OKLAHOMA inmates who believe they were wrongly convicted of a violent crime may soon have a new tool available to help prove their point.
The House gave its approval this week to House Bill 1068, which would let those serving sentences of 25 years or more petition the sentencing court for DNA testing. Oklahoma is the only state without such a law.
Under HB 1068, once the state responds to an inmate's request, the sentencing court would hold a hearing to determine whether to order DNA testing. The bill guards against the courts being flooded with requests by requiring that certain criteria be met.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, and Sen. James Halligan, R-Stillwater. It gained the support of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which would have a hand in the testing, as well as a panel of attorneys that studied wrongful convictions.
About a dozen Oklahoma inmates have been freed as a result of forensic DNA testing in the past two decades. If this bill helps free even one innocent person, it will have been worthwhile.
The bill now heads back to the Senate, which should send it to Gov. Mary Fallin for her signature without delay.
The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to hear an appeal of a church-state case. For the Elmbrook School District, near Milwaukee, Wis., graduation ceremonies were a challenge because the high school gym was hot, cramped and uncomfortable. The Elmbrook Church allowed officials to hold the ceremony in the church's large, modern and air-conditioned sanctuary. This arrangement worked for a decade, but then nine students and parents sued, claiming the school had violated a constitutional ban on “an establishment of religion” because the sanctuary displayed a large Latin cross. The 7th Circuit Court sided with the plaintiffs; the defendants now want Supreme Court review. Like so many church-state lawsuits, this one appears driven not by any true state establishment of religion, but by thin-skinned people who think they have a constitutional right to be protected from learning that their neighbors may hold different religious beliefs than their own.
Oklahoma City Douglass High School seniors have faced their fair share of challenges, and then some. After a state audit found up to four of five seniors weren't on track to graduate, those students had to make up years of work in far less time. Students attended after-school programs, evening classes, and weekend classes to gain the necessary credits. The hard work of those who succeeded did not go unnoticed. In their honor, the Oklahoma Pork Council sponsored the “Douglass High School Senior Celebration!” at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum this week. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, local officials and Douglass alumni attended. Oklahoma Pork Council official Roy Lee Lindsey declared, “We believe these young people are the future for our state, and we want to recognize the students' efforts and dedication to their education.” To that we say, “Well done” — to the council, and especially to Douglass graduates.
Going to the other extreme
“They froze us out completely,” the state lawmaker said. “But they've got the power, and they're using it.” An Oklahoma Democrat complaining about life in the GOP-controlled Legislature? No. The remark comes from a Republican legislator in Colorado, where Democrats recently passed a bill greatly broadening voter rights. The new law will let voters register on Election Day, allow residents to move within the state without re-registering at their new address, and create an all-mail ballot system. Not a single GOP member voted in favor. Republicans have led efforts across the country for stricter voter rules. Colorado's new law makes it far easier. Time will tell if, as we suspect, supporters of this law have made it too easy.
Anti-texting chorus grows
The chorus of voices looking to stop text-messaging while driving now includes the country's four largest cellphone companies. T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T are getting behind a multimillion dollar ad campaign promoting AT&T's “It Can Wait” campaign. “Every CEO in the industry that you talk to recognizes that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with,” the head of AT&T told The Associated Press. Perhaps the message eventually will sink in with Oklahoma legislative leaders. Several efforts this year to ban texting and driving failed. Oklahoma is one of just 11 states that haven't outlawed texting at the wheel, which is dangerous not only to the person sending or reading messages, but to others on the road.
Supporting education reform
Critics have sought to place recent Oklahoma education reforms in the worst light possible; the public isn't buying it. A poll by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates finds 54 percent of Oklahoma voters feel A-F grading of public schools is a good thing; just 27 percent said it was bad. In Oklahoma City, 58 percent support that reform. Statewide, 49 percent of voters felt greater accountability and rigor are needed in public schools, with 41 percent strongly supportive. Just 27 percent strongly felt there was too much testing. In Oklahoma City, 55 percent supported greater rigor. Finally, 54 percent statewide supported adopting national standards like the Common Core standards for reading and math. Opponents have issued constant attacks and claimed education reform is so very, very complex and improvement virtually impossible. That's proving a hard sell when the reforms involved are so easily understood and their merit so obvious.
Gov. Mary Fallin this week rejected an idea aimed at ensuring that state agencies are operating as efficiently as possible. Fallin vetoed Senate Bill 907, which would have created a Joint Legislative Committee on Accountability. The panel would have included legislators from both sides of the aisle — an effort to avoid claims that partisan points were being sought — as well as two members from the private sector, who could review executive branch agencies and request performance audits. In her veto, Fallin said the governor and legislators already have avenues available to ask for audits. But they seldom do, and that isn't likely to change. “For 20 years, people have been talking about this. It hasn't happened,” a miffed state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said. “This bill would make it happen.” Lawmakers approved SB 907 by votes of 44-0 in the Senate and 87-5 in the House. We'll see if that support translates into a veto override.