Oklahoma Supreme Court Declares Cigarette Fee Unconstitutional

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFSM) — A measure passed by the Oklahoma state legislature that was expected to generate more than $200 million in revenue has been deemed unconstitutional.

The measure, called the “cigarette fee,” would make consumers pay a $1.50 per pack fee on cigarettes, reported KFOR. Lawmakers passed the the bill last-minute while trying to pass a state budget in order to avoid a special session.

However, the cigarette fee was ruled unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday morning (Aug. 10).

Senate Bill 845 “flagrantly violates…the Oklahoma Constitution,” attorney Robert McCampbell wrote in a petition to the court. “SB 845 is the Legislature’s single largest revenue bill of 2017. Yet SB 845 became law even though it originated in the Senate, passed on the final day of the legislative session, and secured bare legislative majorities.”

“No revenue bill should be passed during the five last days of session,” states the Oklahoma Constitution. Additionally, no revenue bills can be passed without a three-fourths majority of the vote.

However, the cigarette bill was not branded as a revenue bill. The cigarette fee was passed within the final days of the legislative session, and it did not get the three-fourths majority.

Justice Patrick Wyrick said the legislature violated the state’s constitution in an attempt to avoid a special session, according to court documents.

According to the ruling, the bill “did not indicate the purpose of the $1.50 assessment was to reduce the incidence of smoking, nor did they mention any non-revenue-raising regulatory purpose.”

Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, voted against the SB 845 in May. He cited competition from across the state line in Arkansas as one of his main reasons.

“If we raise that price, they’re going to take their cigarette money and come over to Arkansas and buy their tobacco,” Allen said.

The state has one week to request a rehearing. If the ruling stands, the legislature could have to gather for a special session.

Allen said he expects a special session to be called, but said it’s unclear exactly when.

The funding affects several state agencies, including the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

“We’re going to be looking at cost saving measures, and if we can find money that way, we’ll fill that hole there,” Allen said. “If not, we’ll just have to make cuts to the agencies involved.”