Monday, May 6, 2019

Criminal Justice Reform is Smoke & Mirrors!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     The Oklahoma legislature is winding down the 2019 session.  By law, lawmakers are required to complete the 2019 regular session by May 31st at 5pm.  They have yet to pass a budget, but that is normal.  Traditionally that has been one of the last things they get hammered out.  With the Senate, the House and the Governor all having their versions of a budget, a ‘meetings of the minds’ must take place before success is achieved.  They have also not agreed on whether to give a $1,200 pay raise to classroom teachers or to adjust the common education funding formula letting local school districts determine if they want to fund staff or use for other purposes.  There is also a proposal to expand Medicaid in the Sooner state, mirrored after a similar program in Arkansas and several other states.  Critics, including conservative think tank OCPA, claim Medicaid expansion in those states has been a failure. 
     While efficiency and cooperation between the governor and the legislature was much improved this session, Governor Stitt did veto several bills sent to his desk this year; They include one that would have allowed professional hunting and fishing guides on state owned land, another would have allowed overtime pay for state employees, one involved police and fire unions, and a common education bill changing how expenses could be classified.  They joined the first bill Stitt vetoed, which would have created a task force for home health recipients.  It does not appear the legislature will attempt to overturn any of the bills vetoed by Governor Stitt.     
     Oklahoma government budget will be the largest in state history.  No matter which version is agreed upon, this budget will be historical.  That is primarily due to increased revenue coming into state coffers from the record tax increases passed last year.  Some legislators are lobbying to place a significant amount of the increased revenue into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, others favor spending it.  As one Republican lawmaker said, “it’s not a matter of if Oklahoma government will experience a downturn, it’s a matter of when.”  The legislature should fully fund the Rainy Day Fund.
     Criminal justice reform is another hot topic being debated in the legislature.  After the changes brought about when SQ #780 and #781 were approved by voters in 2016, many crimes that were formerly felonies are now misdemeanors.  After being shamed by do-gooders embarrassed by Oklahoma’s incarnation rates, voters went to the polls and voted de-criminalize and reclassify many crimes.  It’s no wonder the state’s DAs and law enforcement community are up in arms.  Releasing criminals early is bad enough, but when crime is decriminalized, honest citizens are placed in harm’s way.  Lowering the incarnation rate in Oklahoma is a great goal, but de-criminalizing and reclassifying crime is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  Oklahoma’s reputation should be; ‘you do the crime-you do the time.’
     On Saturday May 18th, the SCGOP will hold their 15th annual Fish Fry at the SC Fairgrounds.  This year’s keynote speaker is Governor Kevin Stitt.  This event has become the single largest gathering of Republicans in the state each year outside a state GOP convention.  Email for information.

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