State House rejects override attempts of bills on whooping cough, veterans’ tax exemption

OKLAHOMA CITY — In bipartisan votes this week, the state House narrowly rejected two attempts to override the governor vetoes of two House bills.

Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, made a motion Wednesday (May 7) that House Bill 2976 become law notwithstanding the governor’s veto on April 29.

H.B. 2976 would require hospitals to provide the parent(s) of a newborn, prior to the mother’s and baby’s discharge from the hospital, with information concerning the availability of a vaccine to protect the infant against pertussis (whooping cough). Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that triggers severe coughing fits and can result in death.

Reports of whooping cough have increased for three consecutive years, and more than 650 cases of the disease have been reported to the State Health Department over the last four years. Reported cases numbered 199 in 2010, plunged to 70 in 2011, more than doubled to 158 in 2012, and climbed to 229 (a preliminary count) last year, according to agency Communications Director Leslea Bennett-Webb.

In her veto message, the governor wrote that H.B. 2976 would require Oklahoma hospitals to provide parents of newborns educational information about pertussis and the availability of the vaccine to prevent the disease, and recommend to parents that their infant receive a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine during the postpartum period. “While I strongly support the prevention of pertussis in newborns, this bill will not advance that effort,” the governor wrote.

Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, principal author of H.B. 2976, advised Hamilton that “some other” legislative vehicles are pending in House/Senate conference committees that could provide the governor with an opportunity to reconsider the matter.

“I don’t see the logic of sending her another bill to veto,” Hamilton responded, and said her intent is to prevent any deaths from whooping cough. She also reminded her colleagues that the legislative branch is supposed to be one of the three co-equal branches of government, and the House ought to stand its ground instead of being a doormat.

A motion was made to table Hamilton’s motion to override the veto, and the tabling motion squeaked by on a 38-36 vote. A dozen Republicans joined 24 Democrats in opposing the tabling motion; in supporting the motion, Schwartz voted to sustain the veto of his own bill.

A virtually identical situation occurred Monday (May 5) when Rep. Brian Renegar, D-McAlester, lodged a motion to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 2832.

Current state law provides a sales tax exemption for anyone who has been honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces and is totally disabled as a result of military action or accident, or from a disease contracted while on active duty.

H.B. 2832 would direct the Oklahoma Tax Commission to issue a separate tax-exemption card to the spouse of an eligible veteran or to a member of the household in which the veteran resides “who is authorized to make purchases on the person’s behalf…”

In her veto message the governor said the proposed requirement “is overly broad and does not contain adequate safeguards against the misuse of the sales tax advantage…”

Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, the principal author of H.B. 2832, recommended that rather than attempt a veto override, the House should find another piece of legislation into which the language in H.B. 2832 could be inserted as an amendment, or just resubmit the same legislation next year.

Both suggestions do an injustice to disabled veterans and their families, Renegar contended.

For one, if the language in H.B. 2832 were tacked onto another bill, the consolidated measure quite possibly would violate the constitutional requirement that every piece of legislation must address just one subject.

Furthermore, Renegar said, many of the military veterans returning from Afghanistan have lost one or more limbs from improvised explosive devices. Many of them will need a spouse or other family member to shop for them at least temporarily, if not permanently.

“Their husbands or wives or children will have enough problems already without getting hassled about using someone else’s tax exemption card, when they should be entitled to their own,” Renegar said.

If a veteran or his/her spouse doesn’t have the card at the time of the purchase, the veteran has to request a refund of the sales tax paid by documenting the exemption at a later date or by submitting a refund request to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

The House spurned the override proposal on a 48-45 vote on a tabling motion. Renegar noted that 18 Republicans broke ranks and voted with 27 Democrats to override the veto; the two other House Democrats had medical appointments when the override vote came up. Martin voted to sustain the veto of his own bill.