Editor’s Note: The state House of Representatives media staff prepared this overview of new state laws going into effect on Sunday (November 1), 2015. The listed measures all originated in the House.
OKLAHOMA CITY – A overview of new Oklahoma state laws follows:
Texting and driving: House Bill 1965 makes driving while texting a primary offense carrying a penalty of $100. An officer can pull an individual over if they witness a primary offense. The new law provides exemptions for emergencies and specifies the measure does not apply to the use of voice-activated mode.
Justice Safety Valve Act: House Bill 1518 allows judges to depart from mandatory minimum terms if they believe the minimum sentence is “not necessary for the protection of the public” and could “result in substantial injustice to the defendant.”
The judge could divert the offender to a mental health of substance abuse program. Judges who depart from minimum mandatory sentencing must file a report with the district court clerk’s office. Court clerks, in turn, must file an annual report with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which will post the information on its website.
Tax incentives: House Bill 2182 creates a process to provide legislators with independent data on economic incentives, including estimated fiscal impacts and assessments of whether incentives are achieving their goals.
CDL licenses for nonviolent offenders on probation: House Bill 2179 will allow nonviolent offenders who are on probation to obtain a commercial driver’s license for the purpose of employment, replacing a process that only allowed them to receive a provisional noncommercial driver’s license.
Rehabilitated offenders on average owe hefty fines, but the new law allows them to pay $25 a month toward those fines to decrease their financial hardship. Offenders who have a suspended or revoked CDL license due to DUI will not be eligible.
Electronic monitoring: House Bill 2187 authorizes the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to use electronic monitoring devices with GPS technology for any person granted parole, or as disciplinary sanction as authorized by law. If the board chooses to use electronic monitoring, the offender could be required to pay towards the service as a condition of their parole.
SoonerCare Services Request for Proposal: House Bill 1566 directs the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to issue a request for proposal for care coordination models for the aged, blind and disabled Oklahomans who are enrolled in the state’s SoonerCare program. According to the agency’s annual report, the aged, blind and disabled Oklahomans comprised 16.4 percent of the total SoonerCare enrollment in 2014. The group accounted for 46.6 percent of SoonerCare expenditures.
The request for proposal is estimated to be released in early 2016. Information about the request for proposal process will be posted at okhca.org.
Streamlined transfer of prisoners: House Bill 1630 streamlines the process of transferring prisoners from county jails to the custody of the state corrections agency. When a person is sentenced to prison, they are held temporarily in county jail before being transferred into state custody to begin their prison sentence. Because counties were not required to alert the state by delivering sentencing documents, the state corrections agency was unable to accurately budget for offenders.
The new law requires counties to transmit sentencing documents to the state within three days of their availability. It also requires the state corrections agency to pay county jails a per diem fee for the day of an inmate’s sentencing. In the 2014 fiscal year, the state spent about $22 million to reimburse county jails for housing inmates. Many of those inmates could have been transferred to state custody and housed at a considerably lesser expense.
Oklahoma ballot access: House Bill 2181 reduces the number of signatures that must be collected for those who wish to form a political party in the state. The new law changes the threshold from 5 percent to 1 percent of the last gubernatorial or presidential election. One percent of the 2014 gubernatorial election is approximately 8,000 signatures.
Prescription drug database checks: House Bill 1948 requires an initial database check when a doctor first writes a prescription for opiate painkillers, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium and carisoprodol, a muscle relaxer marketed as Soma. Subsequent checks would need to be made at least once every 180 days after that.
Death penalty procedure: House Bill 1879 allows the state to execute death row inmates via nitrogen hypoxia. Before this new law took effect, if courts ruled that lethal injection is or if the drugs for legal injection were unavailable, the state could revert to the electric chair as a second alternative and firing squad as the third alternative for capital punishment.
The new law makes nitrogen hypoxia the second alternative, electric chair the third and firing squad the final alternative. A study conducted by East Central University found nitrogen hypoxia to be humane and simpler than lethal injection because it can be conducted without a medical professional.
Child welfare system reform: House Bill 1078 expands a program that transitions children in the system into their adult lives, updates requirements for foster parents and group homes to ensure the child is engaged in typical childhood activities and revises protocols used to deal with runaways and child trafficking victims.
Under the new law, a team model would be used to transition children into adulthood. The measure would lower the age at which the transition program would begin from 16 to 14.
Teacher recruitment: House Bill 1521 will allow school districts to offer teachers a one-time incentive payment.
Mental health training in schools: House Bill 1684 modifies a committee that establishes professional development programs for teachers and administrators to include school counselors or licensed mental health providers.
The new law requires that at a minimum of once per academic year a program must be offered that includes training on recognition of child abuse and neglect, recognition of child sexual abuse, proper reporting of suspected abuse and available resources. It also adds suicide prevention to the Safe School Committee and permits the committee to study and make recommendations to a school board regarding the development of a rape or sexual assault response program.
The new law permits public schools to establish an abuse-prevention instructional program for students and gives discretion to the local school board regarding the content of the instruction, provided that the program meets certain criteria as established in the measure. Students will not be required to participate in an abuse-prevention instructional program. And, the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, in collaboration with certain entities, will identify evidence-informed curriculum appropriate for schools that meets the guidelines associated with the abuse-prevention instructional program as stipulated in the new law.
Streamlined criminal justice infrastructure: House Bill 1083 creates a shared infrastructure for 14 agencies under the supervision of the chief information officer in the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. The chief information officer and commissioner of public safety will oversee the implementation of the law.
Employment law reform: House Bill 1001 will allow employers to file documentation for misconduct immediately upon the termination of the employee. In doing this, the employer will be considered to have automatically protested the claim, if and when the former employee files for unemployment insurance benefits.
The new law will also provide a reliable unemployment insurance tax rate for new businesses in their first two years in operation.
Private property rights: House Bill 1456 modifies municipal annexation procedures by requiring written consent of at least a majority of the property owners to be annexed. The bill also prohibits municipalities of less than 12,000 citizens from annexing more than eight square miles at one time.
Terminally ill patients and experimental medicine: House Bill 1074 will loosen restrictions on patients who have a terminal illness and cannot get into clinical trials. The new law will allow those who qualify to receive pharmaceuticals that have passed initial safety trials but haven’t been approved for general use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Drug manufacturers will not be forced to provide the drug. Liability provisions in the law protect drug companies, insurers, patients and doctors.