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“This system is costing us millions of dollars,” Penalty adjusting bill heads to Senate

OKLAHOMA CITY - A bill adjusting penalties for property offenses will soon head to the Senate floor.

House Bill 2281, sponsored by Rep. Terry O'Donnell, R-Catoosa, passed the House by a vote of 67 to 17. It would create a tiered penalty structure for low-level property offenses including larceny and forgery, and other "paper crimes."

"In Oklahoma since 1991, we have number one female incarceration and this bill will impact the female incarceration rate probably disproportionately to the male because a lot of women are caught up in writing bad checks or forgery issues," said Rep. O'Donnell.

Under the bill, penalties will be determined by the value of the offenses:

  • For crimes totaling $1,000 or less, the penalty would be up to one year of incarceration
  • For crimes totaling $1,000 to $2,500, the penalty would be up to two years of incarceration
  • For crimes totaling $2,500 to $15,000, the penalty would be up to five years of incarceration
  • For crimes exceeding $15,000, the penalty would be up to eight years of incarceration

"What you don’t see is the collateral damage that does to a family. You have kids going into foster care or dads out of the picture so that is so disruptive to a family," O'Donnell told News 4.

He also said this kind of bill could help small businesses affected by crime, because it gives attorneys a bigger incentive to prosecute.

"If you commit certain crimes within 30 days of one another, we can aggregate the cost of the theft into crime, so it's going to help small businesses," he said. "A lot of times because of DA resources, they're not interested in pursuing the petty larceny stuff."

Allie Shinn, Director of External Affairs, ACLU Oklahoma, says they're glad to see bills like this advance in the Legislature, but it cannot stop here.

"This system is costing us millions of dollars, it is ruining lives across the board in Oklahoma and we’re going to need more substantial reform than this," explained Shinn.

​They're asking lawmakers to seriously commit to criminal justice reform and consider all options on the table.

"There's also a really interesting legislation this session that would take Oklahoma out of the very small number of states that prevent juries from hearing the full range of sentencing options in front of them," Shinn said. "That could dramatically change the way we sentence people in Oklahoma."

The bill is co-authored by Senate Majority leader Greg Treat.