by Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – From an editor’s notebook, members of the Oklahoma state Senate honored former state E. Melvin Porter, Sen. Kyle Loveless garners broad support for his proposal to reform civil asset forfeiture laws in Oklahoma, and Tulsa’s proposed Popular Culture museum gets a boost.
E. Melvin Porter, an Oklahoma City Democrat who served in the state Senate from 1964 to 1986, was honored Wednesday (May 13) for his historic role in state legislative history.
Porter was on the floor of the upper chamber to receive a copy of Senate Resolution 36, co-sponsored by Sens. Anastasia Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa.
In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, Pittman said, “It’s a tremendous honor to recognize Senator Porter for his contributions and accomplishments in Oklahoma’s African American history. As a current state legislator, I see and appreciate the footprint of his contributions every day on the history of this great state.”
Sen. Holt praised Porter, reflecting, “When Oklahoma redistricted based on population for the first time in 1964, many injustices were finally addressed. The greatest of these was the lack of African-American representation in our Oklahoma Senate. Senator Porter’s election fifty years ago was a major milestone, and one that I am glad we took the time to recognize. I hope all Oklahomans will take a moment to consider what his election meant to our state.”
Sen. Matthews praised the trailblazing Porter, saying, “I am proud we are recognizing the trailblazer that paved the way for a person like me to be honored with this responsibility” of Senate service.
Porter’s recognition coincided with the anniversary of his first election.
Porter won election during the same year as the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Senate ceremony honoring him coincided with the anniversary of his first election win in District 48. When he entered office, he was the first black state Senator in history. Since then, nine African-Americans have served in the Senate.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law in Nashville (class of 1959), Porter was elected presidnet of the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He worked closely with the late Mrs. Clara Luper, an Oklahoma City school teacher and young advisor to the NAACP who conceived the successful lunch counter sit-ins 1958-1964 which desegregated lunch counter service in Oklahoma.
In other news from the Legislature, Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, drew diverse support for Senate Bill 838, his proposal to amendment Oklahoma’s assert forfeiture provisions.
“With civil asset forfeiture, the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and the protections of the Bill of Rights go right out the window,” commented Trent England of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), the state’s leading free-market “think tank.” England continued, “If police and prosecutors believe someone committed a crime, they have an obligation to prove that in a criminal prosecution in a court of law before any punishment-including the confiscation of property-is inflicted on the accused.”
David Blatt of the progressive counter-part to OCPA, the Oklahoma Policy Institute, commented, “Oklahoma must take action to curb civil assets forfeiture, which creates a dangerous precedent at the expense of constitutional due process protections. We applaud Senator Loveless for taking the lead on this issue and look forward to working with him to come up with strong reforms to stop these abuses.”
Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), said during a congressional hearing earlier this year, “The FOP does not disagree that there is a need for civil asset forfeiture revision.”
According to a state Senate press release, “The practice has come under fire in recent years due to a lack of transparency and due process procedures. Currently, law enforcement must only suspect the property is involved in the commission of a crime. SB 838 will require clear and convincing evidence that the property was involved-ensuring the individual is innocent until proven guilty.”
Loveless plans to guide an Interim Study of the issue this summer and fall.
Also this past week, the upper chamber advanced a proposal from Senate President Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, to finance construction of OKPOP, the Museum of popular culture, in Tulsa. His Senate Bill 839 authorizes a $25 million construction bond, while calling for the facility to have a “self-sustaining” business plan.
Saying the state should take advantage of low interest rates, Bingman said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK, “The Oklahoma Historical Society has a record of achievement in building self-sustaining facilities like the Oklahoma History Center and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton. They have spent years developing a credible business plan for OKPOP, which will be a celebration of Oklahoma culture and a source of pride for our state. For years, the completion of our History Center has been upheld as an example of efficiency for such projects. Now we have an opportunity to apply that same efficiency to the construction and development of a new museum that will not only celebrate our story but have a positive economic impact.”
According to the Senate release, “Land for the facility has been donated, and an estimated $10 million in exhibits and collections will also be donated, rather than purchased. The Historical Society has already secured prominent collections from figures such as Will Rogers, Bob Wills and Garth Brooks, among numerous others.”