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ScissorTales: Oklahoma DNA testing bill worthwhile

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: May 18, 2013

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.

Church-state extremism

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.

Well done

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.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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