OKLAHOMA CITY — Governor Mary Fallin on Wednesday, April 27 signed four criminal justice reform bills flowing from proposals outlined in her State of the State address at the start of the 2016 legislative session.
“These measures will preserve public safety while helping control prison costs and reduce incarceration rates,” said Fallin. “According to all measures, Oklahoma has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country.
“Many of our inmates are non-violent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems who need treatment. This will pave the way for a wider use of drug courts and community sentencing as well as give judges and district attorneys more discretion in sentencing.”
The governor signed:
• House Bill (HB) 2472, which gives prosecutors discretion to file charges for non-85 percent crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
• H.B. 2479, which reduces the minimum mandatory punishment for drug offenders charged only with possession.
• H. B. 2751, which raises the threshold for property crimes to be charged as a felony to $1,000.
• H.B. 2753, which establishes means for broader use of drug courts and community sentencing.
All four of the new laws take effect Nov. 1.
State Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, was the House author of all four measures. Sen. Greg Treat, R-Edmond, sponsored House Bills 2472, 2479 and 2751. Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove sponsored H.B. 2753.
“I am pleased to see these smart-on-crime, evidence-based measures signed into law,” Peterson said. “Our continued focus on how we deal with non-violent offenders strikes a balance between right-sizing our system and ensuring that criminals receive appropriate punishment for their crimes.”
The measures were endorsed by several groups and business leaders, such as the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) and President Jonathan Small, OCPA Impact, businessman Clay Bennett, banker David Rainbolt, and Adam Luck, state director of Right on Crime.
Responding to a request for comment from The City Sentinel, Luck reflected, ““This legislation represents a significant step in the right direction. Their strong support and passage in the House and Senate represent the fruits of a months long process involving the major stakeholders in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. I believe this process should serve as a template as we continue seeking to improve our criminal justice system.”
Several leaders of the criminal justice reform movement attended the bill signing, including former Speaker of the House Kris Steele. Steele, who now guides The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM) in the heart of Oklahoma City, was instrumental in pasage of the historic Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI), which firmly established bi-partisan support for prison reforms.
In a recent discussion with reporters, Rep. Peterson, who has consistently advocated changes in the Oklahoma system, said that although further new laws are needed, the basis for broad reform has been established.
NOTE: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.