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Oklahoma's 'tough on crime' approach gets scrutiny during debate over bill

Feb 16, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

Oklahoma state Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, said she is concerned with the death and destruction that can occur when someone tries to elude police, and wants to give prosecutors an additional tool to fight this unlawful behavior. Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders have been talking a lot this year about being “smart on crime” instead of just “tough on crime.”

Oklahoma state Rep. Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, said she is concerned with the death and destruction that can occur when someone tries to elude police, and wants to give prosecutors an additional tool to fight this unlawful behavior.

by Rick Green Modified: February 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm •  Published: February 16, 2015

Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders have been talking a lot this year about being “smart on crime” instead of just “tough on crime.”

In other words, they want to reduce the state’s extraordinarily high and costly incarceration rate. But the political difficulty of achieving this was on full display Wednesday in a House committee that approved a bill by Rep. Lisa Billy that would require a six-month jail term for eluding police.

The present statute gives judges discretion on sentencing for this crime and doesn’t require a minimum term.

Billy, R-Lindsay, said she is concerned with the death and destruction that can occur when someone tries to elude police, and wanted to give prosecutors an additional tool to fight this unlawful behavior.

A Stillwater representative on the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee said the time he fled a beer party during his college days could have resulted in a six-month jail term under her proposal.

Democratic Rep. Cory Williams, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, said officers have wide latitude for accusing people of attempting to elude them, including when people quickly disperse a party that is receiving police attention. He recalls being present at one such gathering.

“Nobody wanted to be the last person standing,” he said.

Lots of ‘people locked up’

He criticized the bill for running counter to the often-cited need to divert more non-violent offenders away from prison in Oklahoma, which has the No. 1 incarceration rate for women and one of the top rates for men.

“Those are not necessarily stats that you want,” he said. “If you’re looking for tools in the tool belt, apparently we’ve got them because we have a whole lot of people locked up.”

Billy, a graduate of Northeastern State University, said she has no experience with the type of college party that Williams described, but she is concerned with the danger of attempting to elude an officer and how innocent lives can be irreparably damaged.

Overcrowded system

She also took a shot at the Democratic party for the overcrowded prison system.

“We certainly do have a high incarceration rate in the state of Oklahoma,” she said. “Republicans have been in charge for 10 years and we’re trying to correct what your party did, representative.”

Williams responded angrily.

“Is that what we’re doing today? Really? Personal attacks. Here’s looking at you.”

Although her bill cleared the committee, 8-4, Billy said Friday she will not push the legislation as it is now written. She said the mandatory jail time provision in the bill needs to be changed.

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