Law & Principles
Ray Carter | March 9, 2021
Roadblock advances for ‘defund the police’ efforts
A bipartisan group of senators have voted to create a new legal roadblock for “defund the police” efforts in Oklahoma municipalities.
Senate Bill 825, by Sen. Rob Standridge, would require that in any municipality where voters have approved a dedicated tax to fund “public safety or any other governmental purpose,” the municipality “shall not redirect all or a portion of the dedicated tax revenue to another purpose without a vote of the people authorizing such action.”
“In the wake of ‘defunding the police’ last year around the country, this bill simply says that if a community votes to approve or increase a budget for public-safety spending that the subdivision would have to go back to the people to get them to vote to reverse that funding,” said Standridge, R-Norman.
In the most high-profile example of the “defund the police” movement in Oklahoma, the Norman City Council voted 8-1 to cut $865,000 from the police budget in June 2020. That vote prompted, in part, the creation of a citizen group, Unite Norman, which filed five recall petitions to remove Norman May Breea Clark and four city council members. On the group’s website, Unite Norman said Clark and other city officials had “exhibited some of the most divisive and embarrassing behavior that Norman has ever witnessed.”
While the recall petition narrowly failed to collect the required number of signatures required to force a recall election for Clark, those favoring her ouster far exceeded the number of people who supported Clark when she was first elected.
To force a recall election for the Norman mayor, petition gatherers had to collect 18,154 total signatures. The group collected 20,661, but roughly 3,600 signatures were declared invalid for various reasons, leaving the collection effort a little over 1,000 signatures short of its goal. However, the roughly 17,000 signatures gathered for Clark’s recall was 153-percent greater than the number of votes cast in Clark’s favor in her 2019 election when she received 6,719 votes.
SB 825 passed on a 40-6 vote. Three Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans in support of the bill.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.