A month after the Oklahoma Public Employees Association filed suit against State Treasurer Todd Russ for his enforcement of the state’s Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, the group withdrew efforts to transfer the case from state court to federal court.
No explanation was offered and the announcement of the withdrawal came from the State Treasurer’s office.
“The lawsuit was trying to place an injunction on the Energy Discrimination Elimination Act of 2022, which in intended to protect the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma. The office of the Oklahoma State Treasurer intends to file a counter claim for attorney fees and legal expenses against the plaintiff as allowed by law,” according to the statement.
Attorney Collin Walke, the former House member who is now with the Oklahoma City law firm of Hall Estill had filed the suit in November on behalf of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association and its former President Don Keenan.
Walke, who was one of the House members who voted against the Act when it was created as HB 2034 in 2022., told OK Energy Today the “case was refiled this morning” as CV-2023-3021 and that “we dropped the federal claims.”
Walke is no longer in the State House.
A hearing before Oklahoma County District Judge Alecia Haynes Timmons has been set for Jan. 11, 2024 at 1:30 p.m.
The suit stems from the Treasurer’s enforcement of Oklahoma’s Energy Discrimination Act of 2022, an act that prohibits financial institutions from discriminating against the oil and gas industry. Treasurer Russ put several financial institutions on a list of being banned from receiving millions of dollars from state agency pension groups.
The OPEA, in the suit filed by its former president Keenan claims the Act violates the first amendment for compelling speech, viewpoint discrimination and content discrimination.
The OPEA, in its website, called the enforcement a “political effort” that coulc cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars “while calling into question promises the state has made to thousands of retired public employees.”
“At issue is an effort by Treasurer Todd Russ to override a vote and settled decision by the Board of Directors for the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), in the name of leveraging the pension funds of our retired public servants as pawns in an out-of-state political campaign seeking to divest from companies some believe boycott the energy industry,” declared the OPEA on its website.
The organization also claimed that the law gives the treasurer “unchecked power to determine what banks the state of Oklahoma can and cannot conduct business with.”
OPEA Executive Director Tony DeSha accused the Treasurer of playing politics with state employees and retirees’ money. He contendsthe pension system is not taxpayer money but rather compensation earned by active employees who currently pay into the system and the pensioners who contributed to the same system for decades.