Laws intended to reduce crime and control prison growth in Oklahoma and eliminate long lines at driver's license exam stations are among nearly 100 measures set to take effect Thursday.
Other measures allow those with permits to carry handguns openly and require the termination of benefits for welfare recipients who test positive for drugs or refuse to be tested.
Laws taking effect Thursday also include measures that require a doctor to be physically present when a woman takes medication to induce an abortion, and crack down on out-of-state contractors who don't abide by state laws and regulations and are undercutting in-state contractors by about 30 percent.
Control prison growth
House Bill 3052 creates a grant program for local law enforcement agencies, requires supervision of all felons leaving prison and develops intermediary revocation facilities for nonviolent offenders who violate drug court regulations or conditions of probation and parole.
The measure, called the Oklahoma Justice Reinvestment Initiative, has the potential to reduce state prison beds by more than 2,000 over the next decade and cut corrections costs by $200 million, with about $110 million of that to be reinvested in crime-fighting strategies.
The law will require all prison inmates to receive nine months of supervision on their release from prison. About 51 percent of the state's felons released from prison now leave without any supervision. A majority of felons who offend again do so within their first year of release from prison; much of the savings generated by the measure is to come from working to reduce repeat offenders.
The measure also changes how some inmates who violate their probation are handled.
Instead of immediately going back to prison, they will be assigned to intermediate revocation facilities to receive treatment for any addiction or mental health issues.
In addition, a grant program is to be established through the state attorney general's office that will invest as much as $40 million for local law enforcement in the next 10 years.
The state's prison occupancy ranges between 95 and 99 percent, or about 26,000 inmates; more than half are nonviolent offenders. If no changes are made, the state will have to build prisons to provide an additional 3,000 beds in the next 10 years, supporters of the measure said.
Driver's licensing tests
HB 2367 is intended to go a long way toward alleviating long lines at the state's driver's licensing exam stations. It allows instructors at driver's education schools to administer the behind-the-wheel exam for the first time. It will cost $1,000 to apply to be a designated examiner.
Open carry of guns
Law enforcement officials have had several months to prepare for the open-carry legislation that takes effect Thursday. Senate Bill 1733 allows those with permits to carry firearms under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act to choose whether to conceal their weapons or carry them openly. The law now requires permit holders to conceal their firearms.
It also allows a property owner to openly carry a handgun on his or her land. No concealed-carry permit will be required.
To receive a license under the Oklahoma Self Defense Act, applicants must take a firearms safety and training course and submit to a background check by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors may not receive a handgun license.
Under the measure, businesses may continue to prohibit firearms to be carried on their premises.
The measure prohibits carrying firearms on properties owned or leased by the city, state or federal government, at corrections facilities, in schools or college campuses, liquor stores and at sports arenas during sporting events.
The measure won strong support from the Legislature. The House of Representatives passed it 85-3 and it passed the Senate 33-10.
Welfare, drug testing
Under HB 2388, welfare recipients who test positive for drugs or refuse to be tested will have their benefits withheld. The measure makes practices mostly already used by the state Department of Human Services a state law.
It requires DHS to screen adults who apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for drug use. The legislation allows DHS to request a drug test if there is reasonable cause to believe the applicant is illegally using a controlled substance. If the applicant refuses to participate or is determined to be using an illegal drug, assistance would not be provided.
DHS now allows those who test positive to continue to receive the assistance while they receive drug treatment. HB 2388 will withhold assistance, but still provide treatment.
Applicants who undergo a substance abuse treatment program can reapply for benefits six months after the date of denial, according to the measure. Child-only cases and underage parents are exempt from the drug screening under the legislation and an alternative payee can be named when a parent has been found ineligible for benefits.
HB 2381 requires a doctor to be physically present when a woman takes medication to induce an abortion. The measure applies to RU-486, also called mifepristone, or any other drug or chemical used for abortion. It is used in combination with other medicines to end an early pregnancy, usually during the first seven weeks. This medicine is only available in a doctor's office, health clinic or hospital.
Under the bill, a doctor is not allowed to watch a woman take the pill via videoconference or allow a woman to take the pill anywhere outside his or her presence.
HB 2258 has the support of many Oklahoma contractors who say it levels the playing field with out-of-state contractors. Under the measure, contractors on public construction projects, upon written request, must show proof of current employer identification number issued by various state and federal agencies.
The contractor would have to provide the numbers before bidding on an in-state, public project or be subject to a penalty. If the contractor fails to do so, the contractor will be fined up to 10 percent of the contractor's total bid, according to the measure.
Supporters of the measure say out-of-state contractors who don't abide by state laws and regulations are undercutting in-state contractors by about 30 percent.
Harvest of red cedars
Legislation also was passed and signed into law this year that takes effect Thursday which allows the Corrections Department to use inmates to harvest Eastern red cedars on public and private land. SB 1539 is intended to be another way to attack the hardy Eastern red cedars that choke off land for crops and pastures and fuel wildfires. The trees helped spread wildfires across at least four counties during the summer. They take over nearly 300,000 acres of Oklahoma land each year; it's estimated the state is losing about 700 acres per day to the trees.