New laws take effect Saturday

OKLAHOMA CITY -- More than 60 new laws will take effect Saturday. Some are passed by the legislature, others voters approved.

Starting July 1, State Questions 780 and 781 are officially on the books. The laws, which the people okayed in November, seek to reform Oklahoma's criminal justice system and save the state money.

The law will reclassify low-level drug and theft charges as misdemeanors, which often mean no jail time for offenders.

"We believe that issues of addiction and mental illness are better addressed through treatment than through punishment," said Kris Steele, who leads Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, which led the election campaign. "When we incarcerate a low-level offender and attract a felony charge to that individual, it tends to make a bad situation worse."

With the new law, Steele estimates Oklahoma will save $45 million over the next ten years, as more offenders receive treatment instead.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, however, says sometimes the threat of a felony conviction and prison time can be enough to get someone to treatment.

The cost savings, he said, are unproven, and he fears offenders will plead guilty to misdemeanors so they can walk free and go back to drugs or petty crime.

"I’m really concerned about the effect it’s going to have on public safety," he told NewsChannel 4. "And really, I’m concerned about the negative effect it’s going to have on offenders as well."

Other laws taking effect seek to improve the state's finances: ending tax credits for the wind industry, limiting film incentives, reducing incentives for the oil and gas industry and imposing a sales tax fee on new motor vehicles.

A lawsuit over the motor vehicle fee could delay its implementation.

Another law in effect Saturday will raise the price of tickets at pro sporting events, imposing a new fee.

Tickets under $50 will now carry a $1 fee. Tickets $50 and over will carry a $2 fee.

In all, the state stands to make $2.6 million annually.

"We obviously understand the state is working through different financial things and this was something that came up," said Jeff Ewing, president of the OKC Energy. "It’s one of those things we’ll work to comply with. We want to be good citizens and obviously adjust our pricing for that in the future."

The Energy hasn't heard any complaints yet, as it works to keep its games affordable.

The team's $10 seats will remain at $10 and the Energy will continue to give $2 of every ticket to Fields and Futures, which benefits local schools.

"We’re just going to roll with it and comply with what they put forward," Ewing said. "It’s a dollar but in today’s economy and obviously people who work for a living, a dollar’s a dollar."

Thunder Spokesman Dan Mahoney told NewsChannel 4 the fee is actually a compromise with lawmakers, who initially wanted to end a tax break and put a heavier burden on fans.

Most of the Thunder's season tickets for next year have already been sold, meaning the majority of people will start to notice in 2018.

Mahoney doesn't expect to hear outcry from fans, who he said are already accustomed to fees on their tickets.

Austin Mortensen is among them.

"If it helps the state out, it’s not a big deal to me," said Mortensen, who went to around 30 games last year. "It’s just a couple bucks. The games are still fun. I’d pay a couple extra bucks to still go."