Law & Principles

Warning it will fuel litigation, Stitt vetoes SB 1737

Ray Carter | April 24, 2024

Gov. Kevin Stitt has vetoed a bill that would allow businesses to sue Oklahomans for speech activity alleged to be harassing—even if the citizen has been charged with no crime.

Senate Bill 1737 was touted as allowing victims of stalking and harassment to go on the offense against their abusers. The bill allows for civil lawsuits to be filed against individuals who violate Oklahoma’s existing anti-stalking law and/or state law regarding obscene communications.

But the legislation stated that it “shall not be a prerequisite to pursue such action for relief that the defendant first be charged, prosecuted, or adjudicated guilty in criminal court” of any stalking crime or obscene communication.

And SB 1737 stated that lawsuits could be filed for a “business interruption,” including the loss of “intangible property”—such as alleged reputational harm. One law referenced in SB 1737 indicates potential business lawsuits could be filed against individuals for activity that would “annoy” someone.

In addition, lawmakers reported that officials with Paycom, an $11 billion publicly traded payroll company, was the main proponent of the bill.

Paycom’s founder and CEO, Chad Richison, has a track record of attacking conservatives in Oklahoma and advocating draconian COVID policies that either would have likely drawn strong pushback from people across the state or did prompt backlash, such as mandatory masking of school children.

Richison has also been a critic of free speech.

In a March 3, 2020 letter on Paycom letterhead sent to the University of Oklahoma’s board of regents, Richison wrote that the university’s “previous diversity training efforts failed because they assured free speech protection” and announced Paycom was yanking advertising from the school.

In that same letter, Richison declared that “members of the OU Board of Regents who choose to hide behind free speech over deterring discrimination” should “resign or be outnumbered by the votes of the regents who stay.”

In his veto message, Stitt called SB 1737 “antithetical to needed tort reform.”

“While the bill may, on its face, be well-intentioned, the language is ripe for abuse by litigious individuals and organizations,” Stitt wrote. “As laid out in the bill, criminal laws are already on the books to curb the wrongful conduct—stalking and electronically transmitted obscenities, threats, and harassment—at issue here.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

Loading Next