Oklahoma House Passes Bill to Undo the Vote of the People

In November, Oklahoma voters cast their votes in favor of criminal justice reform. More than 830,000 voters--58.23%--voted to pass State Question 780, which reclassified certain drug crimes and property crimes as misdemeanors. Under previous law, a first offense of simple drug possession was a felony. SQ 780 would make it a misdemeanor.

This was an important measure for a state in desperate need of criminal justice reform. Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation (the highest for women). Our jails and prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. And a large number of those behind bars have been put there to serve inappropriately long sentences for relatively minor drug crimes. 

Oklahomans understand this, and they voted for SQ 780 and its companion bill SQ 781 to provide resources for fighting the drug problem at its root, rather than continuing to levy harsh penalties for relatively minor crimes.

But the state House of Representatives recently chose to ignore the voices of Oklahoma voters in passing HB 1482, which effectively undoes the law created by SQ 780. 

The bill's author, Rep. Scott Biggs, R-District 51, says that voters did not understand what they were doing when they cast their votes for SQ 780. " I believe there is a large group of voters that didn't understand that this state question would essentially decriminalize drugs in schools, parks and playgrounds."

He calls the bill the "Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017," and notes that it would add a provision to that would make it a felony to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, park or in the presence of a child under 12. A first offense would be punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison; a second offense punishable by a maximum of 10 years. Anyone convicted would be required to serve at least half the sentence. 

Opponents of HB 1482 call it an insult to voters. Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-District 92, voted against the bill, saying, "House Bill 1482 sends the message that, 'hey voters, we see what you decided. We don't care. It says 'we know you voted for this, but we don't believe you were intelligent enough to understand what you voted for.'"

Regardless of your vote on SQ 780 in November, it should be concerning to all voters when the state legislature makes such an obvious attempt to ignore the voice of the people and roll back the actions of the voters. Our state legislators are representatives who should be acting according to the will of their constituents; not overseers deciding whether or not the constituents are smart enough to have a voice.

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