Thousands of bills have been filed for the 2022 legislative session. Here is a mile-high look at some of the bills and proposals we are seeing regarding CAIR-OK’s core issue areas. For more information, see our 2022 Policy Platform.
At the heart of CAIR-OK’s values are civil rights issues. Just as in every legislative session, this year there are positive proposed bills such as raising the minimum wage up to $12hr (SB 1232), requiring Holocaust education in public schools (HB 3720), and prohibiting convicted persons with misdemeanors or felonies related to domestic violence from owning and handling a firearm (HB 3743). However, with the good comes the bad. This session there have been dozens of filed bills pushing for censorship within our public school system (HB 3197) and social media outlets (SB 1453). Alongside these First Amendment concerns are a handful of bills pushing for stronger state power (SJR40). We will be closely watching the progress of these bills and ensuring that all students have access to high-quality, equitable, and uncensored public education.
To end with a positive note for civil rights this session, there are a handful of bills that, if passed, would trying to require the government to open up executive/governmental meetings to the public via live feed and video sharing platforms (SB 1547). All people should have access to open and transparent views of the government processes that effect their lives, especially during a global pandemic.
Criminal Justice Reform
It is no secret that our criminal justice system needs progressive reform to make it more productive, effective, and just. Many dedicated legislators are pushing for this change this legislative session. While there are bills proposing new fines and stricter punishments for existing infractions (HB 3044), increasing chances of arrest for many of our more vulnerable neighbors, there are potential positives. First, there are bills this session encouraging broader access to pre-trial bail (SB 1545), and stricter regulations for bondsmen (SB 1699). Additionally, there has been a strong push of bills supporting domestic violence crime(s) reform. Some of the bills include requiring convicted domestic violence offenders to register on a registry (SB 1568), making victim protective orders less strenuous to get (SB 1647 & 1713, and legislation that would no longer make human trafficking victims attend certain court proceedings in their perpetrators trial (HB 4210).
Lastly, bills this session will spark conversations about criminal procedure, including lower fines and fees (SB 1458), decriminalizing drug-charges (HB 3053), bail opportunities for non-violent offenders (HB 3742), expungement (HB 3024), juvenile crime reform (HB 3524), police surveillance when on duty (HB 4160), etc. We will be strongly supporting any measures which reduce our bloated prison population and make justice more accessible for all defendants.
With the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic and our country’s case numbers still rising, dozens of public health bills have been filed. The number one public health bill topic of this legislative session follows an anti-mandate, anti-vaccine, anti-masking agenda. Specifically, measures have been proposed that would forbid public schools and employers from discrimination based on vaccination status (HB 3245) or from, mandating that students/employees be vaccinated or wear a mask (HB 3158). Some bills related to the COVID-19 vaccine have proposed prohibiting pop-up shops even in emergency cases (HB 3717), prohibiting the state from advertising the vaccine (HB 4322), and making ivermectin, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine available over the counter (SB 1641) drugs no longer in need of a prescription.
Another hot topic this session is, of course, abortion and reproductive rights. While there is a positive HS proposing an end to taxation on menstrual products (SB 1499), there is also a bill in the Senate—SB 1561—that would declare abortion as “homicide” under Oklahoma law. In addition, there are separate bills that would prohibit abortion after 30 days of pregnancy (SB 1553) and/or if the baby’s heartbeat is audible (SB 1503). We intend to stand firm against attacks on the right to medical privacy because we believe that decisions about a pregnancy should be left up to the pregnant person and their medical providers, not infringed upon by lawmakers with other agendas.
However, all hope is not lost; there are also bills pushing for a more positive approach to public health reform, including a measure that would add the suicide hotline number on the back of student ID cards (SB 1307) and a bill that would place more stringent limits on child marriages (HB 3974).
Although the 2020 election has come and passed, we are still seeing concern about voter integrity. Unfortunately, this has presented itself in ways of restricting voting rights and accessibility to participation.
One particularly concerning bill would require reregistration to vote in certain elections, which is an unnecessary barrier to democratic participation. Due to the concern for “election integrity”, other proposed legislation encourages poll watchers, requiring appointment of independent third parties to conduct forensic audits of elections, and rejection procedures for absentee ballots.
On the other end of the spectrum, one proposed bill (HB 3017) would require the State Election board to cooperate with law enforcement and the Judicial Branch to identify and inform persons who lost voting rights due to convictions when their voting status is restored. This bill also proposes that persons convicted of a felony would be eligible to register to vote when they have fully served their sentence, including any term of incarceration, parole or supervision, or completed a period of probation ordered by the court, or a person who has been adjudged to be incapacitated who has regained their capacity. This bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring voting rights to groups that have historically been silenced. Another positive bill on the horizon is HB 3248, which would provide for automatic voter registration. This could help alleviate some of the barriers to registering, especially in rural populations.
One of the main focus areas this legislative session seems to be a crackdown on homelessness and poverty. SB 1381 would require municipalities to inspect homeless camps to make sure they are up to building codes and if they are not up to code, these camps would be abolished within 30 days. It is highly unlikely that this community would have the resources or knowledge to ensure their camp is “up to code” and this bill serves as a further classist attempt to punish homelessness. We are also keeping watch on the Oklahoma Poor Persons Reform Act, which is currently a shell bill and therefore does not have substantive language to determine its intent and effects. Additional shell bills have been added such as the Husband and Wife Act of 2022 and Marriage Act of 2022, which at this time do not have substantive language, but by the title alone sound as if they could possibly have discriminatory consequences on the basis of sexual orientation.
We are also seeing continued efforts to discriminate on the bases of sex and gender, especially within schools. Antiquated language such as “one biological sex or another” is still being used in proposed legislation to separate restrooms in athletic departments.
Another theme of proposed legislation concerns religious freedoms such as the Religious Freedom Scholarship Program Act, which directs the Department of Education to operate a scholarship program to fund private school attendance by students whose parents possess religious concerns with public schools.
Discrimination is also evident in SJR 27 and HJR1048 which both seek a Constitutional Amendment to clarify that only US citizens are qualified to vote in the State of Oklahoma. This amendment would silence the voices of many individuals who seek US citizenship and the ability to participate in the democratic process, but who face barriers to accessing that citizenship and recognition.