Every bill has a number and a title. At the Institute we often refer to bills by their numbers. Last week we pushed legislators to vote “No” on SB 81. (The “SB” stands for the bill’s house of origin- which in this case is the Senate, and 81 is the bill’s number.) Less frequently, we refer to a bill by its title.
Bill titles can be misleading. They tend to be less descriptive and more propaganda-ish. For example the title for HB 1482 seeking to dilute the efficacy of State Questions 780 and 781 was titled the “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017.”
A quick refresher if you’ve slept since then; last November Oklahomans voted to make simple possession of a controlled substance a misdemeanor rather than a felony. HB 1482 would have reverted that infraction back to a felony crime if possession of certain substances was within 1,000 feet of a school.
This bill was in direct opposition to the will people and would have divided and devastate children and families. (Fast fact: 1 in 10 Children in Oklahoma experience an incarcerated parent within their lifetime.) HB 1482 most surely would not have “kept Oklahoma children safe”. This bill is no longer up for consideration this session, but it’s a good example of a title being used to frame the discussion and build support.
Titles usually have, in the words of Stephen Colbert, a “truthiness” to them. However, they probably reflect more of the authors’ intention, rather than the necessary outcomes of the legislation. HB 1482 is merely one example. There are many more. Look up your favorite controversial bills from this session here. Pull up the latest version of the bill and somewhere in the top half of the first page you will see the title. Ask yourself how accurate you believe that title to be. Just like we can’t judge a book by its cover, when it comes to legislation, we can’t judge a bill’s real intent and impact by its title.
Now enjoy the rest of your day knowing you can’t be fooled by this kind of “title trickery.”
Lani Habrock is the director of KIDS COUNT at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. As a former contender for the State House of Representatives she believes legislative advocacy is an important work we must all take responsibility for in order to create positive change for all children in our state on a population-wide level.