The United States Declaration of Independence states “. . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln exhorted the American people “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Leaders throughout our nation’s history have realized that while we are a nation of laws, the will of the people is the source of our laws. Why does the Oklahoma State House of Representatives not seem to understand this simple premise?
Last November, the people of Oklahoma voted to reform our state’s criminal justice system. The people of Oklahoma realized that making felons out of people for simply possessing illegal drugs didn’t make sense. The people of Oklahoma realized that the state would save money by not prosecuting possession charges as felonies. The ink wasn’t even dry on the new law before the Oklahoma State House of Representatives took it upon themselves to defy the will of the people because “the people of Oklahoma didn’t understand the consequences of their vote.”
Enter House Bill 1482, deceptively introduced as the “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017.” What could possibly be wrong with protecting children? Nothing, but this bill has never been about protecting children. This bill is about a lot of District Attorneys and legislators not getting their way. This bill is about the legislature knowing better than you. As originally introduced the HB1482 would have made it a felony to possess illegal drugs within 1000 feet of the real property comprising a: day care, public or private college or university, other institution of higher education, church, recreation center or public park including state parks, fairgrounds and recreation areas, or in the presence of any child under 12 years of age. How in the world can anyone say with a straight face that the only goal of felonizing drug possession within 1000 feet of a church or university is ONLY aimed at protecting children?
To its credit, the Oklahoma State Senate has published an engrossed (amended) version of the bill that reduces the so called “felony zones” to within 1000 feet of the real property comprising: a public or private elementary or secondary school, public vocational school, or in the presence of any child under twelve (12) years of age. On the surface this version of the bill appears to be aimed at protecting children better than the first version of the bill, but don’t be fooled. How is simply POSSESSING (not in any way selling drugs or exposing children to drug use) illegal drugs within three football fields of a school threatening to our children? This bill is what’s classically described as a solution looking for a problem.
Proposed punishments for violating the provisions set forth by this bill are progressive in nature. For a first offense, the bill prescribes a term of imprisonment not exceeding five (5) years and/or a fine not exceeding $2,500.00. For s second or subsequent offense, the bill prescribes a term of imprisonment not exceeding ten (10) years and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000.00.
Further, the defendant with a second or subsequent offense “shall serve a minimum of eighty-five percent (85%) of the sentence received prior to becoming eligible for state correctional institution earned credits toward the completion of said sentence.” Wow! Let’s think about that for a minute. This bill would essentially make a second-time drug possession offense (within 1000 feet of a school) an 85% crime. The other 85% crimes are listed in 21 O.S. 13.1 and include crimes such as First Degree Murder, Robbery with a dangerous weapon, and First Degree Rape. Someone caught with a baggie of weed in their pocket a couple of times within 1000 feet of a school does not under any circumstances warrant the same treatment as a murderer or rapist with regards to mandatory sentence length. This silly notion only makes the problem worse. The people of Oklahoma realized that prisons were overcrowded with non-violent offenders at taxpayer expense. The people of Oklahoma voted to reform the criminal justice system. The legislature in Oklahoma is ignoring the people.
Please contact your state Senator immediately and let them know that they need to kill this ridiculous bill. Please let him/her know that you are watching and that you will remember his/her conduct when you vote in the next election. Finally, please share this with everyone you know and urge them to do the same thing. It is time for the people of Oklahoma to stand up and be heard.
All versions of the bill can be found here