The City Sentinel Staff Report
Oklahoma City – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has determined the “Yes on 805” campaign’s 248,521 counted (and verified) signatures are sufficient to place State Question 805 on a statewide ballot.
The ballot measure’s 10-day challenge period passed with no challenges issued. The qualified initiative now advances to the Oklahoma State Election Board. Governor Kevin Stitt has until August 24 to decide the proposal will be on the November 3 general election ballot.
Once placed on a ballot, Oklahomans will be able to vote on State Question 805, a reform that would limit the use of prosecutorial “up-charges” in the Oklahoma system.
The measure is a constitutional ballot initiative. However, its provisions include explicit allowance for the state Legislature to enact changes to the violent crimes list and to adjust sentence lengths.
The use of repeat sentence penalties, advocates of the state question said in a press release to The City Sentinel and other news organizations, “add years to a prison sentence for a nonviolent offense if the person has been convicted of a nonviolent offense in the past, often resulting in excessive sentences for people who have been charged with minor, nonviolent offenses. As a result, Oklahoma’s prisons are overcrowded, and taxpayers are spending over half a billion dollars on corrections each year without improving public safety.
Supporters believe S.Q. 805 will help reduce Oklahoma’s prison population and save taxpayers up to $186 million over the next 10 years, according to estimates by advocates of the proposition.
A study of the initiative’s provisions, conducted by researchers at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) documented a range of savings, along the lines that developed in Texas and other states that have already enacted criminal justice reforms. (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/breaking-state-question-805-gets-strong-affirmation-in-new-study-from-ocpa) On an Internet teleconference in June, OCPA executives Trent England (vice president) and Jonathan Small (president) shared their analysis with state reporters.
Yes on 805 submitted around 260,000 signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office on June 1, 2020. On July 6, 2020, the Secretary of State counted 248,521 signatures and filed them with the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a determination of sufficiency.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point, but what has remained consistent throughout is the support of Oklahomans who know that the way we’ve been handling criminal justice in our state is not working,” said Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805. “We’re pleased to say that Oklahomans are one step closer to having the opportunity to make their voices heard this November.”
Edwards continued, in her statement sent to CapitolBeatOK: “Our state is wasting money doling out sentences for nonviolent offenses that are out of proportion to the crimes. Data overwhelmingly shows that resources such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, education and job training are better investments to correct the underlying issue which led to the offense and end the cycle of repeat offenses. Oklahomans have risen to the occasion when criminal justice reform has been on the ballot in the past, and we are confident they will do so again with State Question 805.”
State Question 805 is now pending with the Oklahoma State Election Board for placement on a statewide ballot.
The state District Attorneys Association has expressed opposition to the measure.
Governor Kevin Stitt, an advocate of criminal justice reforms during his first two years in office, opposed circulation of the ballot initiative. He has argued recent reforms need more time to work. The chief executive will designate (within existing strictures) which on which statewide ballot the measure can be considered.
Yes on 805 and Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform, advocates of the qualified ballot initiative, provided this summary the groups’ objectives: “Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform is a diverse and bipartisan initiative committed to implementing common-sense sentencing reform in Oklahoma. The group, which includes community leaders, advocates and people who are directly impacted, intends to stop the use of harsh and ineffective repeat sentence penalties by advocating to put State Question 805 on the 2020 ballot. For more information, please visit yeson805.org.
Note: Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to the version of this report which is posted here.