07 Apr UPDATE…
You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote a short article on HB 1452 that was proposed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The principal authors of the bill, Rep. Tim Downing and Rep. Scott Biggs had made it a point to label the bill as “The Keep Kids Safe Act of 2017”. They claimed that this bill would right a wrong from the state questions that were passed the November before that brought about necessary criminal justice reform. The wrong these men were trying to right was to make simple possession of a controlled dangerous substance within 1000 feet of a school, park, daycare etc., a felony. State Question 780, which was overwhelmingly passed by the voters of Oklahoma, made simple possession everywhere a misdemeanor.
Biggs and Downing wanted to reverse the will of the voting public and stated it was because voters “didn’t understand” the question as it was written on the ballot. Translation: Oklahoma voters are stupid, and we need to fix this for them. With the overwhelming support of District Attorneys throughout the state and through the use of rhetoric, HB 1482 was able to pass the house and moved onto the Senate. There was a great deal of fallout as angry voters contacted their representatives and then senators to explain that contrary to Mr. Biggs and Mr. Downing’s opinion of them, in fact they were not stupid and understood that they were voting for reform.
Fortunately, the Senate did hear the voices of the voters and the bill was killed and will not go to the Senate for a full vote. This will be to the dismay of some, including local supporters of Mr. Biggs and Mr. Downing’s legislation like Haskell County Sheriff Tim Turner. Turner stated on his social media page, “As your Haskell County Sheriff, I am happy too see State Representative Scott Biggs and Tim Downing working hard to assure safety for our children in Oklahoma.”
This legislation would not have affected the safety of any school, and such language is nothing more than empty rhetoric. What is a fact is that it costs the taxpayers approximately $20,000 to incarcerate someone for a year versus $6,000 for treatment and community based programs for the same individual. For local sheriffs and prosecutors less felonies may result in less grants and aid for their departments, but does that make it right? Do people suffering from addiction need to be branded a felon for the rest of their lives so that the local Sheriff can get some night vision goggles from the Feds?
It’s time to turn the page and start looking for a path to armistice in America’s War on Drugs. After forty years, countless lives lost, billions spent, and whole communities devastated by bloviating politicians trying to secure their places in office, it’s time to treat the people rather than cage them like animals. Oklahoma leads the nation in the incarceration of women and is second in the incarceration of men. This is destroying families and killing towns more so than any drug epidemic. It would benefit all Oklahomans if our political leaders stop talking to us and listen for a change.
State Senator Adam Pugh may have said it best. “We put too many people in prison. It costs the state too much money and we create generational problems for our present and our future,” Pugh continued. “And as a voter who voted for those state questions, I certainly understand why my constituents feel insulted for the legislature to turn around two months after we just asked the voters how they wanted to fix the criminal justice system and disregard their opinion and go do our own thing.”