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Legislators Pull Felony Drug Possession Bill

10-Apr-2017

When Oklahoma voters filled their ballots in November, they approved State Questions 780 and 781. In doing so, the citizens voted to reduce simple drug possession from a felony (in most cases) to a misdemeanor. They also voted to invest more in community resources, such as substance abuse treatment. Clearly, Oklahoma voters feel that overcrowding our prisons with those who would be better served through treatment is not an appropriate response. Oklahomans, in the face of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, are deciding that a tough-on-crime approach is unacceptable, and a "smart-on-crime" approach is more suitable.

So it was a slap in the face to voters when state lawmakers introduced a bill that would largely undo their votes for SQ 780 and SQ 781. Literally adding insult to their action, the authors of the bill said that Oklahoma citizens did not understand what they were voting for. In introducing this bill, the authors essentially told Oklahomans that (1) they were not smart enough to make an informed decision about their votes, and (2) even if they were, their voice does not matter. Legislators elected to represent the people were not only ignoring them, but directly contradicting their votes.

Oklahomans spoke up. They let their displeasure be known. They told their legislators that they were informed, they knew exactly what they were voting for, and they did not appreciate this attempt at an authoritarian government that ignores the will of the people.

And apparently, this time, the legislators listened. 

Last week, Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, pulled HB 1482 from consideration. Neither Sykes nor the House author, Rep. Tim Downing, R-Purcell, gave public comment on pulling the bill.

Opponents of the bill believe that the authors of the bill were simply responding to pressure from groups that voiced their outrage over a law that would ignore and undo their votes. 

Kris Steele, chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said, "Keeping the state questions intact and supporting the governor's task force bills saves taxpayers nearly $2 billion, makes us safer and restores lives. We're optimistic that when this session ends, legislators will have built on the progress made by Oklahoma voters by enacting more historic reforms that send Oklahoma's criminal justice system back in the right direction.”

Hopefully, after this fiasco, Oklahoma legislators will take their responsibility as representatives--not dictators--more seriously and support the voices of their constituents.



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