By Sen. Michael Brooks
This week, we reached the deadline for Senate bills to be heard in our chamber. It took countless hours of hard work to get to this point in the legislative session. Of the 550 bills reported out of committee, around 460 were approved in the Senate and sent on to the House. Among them were several to improve public safety in our state.
One that will help save the state money, reduce recidivism and give many a second chance is my Senate Bill 140, which was approved unanimously. I was proud to author this bill as it plays an important role in our criminal justice system. Again, this increases the age for participants in the DOC Regimented Inmate Discipline program from 21 to 25. The treatment, counseling, training, and other services these nonviolent male offenders receive gives them structure, confidence, and important life lessons to help them become productive members of society. Sentencing is delayed until the participant finishes the program at which time a judge decides the best path forward.
I also support SB 320, another measure to address our overcrowded prison system. The bill expands who can qualify for medical parole. Last year, only 12 people were awarded compassionate release. To date, it’s only been used for those who are dying or near death and are no longer a threat to public safety. However, we have a growing population of senior citizens and others with debilitating conditions who can’t physically take care of their basic daily needs. Corrections officers are forced to spend a lot of time on their care, which also costs significantly more than other inmates. This bill helps allow those deemed medically frail or vulnerable to apply for medical parole. They’ll still have to go through the rigorous approval process with the Pardon and Parole Board. There are many in our prisons who suffer with chronic, debilitating illnesses who can no longer take care of themselves. This will allow them to return home so their families can get them the proper care they need.
Another great measure is SB 848, which will improve crisis intervention services for our courageous law enforcement officers, fire fighters and other first responders. While you may think you know and understand the horrible situations these individuals face, I guarantee you’d be shocked if you knew half of the trauma they deal with on a daily basis. What you see on TV doesn’t come close to the horrors they encounter - murders, suicides, rapes of all ages, molestation and the list goes on. Imagine if your job entailed investigating a murder, then answering a domestic violence call, then racing to the scene of a drunk driving death and on to the rape of a toddler. Perhaps a call will come over the radio that one of your good friends on the force has been shot and killed. While they know what they’re getting into when they apply for the job, we’re all human and this type of constant trauma is difficult to process. This bill directs the Department of Mental Health to contract with public and private entities to provide peer support crisis intervention, counseling, and wellness for those public servants most impacted by trauma, cumulative stress, anxiety, addictions, death and suicide. Too many suffer in silence to the detriment of their well-being and that of their families. We must protect them.
We also passed a bill to better help law enforcement catch child predators. SB 980 will amend state law to add crimes related to child sexual exploitation to the list of those for which law enforcement can seek a court order authorizing the interception of wire, oral or electronic communications.
While I didn’t agree with every bill we considered and was disappointed by the many bills that weren’t heard, I was proud to support these important public safety measures. Next week, we’ll return to committee and I’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward.
If I can be of any assistance, please contact me at (405) 521-5557 or Michael.Brooks@oksenate.gov.