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Senate overrides veto of Oklahoma victims’ bill

Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma State Capitol

The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday overrode Gov. Kevin Stitt’s veto of a bill that could have benefited criminal defendants who were also victims.

The Senate voted 46-1 to override Stitt’s veto of Senate Bill 1470, dubbed the Oklahoma Survivors’ Act.

It was the first veto override in the Senate for the session, according to Senate staff.

Stitt vetoed the bill Tuesday, saying it was a “bridge too far” and “bad policy.”

The measure would allow for leniency for defendants who are victims of abuse if they can show it contributed to their criminal behavior toward the abuser.

For example, a person who was abused by a spouse and later harms the spouse could seek a lesser punishment under the measure.

But critics said the measure was too broad and could have unintended consequences.

“Although sold as a shield to protect victims, this bill would create a sword by which criminal defendants will fight the imposition of justice based on prior abuse,” Stitt’s veto message said. “Said differently, untold numbers of violent individuals who are incarcerated or should be incarcerated in the future will have greater opportunity to present a threat to society due to this bill’s impact.”

The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association supported the veto.

“SB 1470 provided a blueprint for violent criminals looking for yet another opportunity to lessen their sentences,” Chris Boring, Oklahoma District Attorneys Association president and district attorney for Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah and Wagoner counties said in a press release.

A drunken driver who killed a person would have a chance to argue for a sentence reduction if his alcoholism was attributable to prior abuse, according to the association.

The Oklahoma Survivor Justice Coalition supported the measure. The coalition includes attorneys and advocates for incarcerated survivors. It advocates for safety and freedom for survivors of domestic violence.

In a press release, they accused prosecutors of “continuously and mercilessly prosecuting survivors of domestic violence, and seeking harsh, maximum punishments, while simultaneously letting their abusers plead out and face minimal consequences.”

Senate Pro Tem Gerg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, is the Senate author.

He said the House author, Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and he were willing to run another bill to address the concerns prosecutors had with the bill.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 84-3 and the Senate by a vote of 45-0.

Treat said he received no communication from Stitt’s office prior to the veto.

“He either has no grasp of this policy or doesn’t care enough to get involved himself,” Treat said. “Whichever it is, it’s embarrassing, especially for our state that has such a high rate of domestic violence.”

The Oklahoma Survivors Justice Coalition encouraged the House to also override the veto, which is necessary for the measure to become law.

As of publication, the House had not taken up a veto override.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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