OKLAHOMA CITY — Writing that it was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a bill that supporters and tribal leaders contended would have made Oklahoma roadways safer and increased cooperation between tribes and the state.
State Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell, said House Bill 3501 would have allowed the Department of Public Safety to use tribal court convictions for things like driving under the influence and speeding to suspend or revoke driver’s licenses. Hardin said DPS currently considers convictions from state or municipal courts.
Hardin said the Choctaw Nation asked him to run the bill, and said it has support from law enforcement because it would have helped them.
Still, Hardin said he wasn’t surprised about the veto because Stitt had been upfront with him about some of his concerns and had warned that if it advanced to his desk in its current form, he probably was going to veto it.
“The governor expressed concerns to me that the tribes may want to do their own driver’s license, which I don’t think is their intent,” Hardin said. “But, I respect his decision if he wants to veto it. That is truly his decision.”
He said he doesn’t know what will happen next with the bill.
In his veto message, Stitt argued that HB 3501 was passed “under the guise of public safety,” but “would essentially require the state to carry out tribal adjudications, no questions asked.”
He said some tribes have supported recent requests that the U.S. Supreme Court deny Oklahoma the ability to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians in nearly half the state, “which hamstrings the state’s ability to seek justice.”
“If this bill had required of tribes what is expected of all legitimate governments — namely transparency, accountability and reciprocity, among others — perhaps I would have signed it. But as it reads now, this bill further erodes more than 110 years of settled state jurisdiction and sovereignty. As governor, I will not be part of any effort to yield to tribes sweeping jurisdiction where legally there is none.”
State Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, Senate author, said Tuesday he was trying to “absorb” the veto.
“This would have been an avenue where if you had multiple DUIs in the tribal courts, they could have included that,” Weaver said. “I’m a public safety guy… and all I wanted to do is try to figure out a way that we don’t have rampant DUI on the streets.”
Gary Batton, chief of the Choctaw Nation, said the bill would have promoted public safety by increasing coordination between tribal judicial systems and state agencies, but Stitt has again “chosen division and his personal political ambitions over doing what is best for Oklahoma.”
He said Choctaw tribal courts and law enforcement agencies have a long history of cooperation with state and local governments. That includes 75 cross-deputization agreements.
“Under this bill, drivers who violate the law and put others in jeopardy will be kept off the road,” Batton said. “The governor’s petty decision to block enhanced coordination between criminal justice systems does nothing but hurt public safety.”
Spokespeople for the Choctaw and Cherokee nations said the tribes have no plans to issue their own driver’s licenses.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation said in a statement the veto means DPS cannot revoke driver’s licenses of people with tribal convictions for vehicular manslaughter or negligent homicide and other specified crimes, which is “absurd.”
In a statement, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes called Stitt’s veto “unfortunate.” They said the bill was an opportunity to keep unsafe drivers off Oklahoma roadways through information sharing.
They called on lawmakers to override Stitt’s “destructive” veto.
“Our Five Tribes are committed to upholding public safety, and we welcome opportunities to collaborate and work together to solve the important public safety challenges ahead of us all, but yet again, our governor continues to be uncooperative and unwilling,” the group said. “This bill, with language provided by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, and overwhelming support by the Legislature, will keep drivers, citizens and communities safe for all 4 million Oklahomans in our state.”