The legislative session for 2018 came to a grinding halt on Thursday, May 3. The push to adjourn came quickly as many legislators did not want to linger in session following a filing period which saw many of them draw opponents. In fact, according to the Oklahoman, 794 candidates filed for state and federal offices this year. The previous high in modern electoral history was 594, in 2006.
OICA was pleased that many of the bills that we advocated for and placed on our annual report card were passed and signed into law. In fact, of the 20 bills tracked by OICA this year, sixteen become law (as of Monday) and two others passed and are awaiting action by Governor Fallin. Only one bill failed to make it through the Legislature and one other was vetoed. Overall, it is clear that lawmakers take seriously their responsibility to actively legislate on behalf of children.
OICA will soon extend special recognition to legislators who were deemed Champions for Children, and we especially want to congratulate Sen. AJ Griffin and Rep. Pat Ownbey for their service. They were chosen as the OICA Legislators of the Year, and we wish both retiring members the best as they move to the private sector.
With the effort made to solidify criminal justice reform (CJR) measures this session, OICA was happy to see eight new reforms make it through the system, with seven of them already signed into law. One bill, Senate Bill 185, is on the governor’s desk and awaiting her action. The bill requires each member of the Pardon and Parole Board to complete annual training based on guidance from organizations that provide training and technical assistance related to the probation and parole process. The annual training curriculum is to include identifying, understanding and targeting criminogenic needs, the principles of effective intervention, core correctional practices and how to support and encourage offender behavior change. The measure also modifies the qualifications to be appointed to the Pardon and Parole Board. OICA encourages Governor Fallin to sign this bill into law.
On the other hand, we encourage Governor Fallin to veto Senate Bill 1221, legislation with contains similar language, but also has added provisions which could increase state incarceration rates. Under current law, a jury can sentence a minor convicted of murder to life-without-parole if the jury deems a killer cannot be rehabilitated. SB 1221 allows judges to hand down that sentence without the consultation of a jury. OICA opposes this change and believes it sends the wrong message about the state’s compassion towards children. To quote Sen. Griffin, “if an adult deserves a jury, a kid deserves a jury.” We agree.
Furthermore, SB 1221 threatens to further increase our prison population and incarceration rate, both of which are at crisis levels. Over-incarceration, in addition to being an injustice in itself, is wildly expensive. It costs approximately $21,000 a year to imprison an inmate. Adding to that population will only further drain our ability to fund other state priorities like education.
For those reasons, OICA encourages Governor Mary Fallin to veto Senate Bill 1221. We encourage our supporters to do the same by contacting her office at (405) 521-2342 and pressing 1.