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.

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed seven more bills late Tuesday, including one measure that would have prevented Oklahomans from renewing auto tags online through the Oklahoma Tax Commission.

So far, Stitt has vetoed 15 bills this year, and many bills still await his signature.

Among the vetoed measures was House Bill 4049, by House Speaker Charles McCall and Sen. David Bullard. Current law allows Oklahomans to renew car tags online through the Oklahoma Tax Commission. HB 4049 removes that option and instead requires citizens to select a tag agent to process the transaction.

In his veto message, Stitt said his goal is to eventually “offer all state services conveniently through an application on mobile devices” and that 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.

“While I agree motor license agents play a key role in delivering services to Oklahomans, this measure would only create more statutory barriers to digitally transforming state services,” Stitt continued. “As the COVID pandemic demonstrated, the need for services to be accessed remotely and electronically has never been greater.”

Oklahomans have been able to renew motor vehicle tags online through the Tax Commission since 2010, but that service has long drawn fire from tag agents, who can reap substantial revenue from renewal fees.

HB 4049 also runs counter to other trends in government. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety launched online renewals and replacements for Class D driver licenses and identification cards in March, partly in response to COVID-19 concerns.

Stitt also vetoed House Bill 3663, by Rep. Chris Kannady and Sen. Chuck Hall, which would have imposed numerous new regulations regarding the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s ability to remove a tag agent.

“In the state of Oklahoma, Tag Agents are appointed by the OTC and serve as independent contractors,” Stitt’s veto message noted. “In the last 15 years, 16 tag agents have been removed. That represents an average of one per year, less than four-tenths of one percent of all agents. There is no evidence that the OTC has been removing agents without cause. The provisions of this bill would restrict the ability of a state agency to determine if a contractor should be permitted to continue to work to deliver services. This greatly restricts the State’s ability to ensure that the best people are delivering services to Oklahomans.”

The Red River Tag agency in Calera is among those that have drawn scrutiny from state officials in recent years. In 2019, that tag agency closed after audits showed about $322,000 was never forwarded to the state. The agent later pled guilty to embezzlement.

Earlier this year, a former officer of the El Reno Tag Agency was arrested for embezzlement. The scheme reportedly involved processing items for customers, then voiding transactions in the computer system after payment was received. One audit found over $50,000 in such transactions.

Stitt also vetoed Senate Bill 1805, which would have increased regulatory fees assessed on private vocational schools by 15 percent.

“While I agree proper oversight is important to ensure consumers are protected in the state, it is crucial that we do not grow bureaucracy for private institutions looking to train individuals in the labor market,” Stitt’s veto message states.

Legislators had not issued a response to Stitt’s vetoes as of publication.

NOTE: The number of vetoes issued by Stitt has been corrected since publication.

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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