Friday, May 27, 2005

Justice Department Unhappy with Senate Bill 673

The Oklahoma House snubbed the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday by passing a bill that federal officials say limits competition for real estate services. The bill, and presumably the federal opposition, is headed to Gov. Brad Henry. The House passed a version of Senate Bill 673 meant to placate federal officials' concerns. It did not. The Justice Department issued a statement reiterating its opposition to the bill, authored by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, about an hour before Rep. Doug Miller, R-Norman, brought it up in the House.

"While the revised bill is an improvement, it does not make sufficiently clear that consumers will retain the freedom to purchase only the real estate services they want," the department said in an e-mail sent to reporters but not to lawmakers or the Oklahoma Association of Realtors, which pushed for the bill.

The legislation, the department said, "does not make clear whether a consumer can tell his or her broker in advance that the consumer would like to negotiate the sale of the home without any assistance from the broker, and, as a consequence, pay less for the services that the broker does provide." Miller, in explaining the bill before the vote, said it "very simply clarifies and reaffirms duties and responsibilities outlined in our real estate code" -- the state Realtor association's position all along. Miller did not mention the renewed federal opposition.

The House passed the bill, with no debate, 89-7. Opponents say the bill does more than reaffirm the law, which the Realtors say was clouded last year by an attorney general's opinion. Opponents say it is an attack on limited real estate services. Gumm said his bill is no such thing -- and was steamed, again, that the Justice Department was "lipping off" in the media and not dealing with lawmakers directly. Gumm said Justice lawyers' biggest problem was with a requirement that brokers "be available to receive all written offers and counteroffers," put them in writing, and present them -- at minimum.

"We just disagree on that. That goes to the heart of it, what it means to be (a broker)," he said. Gumm expressed dismay that the federal agency would weigh in on a state matter. He said it showed lack of respect for "separation of powers" and state sovereignty.

Paul Sund, the governor's communications director, said Henry would consider the agency's concerns as part of the normal review of legislation.

Oklahoma is not alone. The Justice Department has taken on real estate regulation and legislation it doesn't like in Kentucky, Texas, Missouri and Alabama in recent weeks.

"They simply don't have a dog in this fight," Gumm said, insisting that Oklahoma has a right to regulate real estate license holders as it sees fit. "If we're going to hold people out to a level of professionalism, and a level of training, and then they hold themselves out as (real estate license holders), there is a certain level of service that Oklahomans should expect," Gumm said.

Source: By Richard Mize of The Daily Oklahoman


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