The third week of the legislative session (February 28-March 4) brings the first major deadline of the season: the deadline for bills to be heard in committee. Any bills that fail at this step are considered “dead,” meaning they will not come up again. However, language from dead bills may still make its way into bills being considered on the floor, so we remain on alert for problematic content as it makes its way through the legislative process.
Notable movement included a House Resolution to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their homeland. It’s worth noting that in response to a similar geopolitical crisis, the legislature has in the past sided with the occupiers of territory rather than the defenders – see last year’s HR 1037, affirming state support for the people of Israel, and HB 3967, passed in 2020, which makes it illegal for any business which engaged in a boycott of Israel’s goods or services to also hold a contract with the state.
In the House Rules committee, two resolutions that would weaken the initiative petition and legislative referendum processes by which voters can directly vote on policies they support or oppose. Initiative petitions in recent years have legalized the medical use of marijuana and resulted in the release of hundreds of Oklahomans incarcerated for non-violent marijuana-related activity. We remain concerned about attempts to weaken the right of citizens to directly affect policy changes through the initiative petition process, and we will be watching these bills closely.
In other election-related news, the House Elections and Ethics Committee passed HB 3677, a bill ostensibly aimed at election integrity that would potentially result in thousands of Oklahomans being removed from the voter rolls entirely or rendered unable to vote in state elections. The bill’s author, Sean Roberts (R 36), contends that the most recent presidential election was “stolen” and that his bill would ensure that only qualified voters participate; however, arguments against pointed out the potential costs of setting up a new registration system, not to mention the possible disenfranchisement of thousands of Oklahoma voters. We will be watching the debate surrounding this bill.
A particularly troubling development in House General Government was the passage of HB 3890, which would establish the Bible as the official state book of Oklahoma. Bills like this, which marginalize religious minorities and non-religious Oklahomans, have no place in a system in which religion and politics are suppose to be separated; however, we expect that this will pass along party lines despite rigorous debate. If it does, we will explore every option to meet it with legal challenge.
On the Senate side, there were positive developments at Senate Appropriations – SB 1499, authored by Jessica Garvin (R 43), would provide for a sales tax refund for menstrual products, passed unanimously, and SB 1613, which would establish a Mental Wellness Division in the Department of Public Safety, also passed with flying colors. A number of Senate measures aimed at reforming the criminal legal system do give us some hope that after years of work, advocates for reform may be making headway.
Other notable movement:
Passed in House Criminal Justice and Corrections:
- 3286 – increases penalties for stalking and redefines the crime of stalking. Passed 3-1.
- 3383 – places limits on the filing of any application for post-conviction relief; almost certainly a response to the commutation of Julius Jones’ sentence earlier this year. Passed 3-1 with Rep. Turner making a strong debate against.
- 3718 – prohibits vaccine mandates for law enforcement. Passed 3-1.
- 3747 – the “Judge Timothy R Henderson Act”, prohibiting judges from being engaged in sexual relationships with attorneys who appear in their court. A response to a highly publicized case in which a former Oklahoma County District judge admitted to a sexual relationship with a prosecutor in his office. Passed 4-0.
- 4353 – allows incarcerated people to obtain REAL ID with certified copies of birth certificates. Passed 4-0.
Passed in House Rules:
- 4191 – criminalizing “loitering”, targeting people experiencing homelessness as well as activists engaged in peaceful demonstration. Passed 5-3.
Passed in House Public Health:
- 3159 – would allow children with contagious diseases to continue to attend public schools. Passed 9-0.
- 3313 – would force hospitals to admit visitors to patients despite ongoing health concerns. Passed 9-0.
- 3878 – would allows vaccines to be refused by those with “moral or religious tenets” with no evidence needed. Passed 6-3.
- 4327 – would create a process for private citizens to sue abortion providers, modeled after extreme restrictions passed in Texas. Passed 6-2.
Passed in House Judiciary – Criminal:
- 3024 – would expand access to expungement of records. Passed 10-0.
- 3270 – would reduce burdensome fines and fees for defendants who enroll in federal or state government assistance programs. Passed 10-0.
- 3903 – would limit access to appeals for clemency for defendants on death row; almost certainly a response to the commutation of Julius Jones’ sentence earlier this year. Passed 6-5.
Passed in Senate Public Safety:
- 9 – problematic attempt to limit access to books in public libraries. Passed 9-0.