New laws take effect Thursday in Oklahoma

Oklahoma measures intended to control prison growth and to reduce lines at driver's license exam stations are among nearly 100 new laws that take effect.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Modified: October 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm •  Published: October 30, 2012

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.