House Bill Overturning A Portion of State Question 780 Advances

Feb 15, 2017

A bill that would change some of the criminal justice reforms voters approved in November advances in the legislature.

House Bill 1482 would again make it a felony to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

Rep. Tim Downing (R-Purcell) co-authored the bill and says it restores protection for children.

"A person can take heroin on an elementary school playground and do it an unlimited amount of times and essentially pay a ticket for it."

Under the law voters approved, possessing a drug within 1,000 feet of a school is a misdemeanor but can still carry sentences including drug court or jail.

In a prepared statement, Downing says Oklahoma voters didn't see any mention of children, schools, or other locations in regards to drug possession offenses on State Question 780. That's because the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to add those references to the ballot title in August, by a vote of 6-2. Arguing for that language inclusion was Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.

Thus, Downing doesn't believe HB1482 overturns any part of SQ780.

"I do not for one second take the passage of SQ780 as the will of the people on the issue of drugs around our children, and would actually say it is our duty to protect the will of the people by preserving their right to make such a decision if it is ever actually presented to them."

But, Rep. Cory Williams (D-Stillwater) says to follow the money. He says the bill is not about child safety but the decrease in fines and fees district attorneys might receive under SQ780.

"You get more money from fines, fees and cost by filing the felony version."

The highlighted red areas represent 1,000 feet around a school, park, day care, and churches. (This map only includes parks in Oklahoma City.)

Kris Steele of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, and a former Oklahoma Speaker of the House, says Downing is misleading the public with HB1482 and using children as a political prop.

"The bill is a Trojan Horse attempt to roll back SQ 780. The bill is written in a way that causes a large geographic portion of the state to be a felony drug possession zone that turns addicts into felony prisoners instead of patients – exactly the opposite of what voters wanted. No one in the large, diverse coalition that supported these state questions wants anything but the safest environment for our children, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous."

The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 11 to 1. It now heads to the full House.

A competing bill that also addresses school distance requirements for drug possession is still on the agenda.