STILLWATER, Okla. —
By Ricky O’Bannon
Today 186 new laws will go into effect in the state’s books.
The laws are the result of the Oklahoma Legislature’s 2011 session.
Below is short summary of a few of the bills that became law today.
State lawmakers passed three abortion-related laws. However, only two will take effect Tuesday. One of those laws requires that elective abortion procedures not be covered as part of standard insurance policies. The procedure can be covered by optional supplements. Another law would ban abortions after 20 weeks, which is lower than the current 24 weeks. The law, titled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” provides exceptions for cases where the mother’s health is at risk.
The last bill passed by the Legislature has been suspended temporarily while it faces a legal challenge. The law restricts certain abortion-inducing drugs including the drug RU 486 or mifepristone. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit via the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice in early October against Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline. The judge in the case issued a temporary injunction on the law, preventing it from going into effect before the case is settled.
While there was an initiative aimed at limiting prison overcrowding for nonviolent offenders, one law aimed at hashish production looked to lengthen some jail sentences.
Hash oil is made by dissolving marijuana into a solvent. The oil residue contains highly concentrated THC. A new law makes a first-time conviction of producing hash oil punishable by a minimum of two years incarceration, with a maximum of a life sentence. Sentencing times double on a second offense.
Another law would remove public urination from the list of offenses that require registration as a sex offender, unless the urination is sexual in purpose.
Department of Corrections changes
Lawmakers passed a new law that has been called a piece in a greater smart or right on crime initiative. The initiative was created out of concern that the state was spending an ever-growing amount to warehouse and imprison convicts. The effort gained some bipartisan support.
The main piece of legislation passed as part of this initiative would increase the availability of community sentencing and electronic monitoring for low-risk, nonviolent offenders. The law also changed the default sentencing for multiple infractions from consecutive to concurrent sentences.
One part of the law, which has drawn some scrutiny, tried to no longer require the governor to weigh in on individual parole cases. Under the law, the recommendation of a parole board would take effect if the governor did not act within 30 days of decisions made on nonviolent offenders. The governor would still have to act on decisions made on violent offenders.
Oklahoma is the only state that requires the governor take action on all parole cases.
The change in the parole requirements were challenged in an opinion from State Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt’s opinion stated the changes were unconstitutional without a public vote. That piece of the measure is on hold.
While the new law has raised questions over which nonviolent offenders could be released, convicts being held in the Payne County Jail will not be released, Payne County Sheriff R.B. Hauf said.
People who are convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison are often left in county jails, including the Payne County Jail, due to overcrowding in Oklahoma prisons. The Department of Corrections picks up inmates when space is available.
All convicts must be processed at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center after they’re picked up from county jails, Hauf said. Then the Department of Corrections could decide if a prisoner should be released after being received from county jails.
Another law passed was aimed at the accessibility of the drug methadone for inmates with a dependency. Hauf said the bill amends a law in two ways. First, if a person has methadone and a prescription for it when they’re booked into the jail, that inmate must be given methadone while in the jail. Second, jail medical staff must recognize symptoms of withdrawal. The jail contracts with a medical company, and their nurses and doctors are trained to recognize withdrawal, Hauf said.
A jail doctor would likely prescribe inmates some other drug in place of methadone, Hauf said, because methadone is not available at Stillwater pharmacies.
A Payne County Jail inmate fell to his death and his family said he had been denied methadone.
While the U.S. Supreme Court made a recent ruling that funeral protests were protected free speech, several states including Oklahoma have passed laws to limit the visibility of protests during funerals. A new law prohibits protesting within two hours before or after a funeral and also extends the minimum distance protesters must be from the funeral to 1,000 feet from 500 feet.
A number of bills were offered that dealt with guns on college campuses. However, the only one passed into law had to do with the ability for concealed weapons to be kept locked in vehicles on a CareerTech campus. The law faced objections by some local lawmakers including Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater.
Lawmakers passed a statewide social host law that places a penalty on those who knowingly allow minors to consume alcohol at a property they own. Many cities have a local social host law, including Stillwater, which passed a social host law within the past year. The statewide law would make it a $500 penalty for the first offense, which would increase to $1,000 on a second offense and $2,500 on a third. Under the state ordinances, municipal social host laws cannot have a tougher penalty than the state law.
A new law will essentially place a cap on “noneconomic damages” or “pain and suffering.” The cap would be set at $350,000, but there is an exception for cases of malice, negligence or recklessness.
A second law eliminates joint and several liability, which means defendants cannot be required to pay a percent of a settlement that is larger than their degree of fault.
A new law named for Erin Elizabeth Swezey, an Oklahoma State University student killed by a drunk driver in 2009, will stiffen the penalties for drunken driving starting today.
The new law would require first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or higher to have an ignition interlock device installed on their vehicle, which would check the driver’s blood alcohol content before the car was started.
The offender would also have the words “Interlock Required” on their driver’s license or ID card. The device would be required for 18 months on a first offense, but offenders charged with a second offense would have to have the device installed for three years after their license was reinstated. That period increases to five years for those convicted of their third or greater DUI charge.
A different law would stiffen penalties for reckless driving that endangers other. “Aaron’s Law,” ‘named for teenager Aaron Zents who was killed in 2009 by a driver who ran a red light, requires a driver’s license be revoked for failure to stop when a school bus is loading or unloading children.
Additionally, anyone convicted of driving without regard for the safety of others or failing to obey a traffic control device and causes great bodily harm to another person will have his or her license revoked.
The law increases the minimum fine for negligent homicide from $100 to $1,000 and requires that charge also require a driver improvement class. Under the law, fines double for any mentioned charge if that person has been convicted of a traffic offense in the past three years.
Unions and collective bargaining
Lawmakers passed a repealer that removed a 2004 requirement that cities with a population above 35,000 recognize nonuniformed labor unions. Cities can still choose to recognize the unions, but it is no longer mandatory.
While uniformed employees are police and firefighters, nonuniformed city employees include street crews, utility workers, secretaries, sanitation workers and others. The city of Stillwater has two nonuniformed unions affected by the change: Communication Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Stillwater workers in the CWA and IBEW belong to the Tulsa chapters of those unions.
Under that law, the Stillwater City Council will no longer recognize the contracts negotiated with the CWA and the IBEW starting today.
Another bill that became law this year but could be heard again in 2012 has to do with uniformed unions. Police and firefighter unions use a process called binding arbitration to settle disputes with a municipality. Under binding arbitration, both sides present their “last best offer” to an arbitration panel. The panel then chooses one of the two offers and both sides are legally bound to abide by that decision. Stillwater most recently went to binding arbitration with the Fraternal Order of Police union over a contract dispute in 2010, where the arbitration panel ruled with the police.
The arbitration decision from last year inspired Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, to draft a bill that would change who could be an arbitrator. The impartial arbitrator who drafted the decision and acted as the swing vote was from Texas. Holt said it was important to have local arbitrators who know Oklahoma law to decide how cities spend their tax dollars. His bill first looked to do away with binding arbitration, but was eventually changed just to require Oklahoma-based arbitrators.
Holt’s bill got halted during the last legislative session, but it could be heard again during the 2012 session.
NewsPress reporter Anita Pere and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
STILLWATER, Okla. —
By Ricky O’Bannon
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