Lawmakers enact public safety laws

Part 2 of two-part series on accomplishments of 2014 session

Rep. Mike Sanders

In my last column, I told you about a portion of this year’s legislative accomplishments, including the budget and high-profile bills. In this column, I want to focus on new public safety laws and a few other measures we enacted this year.

When it comes to public safety, the Oklahoma Legislature has a strong track record. Our sex offender registry and sex crime laws help to protect children from abuse. Even so, there are always ways to improve that safety net. We are all too aware of how these criminals manage to still evade the system.

This year, we tried to close loopholes in the current laws. For example, a common complaint is the use of outdated photos on the state sex offender registry. Effective Nov. 1, 2014, when sex offenders check in with local law enforcement, their photo must be updated if it is more than a year old. The current registry also does not adequately address those sex offenders who have a schedule that puts them in the state every weekend but not full-time. A second new law expands the registry to include sex offenders who spend 14 days in Oklahoma within a 60-day period.

We also enacted a law that will require anyone who suspects child trafficking to report that activity. In particular, it sets up a process to refer child-placing agencies to authorities if they are involved in child trafficking.

Legislation signed into law this year will prohibit habitual or aggravated sex offenders from entering a neighborhood, town, county or state park. Aggravated offenders are individuals who have committed a crime against a child. Habitual offenders have committed more than one sex crime. The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department reported that 88 habitual or aggravated sex offenders were found in nine state parks last year.

Another public safety issue we addressed this year was the recruitment of Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers. We enacted a pay raise that will raise the salaries of troopers to that of the regional average. A second new law will lower the age limit for commissioned officers within the Department of Public Safety from 23 to 21 years of age and provide educational credits to those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. There are currently 777 OHP troopers but the agency’s optimal goal is 950. The law also modifies the number of hours of accredited college or university experience to include military service. Applicants must now be 21 to 46 years of age, have an Associate’s degree or a combination of 32 college credit hours and three years of honorable active or reserve military service.

I believe that one’s personal safety is greatly enhanced by the possession of a firearm. We approved licensed open-carry last year. This year, we enacted a bill to modernize the open-carry application process. The new law allows the use of electronic fund transfer to pay for the license. We also enacted a law to require a sheriff or chief of police to execute any request for documents relating to the purchase of firearms defined by the National Firearms Act within 15 days if the purchaser is not prohibited of possessing a firearm.

We are always looking for ways to teach our young people respect, especially for the service of our brave men and women in uniform. The Pledge of Allegiance is a sign of respect to our country, our military and our veterans. The governor signed a measure this year to require public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at least once a week. Students can opt out if they do not wish to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but schools must provide that opportunity for a pledge recitation.

I also have good news for local governments. Legislation signed into law this year will reduce from 1 percent to 0.5 percent the portion of city and county sales tax receipts that the Tax Commission gets to retain to offset its costs in assisting in the collection process. Cities and counties statewide will receive about $10 million a year more in sales tax revenue.

I was proud of the work we accomplished this session. We have continued to make progress on tax reform, education funding, public safety and roads and bridges. I will now be out in the district throughout the summer and fall. I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions. It is an honor to serve you and be your voice at the Capitol. As always, I can be contacted at (405) 557-7407.

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