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OK ‘Black Friday’ reform signed into law after years of debate

By   /   June 11, 2013  /   No Comments

By Patrick B. McGuigan | CapitolBeatOK

OKLAHOMA CITY – Legal protections for discounted pricing in retail sales will result from Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 550.

For the first time since the 1940s, so-called “Black Friday” tactics will be formally allowed in the Sooner State, thanks to the law sponsored by state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, which Gov.

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MAKING MARKETS MATTER: Advocates of Oklahoma Senate Bill 550 – allowing steep discounting in retail sales – included, from left, state Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Pottawatomie County, Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole, Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed the bill into law, state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Osage County, and Matt Ball (Oklahoma director of Americans for Prosperity).

Mary Fallin signed last week.

Fallin held a ceremonial signing for sponsors at the State Capitol June 10 (Monday).

Since 1941, state retailers in most cases had to sell products for at least six percent more than they paid for the items. A December 2011 formal opinion from Attorney General Scott Pruitt affirmed the decades-old populist law meant what it said, even in the era of Wal-Mart and other “Big Box” operations known for below-cost discounts as a means of attracting buyers – particularly on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“Black Friday” is a popular designation for that and subsequent days, known among retailers as the time of year when they begin to operate “in the black” for the calendar year.

For decades, Oklahoma and Wisconsin have had the most restrictive limitations on discount pricing, but after Nov. 1, when S.B. 550 goes into effect, that will change here.

Advocates of reform have said the old statute put retailers here at a competitive disadvantage because neighboring states allowed bargains that were barred in Oklahoma.

Discount pricing as a promotional tactic is not limited to the day after Thanksgiving, of course, and includes “Back-to-School” and holiday sales events.

According to a House staff summary of S.B. 550, it “allows Oklahoma retailers to sell general merchandise products at any price below their cost up to 15 days in a row on a specific product, up to 10 times a year. Groceries, drugs, gas, and lumber will still be subject to the law as before, but the pricing of all other products will fall under the provisions of SB 550.”

Sen. Holt told CapitolBeatOK, “I have never believed that Oklahomans should pay higher retail prices only because the government says they should. Under the provisions of SB 550, the consumer will enjoy low prices on the products they expect when they expect, and that’s the way it should be.

“The previous law undermined a free market economy and its effects had been detrimental to our citizens. Nevertheless, it’s taken 70 years to amend it.”

Rep. Newell commented, “This bill is good for our economy, it’s good for retailers and it’s certainly good for consumers. We’re basically removing a government hurdle for businesses and allowing the free market system to work for Oklahoma.”

Ron Sharp, R-Pottawatomie County, was Holt’s Senate co-author. Also backing the measure was state Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Osage County, who asked for the 2011 AG opinion.

After years of debate, the “Black Friday” reform took on critical mass at the Capitol this year, thanks in part to support organized by the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-OK), one of the state’s largest and most effective grass roots impact groups.

S.B. 550 gained final passage in the Senate on a 29-15 vote; then sailed through the House 65-15, with 21 members not voting.

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network,  at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.

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Patrick B. McGuigan is bureau chief for the Oklahoma City Bureau of Watchdog.org, and works from the press room at the state Capitol. He is also the editor of CapitolBeatOK, and Associate Publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper. In 2013, The Washington Post blog “The Fix” designated Pat one of the best reporters in Oklahoma. In addition to the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists, where he serves as state secretary-treasurer, Pat is a member of the National Press Club and the Tulsa Press Club.