SB 499 will protect restaurants on tax issue

Sen. Bill Coleman

For a two-week period beginning this week, we’ll be on the Senate floor working through the nearly 600 bills that made it out of committee. Again, rules were suspended to give the Appropriations Committee one more week to finish its work, given that it had significantly more bills than other committees.

As I mentioned last time, the legislative process was stalled for three days by the historic winter storms, but we did our best to make up for lost time.

I’m pleased to say that 14 of my bills made it out committee. The Finance Committee passed a bill to better protect Oklahoma restaurants regarding reporting of alcohol gross tax on receipts. The issue was brought about after more than 800 restaurant operators were sued by a law firm in Yukon that claimed it had been to more than 500 restaurants around the state with mixed beverage licenses. The firm said the taxing for alcohol was inconsistent.

According to the state Tax Commission, there are three ways to tax – 1) separately, sales tax then mixed beverage tax on the sale, 2) add the mixed beverage tax on after the sales tax, or 3) charge taxes in the drink and back the tax out.

The Supreme Court threw the case out, but several restaurant operators had already settled, and some had spent as much as $250,000 to defend themselves.

Senate Bill 499 will require stores selling alcoholic beverages to customers to present the 13.5% gross tax on alcohol separately on the receipt. This change won’t apply to catered, public, and special events. By establishing an across-the-board requirement, there will no longer be any confusion over this issue with restaurants using different ways of presenting this tax on receipts.

On Thursday, the Business Committee approved two more measures to further modernize our state liquor laws and better support our microbreweries and other producers around the state.

One of those was SB 269, which clarifies the laws relating to social media communications between a brewer and a retail establishment, and what is and isn’t considered an inducement. This bill states that on this issue the ABLE Commission will follow federal guidelines under 27 CFR Section 6.98. It’s supported by the Craft Brewers Association of Oklahoma.

My office is getting inundated with calls about natural gas prices. Rest assured that state leaders are working with utility companies and energy producers to see how we can limit the financial impact to consumers. Work is ongoing, but for now it’s important that if you use autopay through a utility or your bank that you pause that service and pay your utility bills manually until this situation gets figured out.

Our federal disaster declaration was approved allowing local, county, state and tribal governments to be reimbursed for their recovery efforts. Last Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt also submitted another request for federal assistance for storm-related damages suffered by homeowners, renters, business owners and other government entities. On Thursday, the president approved federal individual assistance for 16 counties, including Osage.

To help the other counties qualify for this much-needed federal assistance, citizens who experienced any damages need to report them at www.damage.ok.gov. These can include everything from personal injuries to busted pipes, losing electricity or other utilities, and having to move because your utilities went off. It can also include damaged appliances or equipment from power surges. Please report your damages within the next couple of weeks to ensure all counties are approved for this critical assistance.

And again, if you witness any price gouging while we’re under a State of Emergency, please report it to the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at consumerprotection@oag.ok.gov or by calling 405-521-2029. The state’s Price Stabilization Act makes it illegal for a business or individual to raise the price of products or services by more than 10%. Stitt made the declaration on Feb. 12, and that remains in effect until he terminates it. Please be vigilant of those who seek to take advantage of others as our state is working to recover from the devastating winter storms.

You can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.