There were very few criminal justice reform measures passed this session. House Bill 3135 by Rep. Gerrid Kendrix, R-Altus, and Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, will let misdemeanor cases be managed through the community sentencing system. HB 3316 by Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, and Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, provides for automatic expungement of criminal records in certain cases, and Senate Bill 1548 by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, though heavily amended, brings improvements to the operation of drug courts. What started as a somewhat promising session eventually fizzled out as bills stalled in the legislative process.
SB 1646 by Sen. Dave Rader, R-Tulsa, and Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, would have adopted some of the recommendations of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council after a three-year study, but it failed to make final passage. Instead, the council itself was repealed. SB 1646 would have standardized sentencing practices within felony classes and reduced the prison population by almost 1,000 people over 10 years. It was likely doomed from the beginning because it excluded mandatory prison time provisions for some offenses as recommended by the law enforcement-dominated council.
A couple of promising bills that would have repealed various court cost and fee penalties currently imposed in criminal cases to partially pay for the court and law enforcement system also failed to make it through the process. SB 1458 by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, and Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, would have repealed about $40 million to $60 million in cost and fee penalties. HB 3196 by Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole, and Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, would have repealed another $9 million.
One bill that did pass, HB 3925 by Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, and Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, could have a major impact on people who owe fines, costs, and fees but do not have the ability to pay. Currently, arrest warrants are issued when people become delinquent on their fine and cost payments, and they can be arrested. This process ties up court and law enforcement time, usually without much success in collecting the money owed, which is sometimes in the thousands. And it keeps people entangled in the court system unable to move on, sometimes for years for failure to pay even after they have served any other penalty imposed.
HB 3925 improves the collection process by requiring timely intervention to achieve collection from those who owe the money and can pay. It also provides the opportunity for early determination by the court whether a person is able or unable to pay and gives the court authority to lower or waive fees for those who cannot pay. Later ability-to-pay determinations can be made if there is a change in circumstances such as losing a job or illness. The bill prevents people from being arrested on warrants for failure to pay costs unless there has been a judicial determination that they are able to pay but are willfully refusing, or they have failed to appear after being given a citation to appear in court. The bill also provides penalties for those who willfully refuse to pay. The new law will be fully implemented by July 1, 2023.