The Norman Transcript

November 5, 2012

Reformations could save tax dollars

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Proponents of two state questions claim they will make reforms that could save millions for taxpayers. In addition, another state question proposes to save money through expanding public bonding capacity.

SQ 762: This measure changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the governor by removing him or her from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that board, in place of the governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.

The legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and can change that definition.

The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than 85 percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses.

For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.

A “yes” vote will remove the governor from the pardon and parole process in the case of non-violent offenders.

Proponents of SQ 762 say it will save the state millions of dollars. Opponents say it will open the gates for those prisoners who need to serve their time.

“Letting the governor focus on parole recommendations for violent crimes is a critical component of Oklahoma’s recent progress to build a stronger, more effective criminal justice system,” said House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “Approving this measure will generate tens of millions of dollars in savings that can be reinvested in initiatives that truly reduce and prevent crime. A vote for SQ 762 is a vote for a safer Oklahoma.”

The 2007 audit of the Department of Corrections found that removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders would save up to $40 million over the course of a decade because of the increased efficiencies and quicker processing of paroles.

District Attorney Greg Mashburn, of Norman, strongly opposes the measure.

“I am very much opposed to 762. It removes all accountability to the pardon and parole process,” Mashburn said.

SQ 765: The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of director of the Oklahoma DHS. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy.

The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and, consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.

The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the legislature to enact laws requiring the newly created department(s) to perform other duties.

A “yes” vote will allow for radical reform of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Linda Terrell, former director of Norman-based Center for Children and Families Inc. and current executive director for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said this is a change that’s time has come.

“We have a voice to vote and we have a voice that we can use with our elected officials. Our children depend on us to do that,” Terrell said. “Our voices collectively have got to get loud.”

Terrell supports passage of SQ 765.

A “yes” vote on SQ 765 will remove the Department of Public Welfare (now called DHS), its commission and its director from the state’s Constitution. It will allow the legislature to create and direct the administration of a new department to provide for public welfare.

The bill’s author, Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said the purpose is “to create a more transparent environment at DHS that is accountable to the legislature and the governor.”

“It makes the director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate,” he said. “We need to have a face on this issue that people can hold accountable. The agency has had unacceptable levels of failure in the past. There are wonderful people who work there, but the system has failed the people who work there and the state of Oklahoma.”

Treat said he worked closely with Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, the minority leader, and the appointments on the advisory boards reflect bipartisan input.

SQ 764: This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds a new Section 39A to Article 10. It would allow the Oklahoma Water Resources Board to issue bonds. Any bonds issued would be used to provide a reserve fund for the board for certain water resource and sewage treatment funding programs. The fund could only be used to pay other bonds and obligations for the funding programs.

The bonds, which would be general obligation bonds, could only be issued after other monies and sources are used for repayment. Not more than $300 million worth of bonds could be issued. The legislature would provide the monies to pay for the bonds, methods for issuing the bonds and how the fund is administered.

SQ 764 also would create a funding mechanism authorizing $300 million in new financing for water infrastructure enhancements. This fund would make available $3 billion in new financing for projects, assisting municipalities and other water providers to keep up with increasing demands for more drinking water and for wastewater needs.

A “yes” would create the Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund and increase the Water Resource Board’s ability to provide financing for infrastructure projects.

“This has nothing to do with taxes,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “The Water Resources Board lends communities like Norman money for water and wastewater infrastructure projects, and they’ve been doing this for almost 30 years. They have never had a municipality default on the loan.”

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