By Rep. Mike Sanders
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has completed another deadline and all proposed laws have now either been signed, sent to the governor or amended. Amended legislation returns to the chamber of origin, where amendments can be accepted or the bill can be sent to conference committee to work out disagreements over the language of the bill.
I am proud to report that a bill I authored to get repeat drunk drivers off the road is among those headed to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin and could be signed in the next week. House Bill 3146 creates the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) and prohibits municipal prosecution of driving under the influence, unless a municipality has a municipal court of record. Any municipality with a population of 60,000 or more would have the option to create a court of record. Arresting municipalities would still receive a portion of the fines.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 Oklahoma ranked as the 46th worst state for impaired driving deaths. We have a problem partially because when drunk drivers are arrested in municipal courts and a record of their crime does not reach district prosecutors, then he or she may be a repeat offender with a serious drug or alcohol problem who is flying under the radar. There are 354 municipal courts in Oklahoma who handle a large volume of DUI arrests, but that are not ‘courts of record.’
Numbers are relevant, but being hit by a drunk driver brings the issue closer to home. My wife was hit by a drunk driver. Although she was fortunately not seriously injured, I learned that the individual who hit her was a repeat offender and it led me to look deeper into the process of repeat DUI prosecutions. What I found was a gaping hole in the number of DUIs being actually reported at the state level. No one had yet championed a solution to this critical problem through the legislative process. I was more than happy to become that legislator. This bill will protect the lives of Oklahomans. This bill is 100 percent about public safety and not money.
My drunk driving legislation was not the only public safety success this session. The House sent a domestic violence bill to the governor that has now been signed into law. Senate Bill 1491 broadens the definition of domestic violence. Current statute defines it as a pattern involving three or more incidents of abuse. This measure would make it two or more and remove a stipulation that it occur within a 12-month period.
As a rural legislator, I’m keenly aware of how vulnerable farmers and ranchers are to crime because of the isolation of large country properties. The House Rural Caucus pushed for a bill this session to deter cattle rustling, a crime that has huge negative economic consequences for its victims. House Bill 2504 also awaits the governor’s signature to become law. It increases the fine for theft of livestock and implements of husbandry to three times the value of animals and machinery, not to exceed $500,000. It also gives district attorneys more options when prosecuting cattle rustlers.
I also know that most of my constituents feel strongly about the sanctity of life, so I also want to mention the progress of a bill to outlaw abortions intended to kill children who have a genetic abnormality such as Down’s syndrome. House Bill 3128 was approved by the Senate, but with the title stricken, so it now returns to the House and will have to go through the conference committee process. I support this bill. Every life is a precious gift from God.
Budget talks continue between the House, Senate and governor’s office. A final agreement is being discussed and vetted as we speak. These talks started late last summer and are a top priority of this Legislature. Stay tuned to more information on this as we near the end of session.
The conference committee process is often slow, so my next column will likely highlight bills being signed into law. My door is open to you. Call me at (405) 557-7407 or email@example.com.