Law & Principles

Legislature overrides veto, may restrict citizen choice on tag renewal

May 22, 2020

Ray Carter

Lawmakers voted Friday to override Gov. Kevin Stitt’s veto of a tag-agent bill, saying it would increase consumer choice in vendors. But the text of the new law undermines that claim.

House Bill 4049 revises the processes used to renew a car tag online. When Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed the bill, he said his goal is to eventually “offer all state services conveniently through an application on mobile devices” and HB 4049 runs counter to those reform efforts.

“Instead of an Oklahoman being able to quickly choose to renew a vehicle tag online and have the Oklahoma Tax Commission promptly handle their request, the consumer would have to select a motor license agent to handle the online claim,” Stitt wrote. “This mandate not only creates a burdensome step for the consumer, but it creates an additional fee. I cannot support legislation that creates new burdens for consumers while working to reduce the current barriers that exist.”

Lawmakers said the bill does not raise the fee, but instead provides a cut of the fee to tag agents, who are government contractors.

House Majority Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said if the bill does not become law that citizens will be forced “to pay that fee to the government, as opposed to giving that individual the option to either pay that fee to the government or to pay that fee to that local tag agent.”

However, the language of the bill undermined claims of consumer choice.

Oklahoma law previously stated, “In any online system administered by the Oklahoma Tax Commission dealing with the Oklahoma Vehicle License and Registration Act the Tax Commission shall include a step where the individual must select between any motor license agent in the state and the Tax Commission to process any registration renewal.”

House Bill 4049 strikes much of that language and changes the law to instead read, “In any online system which provides a service that a motor license agent is authorized to provide pursuant to the Oklahoma Vehicle License and Registration Act there shall include a step where the individual shall select a motor license agent in the state to process any online transaction.”

The bill further changes state law to declare, “Said motor license agent as defined in Section 1102 of this title does not include the Oklahoma Tax Commission.”

Some questioned the consumer choice argument.

“I guess I’m reading the bill differently than you,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, who pointed specifically to the bill’s language that says consumers “shall select a motor license agent.”

“It feels like we have a choice now—and then now we’re not going to have a choice,” Caldwell said. “Am I reading it incorrectly?”

“I think you are,” Echols said. “I think it allows a choice either way.”

Supporters of the bill said the goal of HB 4049 was to guarantee that a tag agent gets a cut of the fee charged for online renewal. Lawmakers did not specify what, if any, additional services a tag agent would provide in exchange for that payment.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 89-7 to override Stitt’s veto of HB 4049 and the Senate voted to override by a 44-1 margin.

Lawmakers in the Senate did not publicly defend the bill, choosing to instead override the governor’s veto without questions, discussion, or debate.