AMID the bustle and noise that accompany every legislative session, members occasionally find the time to pass bills that carry with them a chance to make a positive difference for Oklahomans. We have seen a few of those of late.
One is House Bill 2419, which would eliminate civil liability for anyone who offers someone else a safe place to seek shelter during severe weather. This idea makes perfect sense, but it took a while to get the bill to the governor's desk.
Gov. Mary Fallin rejected a similar bill in April, in part because she said the measure — which applied to operators of mobile home parks — treated some businesses differently than others. When a veto override was brought up in the House by the Democratic author of the bill, Republican Speaker Kris Steele succeeded in getting the issue tabled, prompting some ugly rhetoric from the Democrats.
HB 2419, which was alive in the Senate at the time, was amended to address Fallin's concerns by providing liability protection to any business or person as long as they are acting in good faith. Both chambers passed it by wide margins — although House Democrats continued to grouse this week, saying Republicans should have allowed the vote on the veto override to go forward instead of “playing politics.”
We say all's well that ends well, and this ending is a good one.
The same is true for Steele's effort to change the way Oklahoma handles corrections matters. House Bill 3052, sent to the governor this week, didn't go as far as Steele would have hoped, but it's a step in the right direction.
The bill proposed a number of reforms that address troubling trends from the past decade in Oklahoma. During that time, prison spending rose 30 percent but violent crime rates in the state were essentially unchanged. The number of police officers per capita decreased. The number of felons getting out of prison unsupervised increased.
Under the bill, all inmates will be supervised for nine months following their release from prison, which should curb the recidivism rate. Those who violate parole on a technicality won't get sent back behind bars, which often happens now, but instead will go to an intermediate revocation facility that includes a treatment component. This will ease prison crowding and save money.
The bill also establishes a $40 million grant program for local law enforcement over the next decade, to help facilitate crime fighting initiatives. And it calls for mental health assessments for anyone convicted of a felony.
Steele estimates he got about 90 percent of what he had hoped for. Following on his bill last year that expanded the type of inmates eligible for community sentencing and GPS monitoring, he has started a long-overdue conversation in the Legislature about corrections that needs to continue in the years ahead.
Other common-sense bills approved lately include one that authorizes the sale of unneeded state properties. Another limits the sale of pseudoephedrine, which is found in cold and allergy medications but also is used to make methamphetamine. Another rejected pay raises for statewide elected officials and judges.
Sometimes, the men and women at NE 23 and Lincoln get it right.