The deadline to report bills out of committee was this past Thursday. We started with nearly 300 House bills and 255 were reported on to the full Senate. The deadline to report bills off the Senate Floor is Thursday, April 21.
Many good bills were reported out of Senate committees this week but I’d like to discuss four that may be of special interest because they were aimed at reforming our criminal justice system. They were intended to help lower prison overcrowding (currently at 119% capacity), save the state money and get offenders back into society quicker allowing them to provide for their families and contribute to society rather than taking from it. The bills were recommended by the Governor’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee and she called for the changes in her State of the State Address.
In recent years, many Oklahomans have been concerned about changing the states “hard on crime” mentality because of our prisons being at full capacity, recidivism rates continually increasing because nonviolent offenders (after being housed with violent offenders) tended to become violent offenders themselves and low emphases on rehabilitation and become productive citizens. Another problem is getting people back to work and many nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses, were felonies in Oklahoma and very few businesses will hire felons so thousands of offenders weren’t able to get jobs when they were released and returned to their life of crime to make ends meet.
In recent years, the legislature has started working on legislation that is “smart on crime” to help address what causes people to offend and reoffend and to give them the opportunity to start a new life, get a job and be able to function in society.
HB 2472 will give prosecutors the discretion to file charges as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. This is an effort to help these offenders get back on their feet. Hopefully after they’ve served their time they will be able get a job. Giving prosecutors this discretion will make a tremendous difference for many offenders.
HB 2479 reduces the mandatory punishment for subsequent drug offenses. Some of them are serving harsher sentences than those who commit violent crimes like rape. Instead of warehousing these individuals, it is important to look at the root of their problem, which is addiction. Putting them in prison for years won’t keep them from doing drugs and returning to the corrections system. They need treatment. This bill will allow them to serve an adequate amount of time for their crimes and then return to society to get the help they need.
HB 2751 raises the monetary limit from $500 to $1,000 for several property crimes (including embezzlement, falsifying credit cards, grand larceny, and shoplifting) in order to be charged as a felony. It also raises the monetary limit for a false or bogus check to be considered a felony from $1,000 to $2,000. This small change will impact numerous people in the corrections system and hopefully ensure that they can gain employment once released.
The other criminal justice bill that was approved was HB 2753, which modifies the eligibility requirements for participation in a drug court to allow more people to participate in them. Drug courts take into account people’s addictions and what in their past caused their addictions and gets them the treatment they need to eventually become productive citizens. They have proven to be highly effective in lowering recidivism rates and getting people back on their feet.
I want to thank Brooklyn Hill for paging this week. She is an outstanding young lady. She’s a senior at Bridge Creek High School. My colleagues and I greatly appreciate her service and wish her all the best as she begins the next chapter in her bright future.