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Criminal Justice Bills Pass House in Oklahoma

| March 11, 2016

This week, all of the bills included in Governor Mary Fallin’s criminal justice reform agenda passed the House of Representatives with considerable support. The bills represent the best next steps for Oklahoma to improve public safety, better use scarce state resources, and eliminate barriers for successful reentry. Their passage in the house comes after strong support was demonstrated in their hearings in the Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee.

Each bill is based on recommendations from the Oklahoma Justice Reform Steering Committee, which was established through executive order last year by Governor Fallin. The committee was comprised of four subcommittees, each with a focus on one area of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma. Each bill has also received the public endorsement of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

Four bills are based on recommendations from the sentencing subcommittee. HB 2479 eliminates mandatory minimum sentencing for first and second felony drug possession and lowers the maximum sentence for all felony drug possession charges. The bill passed the House criminal justice and corrections committee 8-2 and passed the House 76-15.

HB 2751 increases the felony property crime threshold from $500 to $1000. This measure passed the House criminal justice and corrections committee 8-1 and passed the House 80-8.

HB 2753 expanded the availability of drug court and community sentencing by removing the prior felony and prison bound eligibility requirement. The bill passed the House criminal justice and corrections committee 10-0 and passed the House 90-0.

HB 2472 creates a discretionary misdemeanor statute under which a District Attorney could file any felony as a misdemeanor. The bill codifies current practice and furthers prosecutor’s discretion at the county level. The bill passed the House criminal justice and corrections committee 11-1 and passed the House 63-27.

HB 2474 is based on a recommendation from the programs and reentry subcommittee. The measure expands the availability of the provisional driver license by allowing county judges to authorize payment plans for fines and fees as a means of satisfying the eligibility requirement for the license that these fines and fees be paid off. This eliminates a significant barrier for those seeking to reinstate their driver license. The bill passed through the House criminal justice and corrections committee 11-1 and passed the House 90-0.

The bills are now headed to the Senate where they will have significant momentum based on their strong passage in the House. Their success thus far also demonstrates a willingness in Oklahoma to pursue evidence-based, fiscally sound policies that were developed to address the unique problems that face our state. The process initiated by the Governor brought the relevant stakeholders to the table for nearly seven months of discussion, debate, and compromise, which yielded legislation already carrying significant buy-in before the legislative session even began. We’re encouraged by the success of this process and the implications for future work in the state of Oklahoma.

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ADAM LUCK is the Oklahoma State Director of Right on Crime. He is an Oklahoma native; he and his wife Sarah grew up in Broken Arrow. Shortly after graduating high school he joined the Air Force. He has a B.S. from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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