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Oklahoma House passes criminal justice reform measure to apply state question retroactively

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lawmakers say they are beginning a new chapter in criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would help ease prison overcrowding by applying State Question 780 retroactively.

State Question 780 reclassified some criminal offenses, like drug possession and property crimes, to misdemeanors instead of felonies.

On Thursday, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle held a joint press conference to discuss the importance of criminal justice reform. They say passing HB 1269 is a step in the right direction.

“We know that Governor Stitt is focused on criminal justice reform, and I think you will see several more pieces of legislation in the future that will try to right the ship and stem incarceration rates in Oklahoma,” Rep. Sen. Stephanie Bice said.

The bill would also allow people to have certain existing felonies expunged from their records. This should allow people to get back on their feet.

“You get out and you can`t get a job because you have a felony, you can`t get a lawyer because you don`t have any money, you can`t get a lawyer because you don`t have any money, and you can`t get a job because you can`t get a lawyer,” Rep. State Representative Jon Echols said. “You`re stuck in this cycle.”

Authors of the bill say they wanted to make the process as simple as possible so people don’t have to put themselves in a deeper hole to take advantage of the new law.

“The form is actually in statute. The reason that`s important is we don`t want them to have to go get an attorney to actually apply for expungement,” Senator Bice said. “It makes the process for them incredibly simple and I think that`s a huge win.”

Lawmakers say this could benefit as many as 60,000 Oklahomans.