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Oklahoma House Passes Bill That Reverses Part Of Voter-Approved Measure

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland

The Oklahoma state House of Representatives furthered a bill Thursday that would roll back part of a state question that was approved by voters in November.

Oklahomans voted in favor of State Questions 780 and 781 last year, which reduced simple drug possession from a felony crime to a misdemeanor.

In debate on the House floor, Republican Representative Tim Downing, R-Purcell, said House Bill 1482 would give district attorneys the discretion to enhance simple drug possession to a felony if it occurs within 1,000 feet of a school

“It’s the ability for there to be an enhancement so that there is a deterrent effect, so that we treat our children and our schools differently than every other part of the state, differently than we would treat a night club,” Downing said.

Supporters argued voters did not fully understand that drug penalties would be reduced near schools.

State Rep. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, argued voters knew what they were doing when they approved the measures.

“It is an insult. It is offensive to me when I hear over and over again that the people of Oklahoma do not quite understand what they voted for,” Young said.

Downing said a previous version of the bill included additional places, such as churches and parks, as drug possession felony zones. Those areas have since been removed from the bill. Enrolled students would be exempt from being charged with a felony for simple drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school, as well as drivers who are pulled over for routine traffic stops.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele, who spearheaded the effort to pass SQ780 and SQ781 last year said in a statement that felonies for drug possession don't work, and the public knows that.

"There is so much public opposition to this bill that we don’t see it surviving in the Senate as the people rise up and protect their vote," Steele wrote. "The House rushed this bill up the agenda because it was losing votes by the minute as members got the facts and heard outrage from citizens. There was a ton of misinformation spread by the bill authors about this bill, and we’re committed to making sure it never reaches the governor’s desk.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Rep. Young's party affiliation. 

Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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