Running riot: Legislation that Oklahoma lawmakers say is intended to curb rioting but others view as attempts to curb dissent continued moving out of committee last week.
House Bill 2215, by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, would add obstructing a business entrance or exit or a roadway to the statutory definition of inciting a riot and would bar from criminal and civil prosecution motorists who “unintentionally” injure or kill someone while “fleeing from a riot.”
Last year major highways in Tulsa and elsewhere were briefly blocked by protestors, resulting in a few injuries and some irate drivers.
Under Oklahoma law, incitement to riot is a felony subject to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Obstructing traffic is generally a misdemeanor.
HB 2095, by Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore, would make those charged with unlawful assembly subject to racketeering charges. Under Oklahoma statute, unlawful assembly is essentially conspiracy to incite a riot and is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Senate Bill 119, by Sen. Mark Allen, R-Poteau, would require application 10 days in advance for demonstrations on the state Capitol grounds and could make protest organizers liable for damage to the property.
Allen has sought to limit Capitol demonstrations since teachers and their supporters occupied the building three years ago.
SB 403, by Sen. Brenda Stanley, R-Oklahoma City, would make it a misdemeanor to “interfere or disrupt” the business of local governments, including school boards, and would apply to public meetings.
In recent years, the Legislature has also expanded the definition of criminal trespass, chiefly to protect oil and gas assets from protestors.
Some First Amendment advocates see measures such as these as intended to intimidate dissenters by giving law enforcement leeway to arrest and prosecute protestors for relatively minor infractions.
Session notes: A House committee advanced legislation that would require an extra step in the prosecution of any law officer charged with homicide or manslaughter. The author of HB 2505, Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, said his measure was prompted by what he viewed as the unfair treatment of former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.
Two area House members are working on a bit of property tax relief for low-income homeowners.
House Bill 1009, by Rep. Lonnie Sims, R-Jenks, would raise the annual income limit for a double homestead exemption from $20,000 to $25,000. Sims is working with Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa, on a floor amendment that would exclude one-time emergency government assistance from the income calculations.
Sims said the income limit has not changed since 1997 and that some seniors have lost the second exemption because of cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security and other retirement payments.
The bill survived a committee vote and is eligible to be heard by the full House.
SB 650, by Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, would give state employees a 2% bump in their flexible benefit allowances.
SB 272, by Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, presents an interesting privacy question. It would require cellphone service providers to allow law enforcement to use those phones to track people in “emergency situations,” such as abductions.
While the Senate was advancing legislation last week to allow home delivery of alcohol, the House moved along the Cocktails to Go Act and a measure authorizing self-serve — but limited portion — beer and wine taps at restaurants.
Meetings and events: Together Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Policy Institute will have an online discussion on economic opportunity and budget and taxes at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Register at togetherok.okpolicy.org.
Susan Crenshaw, chair of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, will be the featured speaker for the virtual meeting of Heart of the Party, the Tulsa Chapter of the Oklahoma Federation of Democratic Women, at 6:30 p.m. March 1.
Annual dues to the organization are payable, and members will be voting on officers for the next two years.
Contact President Karen Gaddis at email@example.com for information and Zoom entry.
— Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World