Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie | May 17, 2023
Governor Stitt should veto HB 2153
Jonathan Small & Ryan Haynie
Over the last few years, the Oklahoma Legislature has passed a number of meaningful criminal-justice reforms that provide second chances without sacrificing public safety. Along with Governor Kevin Stitt, the Legislature has been smart on crime—eschewing decades of “tough on crime” policies that cost the state money but did little to keep us safe.
For instance, last year the Legislature passed a “clean slate” expungement bill which, once fully implemented, will automatically clear the criminal record of certain eligible individuals. It is estimated that, because of this bill, tens of thousands of Oklahomans will have a better shot at employment, education, and better housing because the financial barrier to expungement will be lifted.
Unfortunately, House Bill 2153 deviates from that trajectory—choosing instead to use incarceration for the crime of simple possession. In 2016, Oklahoma voters passed SQ 780 which, among other things, reduced simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. It would seem Oklahomans were tired of seeing so many of their fellow citizens incarcerated and tagged with a felony record for nothing more than possessing an illegal substance.
Since 2016, numerous bills have been filed to peel away the laws amended by SQ 780, but most lawmakers have been hesitant to undo what the people of Oklahoma voted for in 2016. Of course, we don’t think illicit drugs are good. Far from it. But the question is whether the threat of incarceration and—perhaps more problematic—a felony conviction are the best way to help people. We know detainment does not help addicts, because approximately a quarter of the recent deaths in the Oklahoma County Detention Center were the result of fentanyl overdoses. Many know that drugs remain rampant in many prisons.
We also understand the intent of HB 2153 is designed to funnel people into treatment options like drug court. But, as we have pointed out before, drug courts are best designed for high-risk, high-need individuals. Drug courts, like those in Oklahoma County where best practices are followed, provide Oklahomans with the best bang for their buck. These programs choose participants who would be headed to prison for non-possession-related offenses but where substance abuse is nevertheless involved. While some possession offenders may be high-risk and/or high-need, many are simply neither. Governor Stitt should veto HB 2153 so the legislature can continue to be smart on crime.
Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.
Criminal Justice Reform Fellow
Ryan Haynie serves as the Criminal Justice Reform Fellow for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. Prior to joining OCPA, he practiced law in Oklahoma City. His work included representing the criminally accused in state and federal courts. Ryan is active in the Federalist Society, serving as the Programming Director for the Oklahoma City Lawyer’s Chapter. He holds a B.B.A. from the University of Oklahoma and a J.D. from the University of Oklahoma College of Law. He and his wife, Jaclyn, live in Oklahoma City with their three children.