Patrick B. McGuigan, The City Sentinel
In the news: a quartet of Oklahoma City Democrats guided important Interim Studies with the approval of Republican legislative leaders. And, a GOP senator returned to a national leadership post on criminal justice matters.
The 2021 Interim Study process was much more extensive than in past years. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Temp Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, approved a broad range of studies, which were conducted under the umbrellas of existing legislative committees with Republican chairs.
State Rep. Ajay Pittman worked with the support of State Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, to host a closer look at the state’s “current reentry practices for Oklahomans who have served their time after conviction.”
In her press release after the session, Pittman explained, “Whether your goal is as deep as helping the human spirit or as simple as saving money on incarceration, the assistance we give Oklahomans as they leave a state correctional facility can make all the difference in their transition back into society. We owe it to every Oklahoman to ensure the people we send back to our communities have the resources necessary to succeed.”
Several “re-entry advocates” addressed the session, including Zeke Gonzales, founder of a group called Celda 151. He said, “It is good to see the Legislature focusing on helping people re-enter society after prison. A better reentry system would have helped me get back on my feet faster.”
Rep. Pittman said, in her email to The City Sentinel newspaper, she will use the study to write a proposal to overcome barriers to reentry for people who have done their time. Rep. Pittman thanked members of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, and specifically Rep. Humphrey, who is chairman of the panel.
She said, “I look forward to working with him to find solutions to many of the obstacles Oklahomans face when moving from a correctional facility back into their community. We all want productive and successful citizens.”
House Democratic Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, guided another Interim Study, one which focused on ending the state government’s taxation of groceries. She said in an email to The City Sentinel, “I feel confident leaving the study that there are people on all sides of this conversation who want to see the tax end. Now it’s about finding the political will to make it happen.”
Rep. Virgin said the study will guide her in crafting a legislative proposal for consideration in the 2022 session of the State Legislature.
In the State Senate, Oklahoma City Senators Julia Kirt and Kay Floyd worked on a joint interim study focused on pediatric suicide.
“Youth suicide was already a pressing issue in our state – and coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s a problem we must address,” Sen. Kirt said after the study was conducted in mid-September.
“Our presenters shared a wealth of data showing a troubling picture of pediatric suicide in Oklahoma. Our children are our most precious asset, and we must address the underlying problems that are causing our suicide numbers to spike.”
Senator Floyd, the Democratic Leader in the upper chamber at the Legislature, reflected, “Early detection of mental health or personal issues is vital to preventing the devastating outcome of pediatric suicide. We must help our parents, teachers and other adults know what to look for and what to do if suicidal thoughts and potential action are detected.”
Kirt stressed there is bi-partisan support for some of the ideas under consideration: “I look forward to working with my colleagues to implement bipartisan ideas and initiatives to address our rising suicide rates in Oklahoma.”
In other legislative news, Republican state Senator Darrell Weaver of Moore will serve another hitch as a commissioner for the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc., (CALEA).
In a statement sent to news organizations, Weaver said, “My experience as a former law enforcement officer and director of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, coupled with my experience here in the Senate, is further enhanced by my work with CALEA as I work to strengthen public safety.”