News Column

Loss-leader Ban May Be Struck Down in Okla.

April 18, 2013

Randy Krehbiel

hands exchanging money

A Debate over whether small businesses can compete with big box chains produced an embarrassing moment for House of Representatives Co-Majority Leader Dennis Johnson on Wednesday.

In debating in favor of a bill that would repeal a 70-year-old ban on "loss-leader" selling, Johnson, a small business owner, said service and not price were the key to success.

He then acknowledged that some customers "try to Jew me down."

Johnson, R-Duncan -- who, with Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, is the third-ranking member of the majority leadership -- immediately apologized, adding that "Jews run good small businesses, too."

"Jew down" is a slang term for haggling and is generally considered derogatory.

Through spokesman Joe Griffin, House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said Johnson "is not the first person to make a comment they regret. The chamber accepted his apology and has moved on."

Neither the Oklahoma House nor Senate has a Jewish member.

SB 550, the bill under debate at the time of Johnson's gaffe, passed 69-23 despite concerns that it would hasten the demise of Oklahoma's Main Street businesses.

The bill removes a 1941 requirement that retailers cannot sell merchandise for less than 6 percent more than cost. The law's intent is to prevent selling at a loss to put competitors out of business.

Supporters of SB 550 said the law is outdated and prevents Oklahomans from getting the best prices possible during such periods as "Black Friday" sales.

Filmmakers: Also Wednesday, the House spent the better part of the day debating two bills dealing with relatively minor business incentives.

SB 330, the "Compete with Canada Film Act," by Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Oklahoma City, would reauthorize and potentially expand a program that pays rebates to filmmakers for eligible expenses in Oklahoma for movies approved by the Oklahoma Film Commission.

The bill would reduce from 37 percent to 25 percent the portion of expenses that can be rebated for any one project, but it would raise the cap for total rebates paid in any one year from $5 million to $10 million.

Rep. Mike Reynolds and Rep. David Dank, both Oklahoma City Republicans, argued passionately against the bill, with Reynolds trying to introduce two amendments that would have effectively ended the program.

Dank said encouraging the film industry will bring in "people I don't want here."

"Let's bring them in with all their sex and violence," he said. "Probably 99.9 percent of the people we're rebating money to are pro-abortion."

The bill's House sponsor, Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, had said earlier that movies such as "August: Osage County" and "To the Wonder" would not have been made in northeastern Oklahoma without the tax-credit program.

The bill passed 55-30, with 51 votes needed for passage. Sixteen members did not vote.

Quality Events: Also debated at length was SB 976 by Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa. The bill would make changes to the state's Quality Events program that some rural legislators said would virtually exclude all but Oklahoma City and Tulsa from participation.

The program provides for a state sales-tax rebate to local governments for events that bring in new revenue. Under SB 976, those rebates would be available only to "national, world and international" events.

The measure passed 69-22.

SB 330 must return to the Senate for final approval, but SB 976 heads to the governor.

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(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)

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