Oklahoma inmates who believe they were wrongly convicted of a violent crime may soon have a new tool available to help prove their point.
The House gave its approval this week to House Bill 1068, which would let those serving sentences of 25 years or more petition the sentencing court for DNA testing. Oklahoma is the only state without such a law.
Under HB 1068, once the state responds to an inmate’s request, the sentencing court would hold a hearing to determine whether to order DNA testing. The bill guards against the courts being flooded with requests by requiring that certain criteria be met.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater. It gained the support of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which would have a hand in the testing, as well as a panel of attorneys that studied wrongful convictions.
About a dozen Oklahoma inmates have been freed as a result of forensic DNA testing in the past two decades. If this bill helps free even one innocent person, it will have been worthwhile.
The bill now heads back to the Senate, which should send it to Gov. Mary Fallin for her signature without delay.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin this week rejected an idea aimed at ensuring that state agencies are operating as efficiently as possible.
Fallin vetoed Senate Bill 907, which would have created a Joint Legislative Committee on Accountability. The panel would have included legislators from both sides of the aisle — an effort to avoid claims that partisan points were being sought — as well as two members from the private sector, who could review executive branch agencies and request performance audits.
In her veto, Fallin said the governor and legislators already have avenues available to ask for audits. But they seldom do, and that isn’t likely to change.
“For 20 years, people have been talking about this. It hasn’t happened,” a miffed state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said. “This bill would make it happen.”
Lawmakers approved SB 907 by votes of 44-0 in the Senate and 87-5 in the House. We’ll see if that support translates into a veto override.
The chorus of voices looking to stop text-messaging while driving now includes the country’s four largest cellphone companies.
T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T are getting behind a multimillion dollar ad campaign promoting AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign.
“Every CEO in the industry that you talk to recognizes that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” the head of AT&T told The Associated Press.Perhaps the message eventually will sink in with Oklahoma legislative leaders.
Several efforts this year to ban texting and driving failed. Oklahoma is one of just 11 states that haven’t outlawed texting at the wheel, which is dangerous not only to the person sending or reading messages, but to others on the road.
Justin Jones has a mess on his hands.
As director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Jones oversees the agency charged with watching an ever-growing prison population, and doing so with too-few prison guards. That dynamic contributes to brawls such as the one this week involving about 30 inmates at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown.
It was the latest of many violent incidents behind bars in the past year. Prison guards are concerned for their safety, the head of the Oklahoma Corrections Professions says, and prisons are “losing people like crazy everywhere” because of low pay and job conditions.
Additional funding would help, and Jones has regularly asked the Legislature for more. But bookkeeping concerns have become a big problem. The Oklahoman recently obtained documents showing that the amount of money held in two DOC revolving accounts was significantly greater than what the agency reported to the governor for her budgeting purposes.
Preston Doerflinger, the governor’s chief budget writer, says DOC has clear needs “but the problem is when you’ve got monies sitting in revolving accounts that appear to not be accurate and that they’re not utilizing appropriately, then how best are we to know and what confidence are we to have in taking into consideration the need for additional resources?”
Good questions. Until they’re answered sufficiently, Jones’ already tough job will only get more difficult.
When Oklahoma lifted its ban on horse slaughter this year, opponents insisted the legislation was designed to benefit individuals wanting to open a horse slaughter plant locally. Instead, the nation’s first horse slaughter plant will open, as predicted when the slaughter bill was approved, in New Mexico.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has confirmed a plant in that state will open unless Congress reinstates a ban on horse slaughter. This development will likely reduce any drive for a horse plant in Oklahoma.
Interested investors will want to monitor the New Mexico plant’s experience first. Will protesters impede functional operation of the plant? Will frivolous lawsuits bombard the plant’s owners? And how much market demand will there actually be for horse slaughter (although it’s clear plants in Mexico and Canada are staying busy)?
Having the chance to let someone else go first in this arena is not a bad thing for Oklahoma.
Since her election, Gov. Mary Fallin has touted efforts to right-size government. In particular, she has repeatedly argued Oklahoma has too many agencies, boards and commissions.
This week, she showed those words were more than campaign rhetoric by vetoing a bill that had received almost unanimous support in the Legislature. House Joint Resolution 1023 would have recreated the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Reform Committee to review Oklahoma’s juvenile justice system.
The measure passed the House 92-3 and cleared the Senate 43-0. But Fallin noted the committee could be formed through an executive order “rather than passing legislation and adding statutory provisions to our already lengthy legal code.”
That’s a good point. Others have previously noted numerous boards remain part of state law even though those groups have not met in years. As Fallin points out, such semi-permanent legal changes aren’t necessary to achieve short-term goals.
Oklahoma tag agents howled in 2010 when the state Tax Commission began making some tag agent services available online. The commission was complying with legislation directing all state agencies to offer online services.
At the time, a lobbyist for the Oklahoma Tag Agent Coalition complained about the Tax Commission “spending money to put the state in competition with private enterprise.” (Horrors!)
Turns out the concerns were for naught.
The Tulsa World reports that three years later, the number of online license tag renewals has grown but business conducted over the Internet comprises less than 1 percent of total tag agent-related revenue. In 2012, tag agents collected $817 million in taxes and fees. Online transactions amounted to just $427,287.
For now at least, it’s clear folks much prefer to conduct these transactions in person.
Earlier this year when state Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, filed an amendment to provide vouchers to families of children attending any school that allows teachers to be armed, we thought it was a political stunt. We stand corrected.
Shelton remains steadfast, making the case for school choice in situations where parents are uncomfortable with the idea of a child’s teacher having a gun.
Shelton argues, “It is my job, not a teacher’s, to introduce guns to my children. Parents should be empowered to take their children out of any school that allows guns in the classroom.” Fair enough.
But school choice supporters reasonably argue: Why stop there? Should parents be forced to keep their children in a failing school, based solely on geographic proximity, so long as teachers don’t have weapons?
Shelton’s argument isn’t unreasonable, but it can apply to situations well beyond the “guns in school” issue.
Oklahoma House leadership clearly wants nothing to do with banning text-messaging while driving.
This week the House rejected further efforts to crack down on texting at the wheel.
Rep. Curtis McDaniel, D-Smithville, originally introduced a texting ban bill that passed through a House committee but wasn’t heard on the floor. He later tried unsuccessfully to add the ban as an amendment to another bill.
On Tuesday, three tries by Democrats to get anti-texting language added to legislation were rejected. One would have limited the ban to places like school zones and work zones, and even that got shot down.
Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, is among those opposed to banning driving and texting, and so Oklahoma remains one of just 11 states that haven’t tried to crack down on this dangerous and omnipresent practice.