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Criminal justice reform still on Oklahoma's legislative agenda

About a dozen new and holdover bills that would overhaul Oklahoma's criminal justice system are in the legislative pipeline.

Although it's too early to tell, there are indications the bills have momentum. In her State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin again endorsed bills recommended by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform Task Force and urged, "Send them to me to sign." House Speaker Charles McCall later assured, "Criminal justice bills will move forward."

Advocates for changes in the system are cautiously optimistic but recall what happened in the 2017 session, when eight of a dozen key criminal-justice bills got bottled up in committee and were held over for this year. Another bill died; three passed and were signed by Fallin.

Oklahoma Watch put together a scorecard of sorts with bills that proponents say, if approved, could lead to a significant drop in rates of incarceration in prisons and jails and greater use of alternative treatment programs.

The bills would enact changes along all stages of the criminal justice system:

Bypassing jail

HB 3694: Would allow more people to be free on their own recognizance instead of being jailed for non-violent misdemeanors. Intended to address situations such as when a defendant fails to show up for a court date to pay a speeding ticket. Currently, a bench warrant is issued and the person will be arrested.

Status: Referred to Rules Committee on Feb. 6. No votes yet.

Main author: Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City. Note: Calvey said the bill would mean that if a police officer pulls someone over and learns he or she has an unpaid traffic ticket, the person isn't automatically arrested. but would receive a citation and a court date. Alternative collection methods could potentially be through fines added onto utility bills. Calvey said it would save time and money.

Bail and attorneys

SB 1021: Would allow defendants to get court-appointed attorneys after posting bail. Under the existing system, defendants cannot get a court-appointed attorney if they make bail, which causes many to go without representation because they can't afford an attorney.

Main author: Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City.

Status: Referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 6. No vote yet.

Note: Oklahoma is one of a handful of states in which the ability to post bail disqualifies an inmate from receiving a court-appointed attorney.

At sentencing

General sentencing

SB 689: Would give judges and prosecutors more discretion and options for sending people to treatment and supervision programs instead of prison. Fines and fees for some offenders would be reduced.

Main author: Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.

Status: In 2017, it passed the Senate, 41-0, and the House with amendments, 65-18. Sent to conference committee, where it is now.

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