Senate passes measures to address prison overpopulation
After spending long hours working all day and late into the evening, we successfully met the floor deadline for Senate bills. When it was all said and done on Thursday last week, around 460 Senate bills moved forward in the process. We had some great measures get approved that I want to share.
We passed two criminal justice bills that will help address our prison overpopulation. One increases the maximum age of first-time nonviolent male offenders who can participate in the Department of Corrections' (DOC) Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID) program from 21 to 25. This highly successful deferred sentencing “boot camp” provides counseling, psychiatric/medical treatment, education/vocational training, work, restitution, and other programs to help in their rehabilitation. Sentencing is delayed until they finish the program. Judges can then defer the judgement, sentence the offender, suspend the sentence, sentence the individual to community sentencing or dismiss the criminal charges altogether. This is a proven program that significantly lowers recidivism rates.
Another bill we approved will expand how medical or compassionate parole is awarded. Only 12 people received compassionate release last year. To be eligible, one must have a medical condition that renders them no longer a public safety threat, and they must be dying or near death. This measure will include those who are medically frail or vulnerable and can’t physically take care of themselves on a daily basis. Our senior citizen population is growing quickly, and the cost of their daily care and the time commitment required of already stretched thin staff is significantly more than that required for healthy inmates. This will lower our prison population and costs, and free up staff’s time to focus on other inmates. Those serving life sentences without the possibility of parole or who have death sentences, don’t qualify.
We also unanimously passed legislation to deter surprise medical billing. Under the bill, a health care provider would be prohibited from reporting a health care debt to a credit bureau or pursuing collection activities unless a good faith estimate of the cost of the procedure or care was presented before the service was provided. Medical debt contributes to more than half of bankruptcies. Patients have the right to know medical costs upfront before they agree to them.
We also voted to reinstate the sales tax exemption on vehicles and trailers.
Legislation was passed strengthening penalties for those who steal minors’ identities. This is a billion-dollar industry. Over 1 million American children fell victim in 2017, resulting in nearly $3 billion in losses and $540 million in out-of-pocket expenses for families. Identity theft is hard to recover from when you’re an adult, but it’s especially hard when children don’t realize what’s happened to them until they reach adulthood. Most victims are under the age of 7, and the perpetrators are usually immediate family members. This will make child identity theft or fraud a felony punishable by either 2-10 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, or both.
One last great measure is one to protect the sales tax exemption of our 100% disabled veterans. It seems around 16,000 Oklahomans are fraudulently claiming this benefit meant for our nation’s heroes, and we want that stopped. The bill will allow the Oklahoma Tax Commission and the Department of Veterans Affairs to coordinate on who actually qualifies for the exemption. Once it’s signed into law, those who qualify must get signed up on the Oklahoma Veterans Registry at https://registry.odva.ok.gov/registration to continue getting the benefit. This is just one of the ways our state thanks those who have sacrificed life and limb for our country. It’s disappointing to think that so many would dishonor these heroes while also stealing revenue from their local communities.
So many great bills this session. Be sure to check out our website at www.oksenate.gov to see what other issues we’re tackling.
If I can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.