Criminal justice reform a continuing focus

Sen. Bill Coleman Dist. 10, Oklahoma Senate

Last week was busy at the Capitol as we worked day and night to hit the Thursday deadline. There were more than 330 Senate bills to hear. We considered all the measures and now turn our attention to our committees for consideration of the remaining House bills.

Several important bills were passed by the Legislature for further consideration in the opposite chamber including all of our Senate Republican Caucus agenda items.

The five government accountability bills received final approval in the Legislature last week and have been signed into law and are in effect. Gov. Stitt isn’t wasting any time getting bills signed. An agreement was made to use three of the House’s bills and two of the Senate’s bills. The measures will give hiring power over the directors of five of our highest appropriated state agencies to the governor as well as authority to set their salaries.

The agencies and bills include the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (SB 456), the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (SB 457), the Office of Juvenile Affairs (House Bill 2479), the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (House Bill 2480), and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (House Bill 2483).

SB 1 also received final approval by the Senate to create LOFT and provide better insight and understanding of our state’s budget. The House has a similar version of this legislation. No word on if there will be a compromise bill or if one of the current bills will be allowed to go through to the governor’s desk.

Criminal justice reform is a major focus and several bills were approved this week including my SB 287. This bill will help decrease the unsustainable and very expensive growth of our prison population by limiting sentencing for repeat nonviolent, nonsexual felony offenders.

SB 252 modifies conditions for the release of arrested individuals by clarifying that a “violent offense” refers to offenses defined in the Oklahoma Prison Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act. Additionally, the court must make an official individualized determination that no condition of release would assure the defendant’s return to court.

Before determining release, judges must consider whether a person poses a specific threat to a specific person as well as whether the person violated a protective order. It also requires judges to release someone following an appearance in court unless the judge makes certain findings defined by this bill. A person must be taken before the most accessible magistrate in the county for an initial appearance and charged with a crime within 48 hours of the arrest.

SB 616 requires the Pardon and Parole Board to officially state why a parole is denied. If the Board denies parole to someone convicted of an 85-percent crime, they must suggest remedial actions to prepare the inmate for the next parole consideration. It also prohibits a prisoner from waiving consideration for parole or a recommendation for parole and outlines instances when a person’s parole may be revoked.

HB 2218 will help lessen the financial burden of those released from prison by allowing courts to waive outstanding fines, court costs and fees if the person attends a career tech center, workforce training program or state university or college. For every 40-hour education/training work week, the court will waive the above expenses based on the equivalent of the person’s potential gross income based on the state’s minimum wage.

SB 414 establishes a statute of limitations for the crimes of first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutions must commence within 10 years after the discovery of the crime.

SB 112 prohibits anyone convicted of a crime committed before the age of 18 from receiving a sentence of life without parole or a mandatory minimum sentence. It also mandates that the courts must consider the age of the person at the time of the offense, maturity level, culpability, family and environment, intellectual capacity, peer pressure, rehabilitation capacity, community involvement, and involvement in the child welfare system when sentencing a person certified as an adult.

In closing, EPIC Charter School Day was at the Capitol on Monday and then some teachers from Ponca City and other schools stopped by to visit on Tuesday. Always enjoy visiting with our outstanding educators.

Bill Coleman represent District 10 in the Oklahoma Senate. You may contact him by calling 405-521-5581 or by email at bill.coleman@oksenate.gov.