued to refuse to honor this exemption,” Gumm said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK.

“Senate Bill 1321 will make that $500 fine a misdemeanor, plus those businesses that knowingly refuse to honor this exemption could lose their sales tax permit for seven days. That should get their attention and improve their willingness to comply with our law,” Sen. Gumm said.

In addition, communications between businesses refusing to honor the exemption and the State Tax Commission would be open and available to the public as well as members of the media.

“Between the misdemeanor, the public exposure of their noncompliance and losing the ability to operate in our state for a week, surely these hold-outs will get the message, obey the law, and finally give our disabled veterans the respect they deserve,” Gumm said.

S.B. 1321 returned to the House of Representatives for a final vote before heading to Governor Brad Henry for his signature.

Gov. Henry has already signed into law a bill that will ensure Oklahoma taxidermists are not stuck with the expense of preparing trophies should hunters not pick up the mount.

That measure, Senate Bill 1275, was written by Gumm after a local Bryan County taxidermist contacted him about the problem. Rep. John Carey of Durant, who also represents Bryan County, was the House sponsor of the measure.

Taxidermist Jarrod Johnson contacted the senator and explained that Oklahoma law prevents taxidermists from selling unclaimed specimens. That law, according to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, was in place to prevent trafficking animal carcasses across state lines.

“The old law made sense for that purpose,” Gumm said. “The unintended consequence is that taxidermists were left ‘holding the bag,’ out both the time and cost of preparing a specimen which they could not recover.”

The legislation requires taxidermists to keep the name, address, and hunting license number when hunters leave a specimen to be mounted. The hunter will get a form explaining the process.

When the specimen is ready, the taxidermist must call the hunter to let them know the mount is ready. If the hunter fails to pick up the specimen and pay the balance due within six months after that call, the taxidermist will be able to sell the unclaimed specimen to an Oklahoma resident to recover costs in its preparation.

“The bill was never intended to be a ‘money-maker’ for taxidermists,” Gumm explained. “It simply is written to make certain taxidermists are held harmless when they, in good faith, prepare a mount for a hunter.”

Both Gumm and Carey, a fellow Democrat, expressed their thanks to Gov. Brad Henry for signing the measure.

Oklahoma Taxidermists Association President Kenneth Bauman, of Anadarko, said his organization represents 125 taxidermists in the state.  He said they were extremely grateful to Senator Gumm for his efforts in bringing about this much-needed change in state law.

“We’re thrilled.  This has been an ongoing problem for years,” said Bauman, who has been in the taxidermy business for 19 years. “I probably have close to $1000 in unclaimed mounts sitting in my own store right now that legally I haven’t been able sell.  This is great for taxidermists.”

The measure will officially take effect on November 1, 2010.