State Senate Passes Criminal Justice Reform Bills

Thursday, April 25th 2019, 7:25 pm

The state Senate passed a series of criminal justice reform bills designed to reduce the state’s prison population. 

The bills came just as the deadline for passing them was about to hit, but you can expect some changes before they become law.

“I think we are going to see some big changes this session and some positive changes,” said Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Minority Leader.

One of the bills, House Bill 1100, would set a statewide standard for what should be considered possession of drugs and what should be considered possession with intent to distribute.

“These are revisions that assist and distinguish treatable addiction driven behavior from purely commercial endeavors,” said Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City.

The bill is designed to prevent district attorneys from overcharging drug suspects.

House Bill 2218 would reduce or eliminate some fines, keeping people from returning to prison because they can’t pay certain fines.

“This bill pertains to supervisions for certain offense. It directs the court to waive outstanding fines and fees curt costs and fees in certain circumstances,” said Sen. Darcy Jech, R-Kingfisher.

But perhaps the most sweeping piece of legislation would make a recent law that reduces penalties for nonviolent crimes retroactive.  

“I still have a lot of concerns for the numbers that are coming out. So a year ago, when we were looking at retroactivity, the estimate was 800 people. Then, the estimate went to 1,500.  Then, the APAC put it at about 1,200.  Now, DOC is saying 500. So we gotta make sure we are dealing with real human lives,” said Sen. Greg Treat, R-President Pro Tempore. “When you look at retroactivity, there is a number of ancillary issues that arise. Do you have to re-sentence? Are the courts prepared for that? And is there a better way to do it through pardon and parole?”

Some lawmakers questioned whether they are going too far with criminal justice reform. 

“One of the reasons that we do have the overpopulation in our prisons is because a couple of decades ago we went all tough on crime campaign. And the discretion of the courts in sentencing was removed. And I don’t want to see us swing back the other way and remove the discretion of the courts again,” Sen. Floyd said.

Several of these bills passed with title off, which means changes can still be made.

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