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Why Oklahoma lawmakers might not override Gov. Stitt's vetoes

Gov. Kevin Stitt gave his fifth State of the State speech at the Capitol on Feb. 6, 2023.
Whitney Bryen
/
Oklahoma Watch
Gov. Kevin Stitt gave his fifth State of the State speech at the Capitol on Feb. 6, 2023.

In the past two weeks, Gov. Kevin Stitt has vetoed dozens of bills, amid a fight over education funding.

The House and Governor are pressuring the Senate to adopt their plan, and Stitt's part has been to veto legislation authored by Senators who have not supported his plan.

Among other things, Stitt has vetoed bills that ensure greater access to overdose-reversing drugs, fund public television, and bring Oklahoma in line with other states on Name, Image, Likeness regulations for college sports.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat says he's losing hope the Oklahoma Legislature will be able to override Stitt’s vetoes. He says many state programs are getting caught in the crossfire.

"A lot of people are going to pay for that because the Speaker is not going to override those vetoes that were vital because he doesn't want to upset his new friendship, and it’s very frustrating to me," he said.

Veto overrides require a high approval of at least 2/3rds of both legislative chambers, and it's unclear whether any vetoes will be overridden while education funding measures are still at an impasse.

Aside from the questions of political will, there is also an impending deadline. The legislative session is scheduled to end in three weeks.

Education funding fight

On Thursday, Treat and State Superintendent Ryan Walters had planned to hold a public roundtable with Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall to hash it all out. But, it all fell apart.

Treat said he backed out of the discussion when he learned it would be just Walters and him. McCall refused the invitation, calling it “political theater.”

Treat says McCall is being disingenuous in how he characterizes the plans on the table. McCall claims a big part of the Senate plan is unfunded, but Treat says that’s not true and seems intentionally misleading.

Another major sticking point for McCall is a plan that would give smaller and rural districts more money per student than larger districts. Treat says his Senators met with their House counterparts and presented an alternative path to get rural schools more money, this time through a more equitable funding formula adjustment. But, that fell flat.

"What was told, relayed to me was they said, ‘you all are so caught up on the policy end of this, you’ve got to realize that we’ve got rural members that we’ve made promises to, we’ve got to have a political win here.’ And that was not in our interest. Our interest was trying to get the right policy and to help kids," said Treat.

Treat says he’ll continue pressing for an open discussion.

Vetoes affecting Native Americans

Among the bills vetoed was Senate Bill 429 , which would have allowed Native students the right to wear tribal regalia at their graduation ceremonies.

Stitt defended his actions at a Friday press conference, saying his veto won’t prevent graduates from wearing tribal regalia and that he believes superintendents should be able to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

“We're just not going to make a one size fits all,” policy, Stitt said. “And we're not going to force every school district to.”

Five tribal nations, including the Osage Nation and the Quapaw Tribe, have called for an override of Stit's veto of the tribal regalia bill, which had bipartisan support from Oklahoma lawmakers.

"The history of Oklahoma begins with tribal nations who relocated from ancestral territories as a result of the federal policy of Indian removal. Descendants of those nations reside here today. We face challenges created by our unique history and societal barriers," saio Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear in a statement. "Unfortunately, Governor Stitt did not recognize the history of Oklahoma or the rich heritage of the state’s Native American population when he vetoed Senate Bill 429 on May 1, 2023."

Other national organizations are joining them. In a press release, the Native American Rights Fund says the veto sends a message to Native students that they "must choose between their culture and religious freedoms and celebrating their achievements.”

The National Indian Education Association's executive director, Diane Cournoyer also responded and said that Stitt had, "failed to uphold his duty to 130,000 Native students in public schools in Oklahoma.

Stitt also vetoed a number of other bills that would've aided Native Americans in the state, including:

  • Senate Bill 267, which would have added Native health experts to the Advancement of Wellness Advisory Council-which would help in prevention of obesity and diabetes among Native Americans in Oklahoma.
  • House Bill 2608 which would have improved coordination between state, tribal and federal officials when monitoring sex offenders
  • House Bill 2819, which would have recreated the Oklahoma Advisory Council on Indian Education. The council would make recommendations on education matters affecting Native students to the State Board of Education and State Superintendent.
  • House Bill 2820, which continues funding for Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, which airs the Osiyo TV series featuring Cherokee language speakers, national treasures and outstanding citizens. The Cherokee Nation also helps to fund OETA.

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Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
Ryan LaCroix is the Director of Content and Audience Development for KOSU.
Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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