It has been a long and eventful 2021 legislative session. Many important bills affecting minorities passed through the legislature on partisan lines. It’s difficult to have fair policy making with a super majority on either side. As I watched far-leaning agendas bulldoze through this year, I thought, wouldn’t it be a better world if the voices of the minority were listened to with extra attentiveness from the majority, simply out of a deep respect for humanity and desire for conscientious perspective?

What if in California, Democrats lent a genuine ear to the concerns and ideas of those on the right? And what if in Oklahoma, our legislature took the time to truly listen to those most affected by their laws? Not just in debate on the floor, when everyone knows how they’re going to vote and most “debate” is nothing more than political bloviation, but with deep consideration and an openness to explore policy with curiosity, nuance, and a lack of ego.

Instead, policy is made by the strong enforcing their agenda on the outnumbered. This can be seen clearly by the policy passed this legislative session. Below are some important laws that will directly affect you, your rights, and your way of life, most going into effect before the year is over.

Protest Bills

HB 1674 was signed by the governor giving legal protections to drivers who run over peaceful protesters in the street. We sent you an action alert regarding this bill when it was moving through the legislature.

In addition to shielding drivers who hit protesters from any criminal or civil liability, the law has the potential to criminally charge organizations that aid a protest if the state government considers it a riot. This is one of many bills filed across the united states attempting to discourage peaceful protest and silence the voice of the people. CAIR-OK issued a press statement urging the Governor to veto this bill. There is a coalition growing in support of a veto referendum seeking to overturn HB 1674.

If you would like to be a part of this coalition or sign the petition when it opens up and/or make a donation, click here https://secure.actblue.com/donate/noon816?fbclid=IwAR2mjKyBIfzt3sJFPDdMtnehC6KMJlDP8kih29Iyz00aUd7va5Uf3I78-Y0

Governor Stitt signed HB 2095, a bill that adds unlawful assembly (read protesting) to Oklahoma’s Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. This legislation potentially makes exercising your constitutional right of free speech and assembly a felony

Governor Stitt also signed SB 403 making it illegal to disrupt government meetings. Anyone doing so could find themselves guilty of a misdemeanor facing up to a year in the county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Voter Bills

HB 1793 by Pae would have allowed a voter with a physical disability to deliver their absentee ballot in person. This bill however went dormant and did not make it through the process to become law.

There was a clause added to HB 1752 that allows courts to review whether or not someone is able to vote under guardianship (right now their ability to vote is automatically negated). As of the writing of this post, it is on the governor’s desk. If he does not sign it by May 31, it will automatically go into effect as though he did sign it.

Redistricting

Bills redrawing House and Senate districts passed their respective chambers unanimously. However, the latest numbers from the 2020 census are not yet available due to delays from the pandemic. In a press conference, it was stated even though census data was not available in order to create the new districts, these lines were drawn based on accurate, current, and dependable non-political population data sources. These new districts will be in place for the next election cycle. It is required by Oklahoma Constitution that new districts must be drawn every 10 years by the close of session.

However, congressional districts are not required to meet this deadline, and since the federal government does not allow for any variance as the districts must be drawn to the individual person using census data.

The legislature will meet again later in the year for a special session in order to draw congressional district lines. This is expected to be in the fall, probably in October.

Firearms

HB 2645 expands on where one can lawfully carry a firearm under the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act. The bill states that firearms cannot be carried into any location containing “minimum security”, which could include places with a single entry point and an officer on duty, a metal detector, etc. The bill also places into statute that one can lawfully carry firearms on any state, city, or municipal property that lacks these minimum-security specifications.

SB 646 Allowing people to carry weapons into a restaurant with a bar or a liquor store was signed by the governor.

Civil Rights

HB 1775, prohibiting State Higher Education from having mandatory training or course content related to gender, racial and sexual diversity was signed by the Governor. CAIR-OK and many other advocacy groups released Action Alerts encouraging the public to call and email Governor Stitt and ask him to veto this bill. He however doubled down on the conservative stance, by not just signing the bill, but releasing an executive order throwing his full support onto the bill. In his statement he insinuated critical race theory (CRT) is a “fringe” theory and that this bill is meant to “divide.” You can read the Executive Order here.

An anti-doxxing bill HB 1643 prohibits the publishing of personally identifying information of peace officers and public officials with the intent to threaten or harm them. This sounds good on the surface but CAIR-OK is opposed to the broad language and potential infringement on free speech with this bill. Anyone posting a picture of video online of a police officer could get a fine or go to jail for doing so.

Police are public servants (with a lot of power). There should be a mechanism of accountability. We look at the Derek Chauvin case, which arguably only received the attention and justice it deserved because of video taken by a concerned citizen. Had there been an anti-doxxing law in Minneapolis that concerned citizen could have been discouraged from recording at all. Or worse, that person could be the one in jail today instead of Chauvin. Bottom line: there should be a balance between supporting our police and supporting those most likely to experience discrimination and brutality from those in power. This bill is not that.

The Governor signing HB 2774, legislation that will require Oklahoma law enforcement to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests.

HB 2648 Prohibits any government entity from closing a place of worship even in an emergency (read pandemic). This bill signed by the governor.

There was a win this year for indigenous peoples with the passing of Ida’s Law (HB 172), authored by Sen. Rosino and Rep. Walke. This bill establishes a liaison office with OSBI to assist in the investigation of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average. The creation of this liaison office is integral to addressing this epidemic.

Budget

Here are some of the highlights of where your money will be going over the next year:

$800 million in savings

Increased common education funding by more than $210 million, with a total appropriation of $3.16 billion.

$25 million for public schools and $25 million for private schools. Controversially expanded inclusion of charter schools to be able to receive Redbud Grant money to pay for building funds. The Redbud Grant money comes from marijuana taxes

It is controversial to give this money to charter schools because many charter schools:

  • Do not have locally elected boards.
  • Do not have open enrollment.
  • Are for profit.

Rep. Trish Ranson said “it is the first step in privatizing public education”

Rep. Melissa Provenzano also argued “This session we have not lifted a finger yet to do anything about private management companies profiting off public schools despite overwhelming evidence. Instead we expanded a voucher program for private schools. The assault on public education continues”

$164 million to fund Medicaid expansion approved by a vote of the people.

$9.9 million for the creation of a children’s mental health unit at OU Health.

$15.4 million for Rural Economic Action Plan that makes grants for infrastructure projects in rural Oklahoma.

$30 million for a film tax incentive

$20 million additional dollars to the Attorney General’s office.

$10 million was appropriated to create a new office under the Attorney General dedicated to reviewing federal legislation and executive orders for 10th Amendment violations. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution dictates that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution are reserved to the States themselves. Many argued there are better places Oklahoma could spend $10 mil. and the other $10 million for a “state tribal litigation fund.” To assist state in legal challenges associated with the McGirt v Oklahoma ruling.

For reference: In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma (including most of Tulsa) remains an American Indian reservation. The decision meant that Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases against American Indian defendants in those jurisdictions.

However, in the new law there is no specification that this money can only be used to sue in disputes regarding McGirt. Basically as long as it is recommended by the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations the state can dip into this fund to sue. This is a revolving fund meaning it is continually replenished as withdrawals are made

Sen. Mary Boren argued “Why would the tribes choose to work with the state knowing that we have money to sue them. It compromises our ability to reach agreements in good faith.”

Tax cuts

The top personal income tax rate was cut from 5 percent to 4.75 percent.

The corporate income tax rate was reduced from 6 percent to 4 percent.

Senator Julia Kirt argued tax cuts like this continue to keep us dependent on oil and gas. When times are good we cut what few revenue sources we have that are independent of oil and gas.

Palestine

This year has been tragic for our Palestinian brothers and sisters. To add insult to injury, our state legislature passed a resolution in support of Israeli human rights violations. CAIR-OK issued a press release condemning the passage of resolution HR 1035 in blind support of Israeli actions against Palestinians. Democrats in the House opposed the resolution stating it does not seek peace nor does it recognized the suffering of the Palestinian people during this crisis.

“What the Palestinian people have and continue to go through is no different than what the indigenous native people of America went through when European colonizers occupied their lands and destroyed every aspect of their life,” said CAIR-OK Executive Director Adam Soltani. “In a place like Oklahoma, where we are home to so many indigenous tribes and also the location that native Americans were sent on the trail of tears, we should be much more compassionate and understanding of human rights of all people.”

Representative Mauree Turner issued a statement saying, “we can promote peace without aiding in the suffering of the Palestinian people, the murder of the Palestinian people. I really hoped that we would be able to see the direct connection between what’s happening in Jerusalem to the Palestinian people and what European settlers, armed with scripture and their interpretation of the Christian faith, did to the indigenous people here in America.”

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