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Bill that would change Oklahoma voters’ criminal justice decision pulled from committee

Oklahoma flags blowing in the wind at Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY – A former state lawmaker is crediting voters after a controversial bill was pulled from a Senate committee hearing.

In November, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 780 and State Question 781.

State Question 780 reclassifies some criminal offenses, like drug possession and property crimes, to misdemeanors instead of felonies. Supporters say treating drug addiction is much more effective than sending offenders to prison, and say it would save the state millions since half of all people incarcerated in Oklahoma are considered non-violent offenders.

“In states that have already implemented a variation of these reforms, they’ve actually experienced a reduction in crime and increase in public safety by addressing those core issues of addiction and mental illness,” Kris Steele, former Speaker of the House, told NewsChannel 4 last year.

Some critics say they opposed the measure because a person could be convicted multiple times of a misdemeanor and it would never become a felony.

In November, voters ultimately approved the measure by nearly 60 percent. However, a new measure had some questioning whether their decision will stay in place.

House Bill 1482, or the ‘Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017,′ would add a provision to State Question 780.

It would add that any person who is found with any drugs 1,000 feet from a school, park or in the presence of a child under 12-years-old would be guilty of a felony.

“After hearing from my constituents after the election, I believe there is a large group of voters that didn’t understand that this state question would essentially decriminalize drugs in schools, parks and playgrounds,” said Rep. Biggs, R-Chickasha. “I’m all for cleaning up our books to have a more efficient justice system but not at the expense of our children.”

Last month, the bill was at the center of a heated debate on the House floor.

“Trust the over 800,000 voters who voted in favor of this legislation. We were elected to implement their will,” Rep. Emily Virgin said. “We should be thanking the voters for implementing this. Keep the intent of the voters intact.”

“93 percent of our teachers want drug-free school zones. But there’s a group in this House that wants to sell out our kids to save a dime,” said Rep. Scott Biggs, an author of the bill.

The measure passed the House floor, but it likely won’t go farther this year.

NewsOK reports that House Bill 1482 was pulled from consideration on Thursday before it was heard by a Senate committee.

Steele, the chairman for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, told the newspaper that the bill was likely pulled because of the pressure voters placed on their lawmakers.