The 9th Week of the legislative session brought another deadline: April 14th was the last day for House Measures to pass Senate committees and for Senate bills to pass House Committees, except for Appropriations and Budget Committee bills. One reason that the House A&B has a longer period to consider their Senate bills is that they are making decisions about the state budget, which has a dramatic impact on state services. More information on the budget bills will be forthcoming in the future weeks.
Conversations continue about the commutation process and the notice due to defendants, attorneys, and victims when a defendant files an application to be considered for commutation (HB 3918) . While many of these bills passed out of committee without much fanfare, we expect to see much more rigorous debate when they make it to the floor. HB 3383 requires that applications for post-conviction relief be brought within 1 year after conviction, an onerous burden for defendants who often do not know of their rights to due process, let alone conviction appeals.
However, good policy in the form of requiring the Department of Public Safety to establish a mental wellness division (SB 1613), including training on human trafficking in CLEET trainings (SB 1537), making expungements more accessible to defendants (HB 3316), making interpreters more accessible in courtrooms (HB 3957), and repealing some provisions of law that allow for court fees and costs to be leveled against juveniles and their guardians (HB 3205). It’s clear that although progress in criminal legal reform may be slow, conversations about crime, justice, and rehabilitation are having an effect on our lawmakers.
Positive progress in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee included a bill that would study the use of psilocybin for the treatment of PTSD. With many Oklahomans suffering the effects of PTSD due to a variety of traumatic experiences, this research could provide relief in a variety of areas.
In a continued trend, attempts to restrict and punish access to abortion care continued with the passage of HB 4327, which provides for a civil cause of action against anyone seeking an abortion, and its progress to the Senate floor. This bill is modeled off of extremely restrictive legislation recently signed in Texas. Questions in committee pointed out the absurdity of allowing a private right of action against a legal, constitutionally-protected health procedure, but unfortunately this bill passed out of committee predictably on party lines. SB 1544, which prevents schools from forming contracts with abortion clinics (a situation that has never to anyone’s knowledge actually occurred), also passed along predictable party lines despite strong debate from the House Common Education committee’s Democratic members. Other abortion-related measures passed from committees include SB 1552, 1553, SB 1555, and SJR 37.
Although Oklahoma has a robust election security process in place, bills advanced that attempt to legislate problems where none exist. SJR 48 would put to the voters a resolution that would put voter ID laws, which have been found unconstitutional in other iterations in other states, into the state constitution. SJR 37 clarifies that only citizens are allowed to vote, a measure that further stigmatizes non-citizens and establishes figurative barriers between non-citizens and civic engagement. HB 3364 puts in place further requirements for applications for absentee ballots – a voting method favored by many for the convenience it offers to those unable to visit polling locations, such as people with disabilities or people who live in very rural communities.
HB 1118, prevents “resident aliens” from being recognized as peace officers, including military, law enforcement, policemen, sheriffs, OSBI employees, etc. While most non-citizens hold prominent positions in a multitude of industries, it’s interesting that “peace officers,” an arm of state and city government that rarely reflects the actual demographics of the population, would want to place additional restrictions on what non-citizens can do.
SB 968 passed the House Floor. This bill is intended to restrict access to certain audio and video recordings, including those that depict the death of a law enforcement officer killed in the course of official duties. This bill was proposed after the death of a Tulsa police officer following a traffic stop. Importantly, attorneys for the defendant in this case found that upon review of the dashcam footage for the incident, the initial probable cause affidavit’s statement of facts were not accurate compared to the footage. Unfortunately, in many cases, police reports and other official statements surrounding law enforcement violence are found later to be incorrect or to misstate facts. Bodycam and dashcam footage can be crucial in determining what truly happened in these high-stress, high-tension moments. While we can all agree that no person should be subject to violence in the performance of their duties, we question attempts to restrict the public’s view of those who are purported to have our safety and best interests in hand.