Oklahoma Lawmakers Study Public Safety Concerns During Interim

The importance of interim studies in Oklahoma

Monday, September 25th 2023, 6:39 pm

By: News 9

The legislative session only lasts about four months of each year. In the interim, lawmakers work with experts across the state, studying the problems that Oklahomans are facing, and working to determine if there's a legislative solution. 

Today, the public safety committee held three different interim studies, looking at drug-related DUI, mugshots and deputy pay in the state.

“We've got to get serious about this; what are we going to do? Can we do something? That's what this interim study is about,” said Sen. Darrell Weaver, (R ) Moore.

Senator Weaver has an extensive law enforcement background, and says he’s witnessed first-hand how difficult the deputies across the state work. The median pay for county law enforcement officers is around $10, which sheriffs say is making it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

“We've got to do better - that's what we're asking, we've got to make an effort and we've got to do better,” said Sheriff Jim Mullen from Garvin County. “I can't compete, I just can't do it.”

Sheriffs from across the state joined in on today’s committee, explaining to lawmakers the battles they’re facing with their workforce. Some explained local gas stations are able to pay more, while some say their deputies are leaving to work for Oklahoma Highway Patrol or municipal forces. After a municipal law enforcement pay raise in 2022, Weaver county deputies are hard to come by.

“It becomes a problem for me when you go into rural Oklahoma and you only have one or two deputies and they're even having a problem trying to hire that one or two,” said Sen. Weaver.

After the study, Sen. Weaver said in a statement, “We knew sheriff’s deputies were underpaid, but this study truly showed the extent of the struggles counties are facing to hire and retain deputies.”

“One sheriff revealed that his budget only allows him to compensate jailers, dispatchers, and other essential employees at around $10 an hour, with deputies only slightly above that. That is simply not enough for these dangerous and taxing jobs,” said Sen. Weaver.

Weaver said they also looked at what lawmakers did in Texas. Today, sheriffs and legislators from Texas joined in the conversation to share what has helped them reduce turnover and raise pay in their counties. This is one of many interim studies that will be done in the 8 months outside of the legislative session. These studies allow lawmakers to lean on experts, and work to find solutions to problems in the state.

“We don't have all the answers in this building, we have to listen to people,” said Sen. Weaver.

Many of these interim studies lead to the legislation passed between February and May.

“It may not result in a bill exactly how you thought it would - it rarely does in this building, but at the end of the day the conversation is so important to have,” said Sen. Weaver.

These interim studies may just be one of the first steps to providing a real solution, but Senator Weaver says it's a good start to finding a fix.

“It will take much collaboration from the Legislature and each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, but with ideas from our neighbors in Texas and a clearer understanding of the sheriffs’ needs, I am confident that we can come up with sensible solutions to these staffing and budget issues,” said Sen. Weaver in a statement.

“I don't have the solution today, but we're working towards a solution because I believe there's a problem we've got to solve,” said Sen. Weaver.


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