Mile-High View Coming into the 2021 Legislative Session

Thousands of bills have been filed for the 2021 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.

Voting

Voter access has been in the spotlight the last few years, and no more in recent history than during the 2020 election in which the legitimacy of our democracy came into question concerning absentee voting. Given the increase in barriers to voting due to global pandemic, we experienced more mail-in ballots, longer lines at the polls and difficulty in getting the number of signatures needed to turn initiatives into State Questions.

Dozens of bills this year have been filed regarding voter access and the restructuring of local democratic processes.
Some of these bills include the elimination of straight-party voting, extending early voting days, increasing polling locations in larger counties, removing barriers to absentee voting, and automatic voter registration.
Other bills have been filed to make exercising ones right to vote more difficult, such as the “Oklahoma Paper Ballot Act of 2021” which requires all ballots be printed on paper, counting by hand, and prohibiting the use of voting devices (Sounds more like 1921…) Another bill filed this year seeks to make absentee voting more difficult by excluding all from requesting mail-in voting unless meeting certain qualifications.

Redistricting

After an initiative petition advocating for an independent redistricting process was cut short due to multiple challenges from the legislature and the pandemic, there have been several shell bills filed with titles indicating a “reform” for legislative districting. Because these shells were filed by the same folks who were fighting against an independent and fair redistricting process, we can only prepare for the worst and hope these shells do not become a priority of leadership and die empty.

One bill specifically, seeks a constitutional amendment to require more signatures in order to pass an initiative petition from a simple majority of 51% to 60%.

Discrimination & Civil Rights

Protection of basic civil rights is the heart of CAIR-OK’s mission. This year some positive bills that have been filed include requiring elected members of the State Legislature to attend racial sensitivity training, enhanced penalties for wage discrimination, and other bills prohibiting schools from implementing dress codes which are discriminatory against natural hair or against religious headwear. We are also seeing the revitalization of a bill that died last year which would prohibit schools from denying Native students from wearing traditional regalia to graduation.

Some less savory proposed legislation includes prohibiting resident aliens from serving as full-time peace officers, requiring students to pass a citizenship test in order graduate high school, and the prohibition of public bodies from conducting gender and sexual diversity training and counseling.

Protesting

Due to recent riot at the US Capitol several bills have been filed regarding civil assembly. Many of these relate the obstruction of public roads and removed liability for injury or death by vehicles during a protest. There are also bills enhancing penalty for those engaged in assembly.

Criminal Justice and Police Reform

As in years past, CAIR-OK will continue to partner with criminal justice reform advocates across the state to bring down Oklahoma’s egregious incarceration rates. Some of the positive bills we support include the creation of a Community Policing Standards Task Force to study and make recommendations on police procedures, particularly related to deadly force. Another bill, filed by Rep. Tammy West, seeks to pilot a five-year restorative justice program.

Ida’s Law is once again making an appearance, which would direct the Bureau of Investigation to create an Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons.

It is vitally important that when making decisions, especially those regarding the criminal justice system, our law makers are aware of the impact these decisions will have on minority communities. George Young has filed a bill requiring a racial impact statement be prepared for any measures relating to new or existing offenses, sentencing, parole, or probation procedures.

Some measures we are not looking forward to include the prohibition of Sanctuary Cities or policies, directing law enforcement to comply with I.C.E. and increasing penalties on various crimes.

Firearms

Common sense gun laws continue to be a priority for advocacy groups across the country. Oklahoma totes some of the most lenient firearm legislation in the nation and we continue to see attempts at further expansion of gun privileges.

More than one bill has been filed seeking to permit persons carrying firearms to be present within bars and liquor stores. Others seek to prohibit private and public places from making their own restrictions around gun safety. A bill allowing firearms in municipal buildings has reared its head once again and another permitting carry of firearms in public parks and spaces.

Concerning: there have been several shell bills filed by the Speaker under the heading of “Militia.” Because these are shell bills they do not have any language in them. So we do not know their intent. But CAIR-OK will continue to watch these bills and keep you updated if these bills develop into anything.

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