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Legislators' bills focus on wildlife, tweaks to criminal justice statutes

The budget and building a vision for Oklahoma's future will be high-profile issues as the Oklahoma Legislature opens its 2018 session, say members of the Lawton area delegation.

Legislators will be in Oklahoma City Monday to witness the session's formal opening, highlighted by Gov. Mary Fallin's final State of the State Address, before beginning the meetings that won't end until late May. In between, legislators will be looking at the state budget, as well as working their way through a slate of bills that range from economic stabilization and increasing government efficiencies to a proposal that would allow public school students to apply their own sunscreen during school hours without written permission.

Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, is among those who predict the regular session, running concurrently with a special session, will focus on "budget, budget, budget." 

"Hopefully, with that (the budget) being in the forefront, we'll start dealing with it immediately, rather than dealing with policy issues," Worthen said.

He said he expects that process to be a little easier for 2018-2019 than it has been in past years because the state revenue picture is better than it has been, so the shortfall won't be as deep as the $600 million legislators faced last year. But, he also predicted better revenues will lead to other problems.

"It may make it more difficult to vote for any tax increases. That is an interesting issue: how individual members will sort that out," he said, noting the fact 2018 is an election year will be a factor. "It may be a difficult session, with all those other side issues having an effect on budget issues. It will be an interesting first month or so."

While the Legislature as a whole will be looking at budgetary issues, Worthen  a former prosecutor who is finishing his freshman year as House District 64 representative  also has a slate of bills he will introduce, many "tweaks" to criminal justice statutes.

Worthen said his House Bill 3073 focuses on inmates who are released from Department of Corrections custody. Existing statutes give such people six months to come to the court clerk in their county of conviction and make arrangements to pay fines and other debts. Worthen said that is too long, explaining that after three months many people no longer think about that requirement and it slips their mind. The result is a court clerk trying to find them, often failing, then issuing a warrant for their arrest. These former inmates could lose a job they have found because they are serving time rather than working.

"It's a vicious cycle," Worthen said.

His HB 3073 cuts that registration deadline to 30 days after an inmate's release, directing him to the district court from which the judgment and sentence arose to make arrangements for fines, costs and assessments. Worthen said former inmates still would have 130-150 days to make payments on those debts, giving them time to find a job, find a place to live and get settled. And, it potentially lessens the work load for court clerks.

Worthen's HB 3072 deals with the process of obtaining wire taps. While the bill clarifies some provisions in existing law (such as amending the definition of pen register and trap and communication devices), one of its major changes would allow more than one judge to review and issue the search warrant that authorizes a wire tap. The bill specifies that when issuing such a search warrant, as long as physical installation is not necessary, the action may be granted by any magistrate where there is probable cause evidence that an offense has been committed, is being committed or may be committed in his jurisdiction.

Rep. Jeff Coody, R-Grandfield, said some of his bills are influenced by his chairmanship of the House Wildlife Committee. He said the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife is a non-appropriated agency whose funding comes from licenses, fines and fees, so committee members have some new initiatives they want to adopt to help the agency and its mission.

One issue Coody wants considered is a non-resident lifetime hunting license. Coody said there are people who own property in Oklahoma, but, despite spending plenty of time here, are out-of-state residents. Those property owners want to be able to hold a lifetime hunting and fishing license, something his HB 2916 would allow.

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