Weeks 7 and 8 of the legislative session saw bills move from their house of origin to committees in the opposite chamber. This is a period of legislative session where bills are trimmed, amended, and culled – where some challenging work is done to ensure that the policy enacted will accomplish what is intended by the author. This is also a time when policy analysts must listen carefully to debate, as what ends up in a bill may not always be what was advertised.
Criminal Justice Reform
Positive movement in criminal justice reform continued in Week 7 as HB 3053, a allowing a person with no prior felony charges to defer their sentence if they complete drug court, passed out of the Senate Judiciary with a unanimous vote. HB 3135, which increases access to alternative sentencing programs, decreasing the overall population in our crowded prisons and jails, also passed unanimously. Work on combatting human trafficking (HB 4210 and HB 4224) continued as bills advanced that would allow for better data collection and protections for victims.
Other bills that advanced from committee included HB 3747, which prohibits judges from having sexual relationships with attorneys working on cases heard in that judge’s courtroom; HB 4369, which allows inmates to earn credits to apply against their sentences while they are on supervised parole; HB 3024 and HB 3316, which makes expungements more accessible for certain offenders; and HB 3957, which makes interpreters more available in court.
Of note was the passage of SB 1282 out of the House Children, Youth, and Family Services Committee – a bill which would institute the use of certain problematic screening tools in juvenile sentencing.
Unfortunately, the pattern of attacks at classroom free speech continued. HB 3092, which hides classroom censorship behind “community standards,” passed with little debate, although we expect to hear spirited debate when it hits the Senate floor. SB 784, a similar measure which would allow the state attorney general to investigate certain complaints against schools, passed despite some confusion as it had its language changed before it was brough to the House committee. Spirited debate by Representative Waldron, a veteran public school teacher, brought up several strong arguments against these ongoing attempts to censor public school teachers and in particular against the methods by which it was brought to the committee, but the bill advanced through committee 5-1 and heads to the House floor.
Reproductive rights are once again under attack as a flurry of bills aimed at abortion passed. Despite strong opposition, including a rally at the Capitol attended by hundreds of advocates for reproductive freedom, SB 612, an almost-certainly unconstitutional total abortion ban brought back from the 2021 session, returned and passed the House floor along party lines. SB 1503, another abortion ban that also adds a private right of action against anyone who obtains an abortion, passed in Week 7 out of committee and heads to the House floor. Several more attacks on abortion and medical autonomy are expected to advance in Week 9 and be signed by the governor, so Oklahomans who desire privacy and integrity for their medical decisions should gear up for a long fight.
Several voting-related provisions advanced through committees in Weeks 7-8, and not all of them were good. While we did see a movement towards increasing abilities to use absentee ballots, SB 103, attempts to weaken the democratic process continue to be hidden behind concerns for election integrity. HB 3046, prohibiting the private funding of elections, addressed a problem that isn’t really a problem as polling locations are paid for by a number of sources, sometimes including in-kind donations, and Oklahoma already has a very secure voting system. HB 3321 introduced some problematic restrictions on poll watchers, and HB 3365 would require new voting IDs to be sent to physical mailing addresses; both advanced from Senate Rules. Unfortunately, two provisions limiting the power of initiative petitions and legislative referendums, HJR 1058 and HJR 1059, both passed Senate Rules as well, so we will prepare to see spirited debate about these proposals on the Senate floor.