I attended this past Friday’s legislative luncheon to hear updates from Sen. Mike Schulz (R-Altus) and Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus) about the current workings at our state capitol. While most of the discussion was centered on Oklahoma’s current budget shortfall, Ortega took time at the end of the meeting to discuss the passing of H.B. 1482, otherwise known as the Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act.
This bill can be seen by visiting http://bit.ly/2noc12n.
This act is a legislative response to the passage of SQ 780 last November which reduced some drug possession and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The companion language of SQ 781 passed the cost savings of this reduction on to bolster mental health reform in connection with drug addiction. This choice was made by the voters of Oklahoma to pass these questions to help ease the burden on our incarceration system and keep from sending addicts back to prison where they don’t receive the help that they require to get better.
As currently passed out of the House, H.B. 1482 changes back those reduced drug possession crimes if they occur within 1,000 feet of a school (1/5 of a mile) or in the presence of a child under the age of 12. It also exempts students from its provisions.
While I understand the sentiment surrounding this idea, I feel it almost undermines some of the very goals that SQ 780 was trying to achieve.
When talking about this bill, it is imperative to state that distributing or intending to distribute drugs within 1,000 feet of a school is still a felony with or without this bill.
If this bill goes into law, the most susceptible people to felony drug possession charges will not be drug dealers — laws are already in place to deter that activity. It will be those that live or work in the neighborhoods where the schools are located.
It could also severely affect people that live small communities such as those here in Southwest Oklahoma. Think about towns such as Mangum, Blair, Duke or Frederick. It is almost impossible not to live within 1/5 of a mile from a school. This would mean that almost all drug possession charges would result in felonies for people in these areas.
In fact, it would also probably put a large population of our town in the same situation considering we have eight schools scattered throughout our community.
This bill is packaged with a name and message appealing to the idea of keeping children safe. It is a very noble notion, but it is misguided.
I don’t want drugs anywhere near our schools, but I don’t think this will help. I think it will only negatively and unfairly impact those whose crime is addiction and unfortunate location, as well as cost our state $19,067 per year for each incarcerated felon.
Oklahomans got it right the first time and our legislators should keep it that way.
Reach Matt Moran at 580-482-1221, ext. 2072 or at [email protected]