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Is it time to Repeal OK SQ 640?

March 19, 2015

The effects of Oklahoma’s “tough on crime” legislation has, in large part, come home to roost. In 1992, Oklahoma’s citizens approved State Question 640 which drastically limited increases in taxes by requiring a three-fourths vote of both legislative houses or a majority vote in a general election to levy a higher tax rate.
Unable to gain a consensus in the legislature to raise taxes, lawmakers continue to raise fees and fines and/or add new ones. They are now using the courts to raise needed state budgetary funds instead of through a specific tax increase. They also hope the money they raise may offset ongoing cuts to Oklahoma’s personal income tax rate. Court fees alone have increased threefold since 1992 with the passing of State Question 640.
KGO reporter Kate Carlton Greer, in conjunction with Oklahoma Watch, covered just a few of the most egregious fines levied by legislative laws passed since 1999. They are:
Senate Bill 112, 1999 – The penalty against people who forfeited bond when charged with an offense; added the Council on Law Enforcement Education training to the list of entities receiving state fines and fees;
House Bill 1361, 2000 – Allowed the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to seek reimbursement from offenders for cleaning up illegal drug labs sites; gave court clerks part of the clean-up funds;
Senate Bill 636, 2005 – Assessed charges against offenders for the cost of emergency medical treatment;
House Bill 1328, 2013 – Imposed a $40 “district attorney” fee on offenders.
While there is a need to fund enforcement of Oklahoma’s laws, there is a tremendous need to create an avenue whereby these offenders are able to gain employment so they can earn the money to pay these fines and fees. Re-incarcerating them because they cannot gain employment in time to pay the fines/fees included in the terms of their paroles is ludicrous. An Oklahoma parolee is hindered from finding gainful employment because:
Unable to obtain a drivers license to travel to work;
State boards use a felony record as grounds for refusing to grant occupational driver’s license;
Applicant must admit to a prior conviction on an employment application prior to being interviewed for a job; thus,
Few employers will hire anyone with a felony on their records.
Oklahoma legislators need to make an in-depth study, across the board, of the negative effects increases in all fees and fines have on Oklahomans regardless of the usage.
Along with the rise in fees and fines, the establishment of a minimum sentencing guideline, which does not take into account the severity of the crime, has also led to over-population in our county, state and for-profit confinement facilities.
As pointed out by Oklahoma Policy Institute, “Mandatory minimums have been shown to be ineffective in preventing crime. They distort the criminal justice system by creating situations in which punishments do not fit the crime. They threaten the accusers right of access to a fair trial when prosecutors use the threat of harsh sentences to pressure defendants into pleading guilty to a lesser charge, even when they are innocent.” Even the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the American Corrections Association have recently endorsed reforms which would restore a judge’s discretion when sentencing.
Mandatory minimums are a major reason for our state’s extremely high rates of incarceration. Oklahoma has 122 mandatory minimum sentences. Mandatory minimums are also the reason almost 50% of Oklahoma’s prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent property or drug offenses.
Oklahoma, reform mandatory minimum incarceration laws, setting into place sentencing which befits the offense! Create a training program which insures adequate employment, occupational drivers’ licenses and time for the subject to fully pay fines and fees incurred at the time of arrest.

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