Teacher pay, criminal justice reform, and cultural issues get attention with committee deadline looming (Capitol Update)

The firehose effect of early session continued last week with members scrambling to get their bills heard in committee before this Thursday’s deadline. By this Friday, the number of active bills will be reduced considerably. One of the big items that got the spotlight was a $1,200 teacher pay raise passed in the House and sent to the Senate. Chances for this are good since the authors of the bill are Speaker McCall and President Pro Tempore Greg Treat. The chances improved when the State Board of Equalization on Wednesday certified for appropriation an additional $574.5 million for FY-2020.

Several criminal justice reform bills emerged from committee such as bail reform and cost and fine reform. How far the latter will go depends to some extent on how much the appropriations committees will be able to set aside for court funding. Over the years legislators have piled on defendants much of the cost of the court system. This is both constitutionally suspect and unwise because it hinders the ability of people to move on with their lives without huge court costs and fines hanging over their heads as a cause for possible reincarceration.

Cultural issues demanded attention again this week. So-called “constitutional carry” passed the House and cleared Senate Committee. It could be the first bill laid on Gov. Stitt’s desk as governor. The bill allows people to carry a firearm with no license or training requirements. There are several locations that are exempted by current law that were left in place by the authors.

Sen. Greg Treat amended a bill to provide for a so-called “trigger” that would outlaw abortion in Oklahoma if the U.S. Supreme Court “overrules the central holding of Roe v. Wade, reaffirmed by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, thereby restoring to the State of Oklahoma the authority to prohibit abortion.” The actual language of the bill repeals current statutes that authorize and regulate abortion facilities and activities.

The bill leaves on the books a statute providing that “every person who administers to any woman, or who prescribes for any woman, or advises or procures any woman to take any medicine, drug or substance, or uses or employs any instrument, or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of such woman, unless the same is necessary to preserve her life shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for not less than two (2) years nor more than five (5) years.

It also leaves on the books the provision that defines homicide as the killing of one human being by another. That provision defines a human being as including “an unborn child as defined in Section 1-730 of Title 63” which states that “an unborn child means the unborn offspring of human beings from the moment of conception, through pregnancy, and until live birth…” The current exemption in the statute excepting “the death of an unborn child if those acts were committed during a legal abortion to which the pregnant woman consented” would have a new meaning-or no meaning-depending on whether Supreme Court provides for any protection for an abortion in overruling Roe v. Wade. This will set the stage for homicide prosecutions for those involved in an abortion if Roe v. Wade is overruled.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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