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Capitol Insider: A Second Look At Last Week's Commutations

AP/Sue Ogrocki
Sally Taylor, left, and Sarah Taylor, right, wait for their granddaughter and niece, Tess Harjo, to walk out of Eddie Warrior Correctional Center Nov. 4, 2019 in Taft, Okla.

In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss what the media missed when over 500 people were released last week from Oklahoma prisons, signs of a slowing economy and more. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Oklahoma made national news about a week ago when the Pardon and Parole Board voted to grant and the Governor approved commutations for 527 offenders who'd been convicted of crimes that have been made misdemeanors by a vote of the people. Now, those commutations were made possible through the implementation of House Bill 1269. Are there any more commutations coming?

Shawn Ashley: No. House Bill 1269 established a single-stage process for those individuals, as you said, who were convicted of crimes previously that were felonies that are now misdemeanors. There were about 890 people originally identified as being eligible for consideration in that single-stage process. Some of those people got struck out from consideration. Some because they'd already been released since the list was prepared. In other cases, they had incidents within the prison that made them ineligible for consideration. There were also district attorneys and victims protest in some cases. And then any individual who would have been required to register as a violent offender or as a sex offender were stricken from that list. That got them down to a lower number that resulted in the 527 having their sentences commutated and then 460 being released.

Pryor: The people who have had their convictions commuted still have felonies on their record. What are they supposed to do about that?

Ashley: That is an interesting issue, isn't it? Because they go before the pardon and parole board and they have their sentence commuted. And many of them are released from prison, released from prison right away. But they still have that felony conviction. And that's because, under Oklahoma law, the pardon and parole board cannot eliminate that conviction. They can alter the sentence or make adjustments within a certain framework, but they can't get rid of that original conviction. So those individuals, if they want to have that felony conviction removed from their record, are going to have to go to court. They're going to have to seek an expungement. And House bill 1269 directed them through a particular process of applying with the court to have that done.

Pryor:The state treasurer has announced that gross receipts to the Treasury increased only about half a percent in October. Decreased, gross production receipts, and sales tax collections are dragging down tax revenue, which indicates perhaps that the economy in Oklahoma is slowing.

Ashley:Yes, it does appear that way. This was the second consecutive month where total receipts have come in at less than one percent growth. In other words, what we're seeing is some slowing in economic activity. As the treasurer pointed out, particularly in the energy area with grocery gross production tax receipts being down really 30 percent compared to a year ago, and also seeing continued slow growth in sales tax, which was down one percent compared to a year ago.

Pryor: An interesting bill to watch in the upcoming legislative session has already been filed at Senate Bill 10 89 by Senators Marty Quinn and Nathan Dahm, which would name part of Route 66 in northeast Oklahoma, "The President Donald J. Trump Highway." That got some immediate pushback, including from Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell.

Ashley:  Governor Pinnell pointed out in a tweet that Route 66 is already internationally known as the Mother Road and that that road should not be changed, that road's names should not be changed in any way, which would detract from it. The Route 66 Association also came out against it, and Rep. Ben Loring, who represents part of the area in which that area of the road would be renamed, also expressed opposition to it. I think what we were hearing from Senators Quinn and Dahm is that they'll look for another road to possibly name, and it'll just be a matter of finding one where people can agree it should be named the Donald J. Trump Highway.

Pryor: All right, Shawn, thanks. We want to close with thanks to Caroline Halter, who has been our editor and producer of Capitol Insider. Caroline is leaving KGOU and has really shaped this segment for quite some time and I think has made us better.

Ashley: She certainly has made us better, more focused, and made it better for you, the listener.

Pryor: Absolutely. So thanks, Caroline Halter, and good luck in the days ahead. That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net, on Apple podcasts and Spotify. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. 

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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