Contact: State Rep. Tim Downing
Office: (405) 557-7365
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Tim Downing co-authored House Bill 1482 by Rep. Scott Biggs, which passed the House Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee with a vote of 11-1 this morning. The bill will protect children and locations where children are targeted. Drug crimes involving children will still be a felony, and can still be charged as a misdemeanor by discretion. Other options will still be available as well, including drug court and deferred or suspended sentences.
“State Question 780 was approved by the voters, and I will honor every word in the ballot question exactly as they voted on it,” said Downing, R-Purcell.
The language of the ballot title presented to the voters regarding drug crimes read as follows:
This measure amends existing Oklahoma laws and would change the classification of certain drug possession and property crimes from felony to misdemeanor. It would make possession of a limited quantity of drugs a misdemeanor. The amendment also changes the classification of certain drug possession crimes which are currently considered felonies and cases where the defendant has a prior drug possession conviction. The proposed amendment would reclassify these drug possession cases as misdemeanors.
“Voters did not read a single mention of children, schools or other locations where kids are targets of drugs, yet the changes in the laws target children, just as one example by reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor the crime for an adult to possess heroin on an elementary school playground for an unlimited number of offenses” said Downing. “The people did not vote on this unspeakable change in our laws, and to say it is unspeakable is exactly why it was intentionally hidden from voters.”
The petition for SQ780 was filed by its proponents with language that did not mention children or locations where children are targets. The Attorney General’s Office found the language was insufficient to explain the effect and proposed corrective language to include explanation that felonies would be reduced to misdemeanors for possession “within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park” and “in the presence of a child under the age of twelve.”
“After the omission of children and schools was corrected, it unfortunately became apparent it was actually an intentional effort by SQ780 proponents to hide it from voters” said Downing.
Rather than agree the public should know how the proposal would radically affect our children, the petitioner challenged the corrected language before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, claiming the ballot title focused on portions of the law “which evoke emotionally charged responses” which included “possessing drugs within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park and possessing drugs in the presence of children under the age of twelve”. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of SQ780 proponents, and rewrote the ballot title, but likewise made no mention of children or locations where children are targets, which is ultimately the language the voters had before them in the ballot box.
The Attorney General went a step further following this decision, by filing a petition with the Oklahoma Supreme Court urging the court on the importance of informing the public about the impact on children as well as other effects not mentioned in the ballot title.
“The public needs to know what those crimes are, so they can make an informed decision about the measure” argued the brief by the Attorney General. The brief continued, “Put it another way, if you ask the question ‘would the voters want to be told the certain drug possession crimes affected by the measure?’ the answer is certainly ‘yes!’”
In a final plea the brief stated, “the proponents do not want the public to know exactly what this measure does to our drug laws because they believe if the public knows, the public will reject the measure.” The full record of these proceedings and the intentional elimination of references to children and schools can be found at the Secretary of State website: https://www.sos.ok.gov/documents/questions/780.pdf
Ultimately, despite there being multiple efforts for the public to be informed, those wanting to hide this information prevailed, and SQ780 went to the public without a single mention of children or locations where children are targeted.
“I do not for one second take the passage of SQ780 as the will of the people on the issue of drugs around our children, and would actually say it is our duty to protect the will of the people by preserving their right to make such a decision if it is ever actually presented to them,” said Downing.
“I want to be clear that HB1482 leaves the totality of SQ780 fully intact in every single square inch of Oklahoma, outside the presence of children and locations where children are targeted,” said Downing. “This bill only touches what voters were not allowed to vote on – our kids – and resets the clock on that one issue. It’s not just about protecting our children, it is also about correcting the intentional deception of Oklahomans.
“The list of crimes they refused to let the public vote on, is the exact same list I will refuse to recognize as the will of the people, and the most important is drugs around our kids,” said Downing.
The next opportunity for citizens to vote on a ballot issue is November 2018, and all groups including those who initiated SQ780 would be allowed to present another question to the voters at that time.
“I absolutely respect the will of the people, and if a group wants to explicitly ask Oklahomans to vote on drug laws involving our children and locations where children are targeted, I suggest they do that rather than use the legal process to hide what they are doing from the voters for fear that voters will reject it” said Downing. “I am thankful for Rep. Biggs having the moral courage to file this bill protecting kids and voters; I proudly support it as a co-author and would ask that fellow members of our body and the voting citizens would take action to show their support.
HB1482 will now be available to be heard by the full House, and will need to receive support in the Senate and by the Governor as well.