March 2017 Editorial Winner

Following the will of the people
Ted Streuli, The Journal Record

House Bill 1482 has drawn more attention than most and for good reason. It’s not often that Oklahomans pass a state question by more than 17 percentage points only to have their legislators try to undo it just months after the election.
Although Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, is the bill’s primary sponsor, Purcell Republican Tim Downing has been the most vocal defender since the bill predictably stomped on a hornet’s nest.
On March 7, Biggs offered a floor amendment that eliminated much of the objectionable language in his bill. But it’s important to note that most of Downing’s comments, including a guest column in The Oklahoman and a lengthy Facebook post, came well before Biggs backed off and the House passed the measure 51-38.
Downing squarely made his argument on the notion that State Question 780 downgraded the possession of drugs in a school zone to a misdemeanor. The truth is that possession of drugs in a school zone is, because of the proximity to children, considered intent to distribute and that remains a felony under SQ 780.
What Downing never mentioned was that the original version of HB 1482 would not only reinstate harsher penalties for drug possession, it would expand felony drug possession zones to include day cares, elementary and secondary schools, public vocational schools, colleges and universities, churches, recreation centers, public parks including state parks, fairgrounds, and recreation areas, and in the presence of any child under 12 years of age.
It would have put 14 percent of Oklahoma City residents and more than 20 percent of Tulsans in an enhancement zone, utterly contrary to voters’ intent.
Oklahoma holds the inestimable place of highest per capita female incarceration and one of the top three male incarceration rates in the country. But legislators are neither willing nor able to pay for their throw-away-the-key lunacy. The Department of Corrections needs twice the money it’s been appropriated just to keep pace.
The business community has vociferously supported criminal justice reform, rightly insisting that the state reduce sentencing for non-violent offenders and find alternate solutions for those who are mentally ill. Oklahomans made the same point with the passage of SQ 780 and SQ 781.
Before considering HB 1482, senators would do well to recall these words of Thomas Jefferson:
“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”

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