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Politics and Government

Capitol Insider: Is Judicial Reform On Stitt's Agenda?

Oklahoma Supreme Court chambers
Jacob McCleland

In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley discuss the passage of judicial redistricting and whether additional changes to Oklahoma's judiciary are part of Gov. Stitt's agenda.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor, with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley, who has had an especially busy last few days as legislators came up to an important bill deadline on Thursday. We'll get to that in just a minute, but first let's talk about some bills Governor Stitt has signed. One of them was a bill to change judicial districts in the state. 

Shawn Ashley: That's right. Oklahoma has had nine Supreme Court judicial districts for a number of years and five judicial districts for the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. But the bill signed by Governor Stitt on Thursday creates five set judicial districts based on our congressional districts and four at large positions. Now, the argument for the passage of this bill and the argument that Governor Stitt made on Thursday was that this will give attorneys and judges who are interested in joining the appellate courts greater opportunities, because now they will not just be limited to seeking a position in the district in which they live. What was interesting in the press conference where the governor signed the bill was what he and House Majority Floor Leader John Echols had to say, and that was that this is the first of what may be more judicial reforms to come. 

Pryor: What are they talking about?

Ashley: Well, they weren't specific, but what we've seen in the past are a number of different proposals. Some to impose term limits on judges...We've also seen proposals to change the Judicial Nominating Commission process. There have been proposals to change the makeup of that and how many recommendations the commission makes to the governor. There have also been proposals to require Senate approval of the governor's appointments to the court. 

Pryor: Now, a recent Supreme Court decision in just the last few days may provide some insight into where the judicial reform effort is going. Explain that. 

Ashley: Well, in this decision what the Oklahoma Supreme Court said is that a limit on injury awards was unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Constitution has a provision which says you cannot limit injury awards related to death. But in 2011 the Oklahoma legislature approved and then Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill which limited awards where there was just an injury that occurred and it put a $350,000 cap on that. When Gov. Stitt was asked about that on Thursday, about that decision, he said quite frankly he didn't like it and that was one of the reasons for the need for judicial for reform in the state of Oklahoma. Gov. Stitt said, quote, "Oklahomans elected me to reform all of state government," and that appears to include the judiciary. 

Pryor: So that will bear watching. The governor has also signed a bill changing the date for Native American Day. 

Ashley: Yes, for several years there have been proposals to change the date for Native American Day from November to the second Monday in October, which just happens to coincide with Columbus Day. A bill was passed in 2013 that Governor Mary Fallin vetoed. But this year Kevin Stitt signed exactly the same proposal, so Native American Day in Oklahoma will be celebrated on that second Monday in October. 

Pryor: Governor Stitt signed a bill to require sex education courses to include information about consent as defined in the criminal law. 

Ashley: That's exactly right. What this bill does is require that students as part of their sex education courses receive information on sexual consent. In order to define consent they turned to the criminal code to establish that definition. 

Pryor: We're heading into the last month of the session. What are the major issues addressed in bills that survived deadline week that are still unresolved? 

Ashley: Probably one of the biggest issues, of course, is criminal justice reform. There are five or six major pieces of legislation moving through the process-- everything from how the pardon and parole board considers and perhaps rejects an application for parole, to how bail is set,to making provisions of State Question 780 that lowered penalties for certain property crimes and drug possessions from a felony to a misdemeanor. There is also the issue of the teacher's pay raise. Many of these things, though, are going to come down to three simple words in the end: budget, budget, budget. And that's where most of the focus will be. 

Pryor: Thanks Shawn.

Ashley: You're very welcome. 

Pryor:  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. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. 

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