The Oklahoma Legislature is back in session. The Republicans have the governorship and supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
You might think that would foreordain the final outcome of the session on the last Friday in May. But that would be to mistake partisan campaign politicking for actual government.
State government is subject to many stresses and fissures.
The partisan dimension is always present, but the primary stress point is geographical, the so-called urban-rural division.
The other potential source of friction is between the House, Senate and governor.
Even when these officials are of the same party, they each represent institutions that can come into heated conflict.
One issue to follow is criminal justice reform. House Majority Leader Jon Echols has co-sponsored House Bill 1269 which, if enacted, will make the new sentencing guidelines in State Question 780 retroactive.
SQ 780 passed statewide very easily and is part of criminal justice reform initiatives that have won broad statewide bipartisan support. Rep. Echols is on the right track.
SQ 780 reduces criminal penalties for "low-level" drug offenses such as simple possession. HB 1269 makes SQ 780 sentencing guidelines applicable to current prisoners.
By making SQ 780 retroactive, HB 1269 allows current prisoners incarcerated for the same crimes enumerated in SQ 780 to have their sentences reduced or expunged.
The statewide efforts to enact criminal justice reforms are predicated on the idea of reducing the unsustainable costs of incarceration and shifting the funding focus to treatment of the underlying causes of incarceration, such as substance abuse and mental illness.
Indeed, SQ 780 was passed along with a companion measure, SQ 781, that sets out treatment of these underlying causes of high incarceration rates as the primary focus of state policy.
So far, so good. There is a consensus to move ahead with these sentencing reforms. But there is a rub here, and it is a big one.
Neither SQ 780, nor SQ 781, nor HB 1269 specifically provide for nor appropriate money for the substance abuse and mental illness treatment programs that are now the preferred policy objectives of state government.
The magnitude of this funding issue for criminal justice reform is impossible to overstate.
The criminal justice reform currently underway in Oklahoma is a two-part reform, as a basic proposition: (1) reduce the prison population, an exceedingly high proportion of whom are drug addicted and/or mentally ill; and (2) provide treatment options for addiction and mental illness for released prisoners at risk of recidivism.
Gov. Stitt has indicated his support for increased funding for mental health and substance abuse counseling programs as part of the overall criminal justice reform.
He has proposed $12 million in new funding. I strongly applaud this initiative, but $12 million is just a very small downpayment when compared to the underlying need.
Voters will need to be as supportive of the funding as they were when passing SQs 780 and 781.
And Stitt will need to be as supportive of the funding as he was enthusiastic in support of criminal justice reform during the governor's race last year.
The goal of expanding treatment options for substance abuse and mental illness is not being addressed with the same urgency as reducing the prison population.
If reducing the prison population succeeds and the drug addiction and mental illness treatment component does not, then all we will have done is solve one problem and create another.
Addiction and mental illness treatment are already underfunded in Oklahoma. It's gotten better in recent years, but we are lightyears behind where we need to be.
The need for these services is indisputable.
We have existing drug and mental health courts at several county courthouses, including Cleveland County. Their track record of success is stellar, for the relatively small number of people they serve. But they simply don't have enough funding to serve the existing community need. Their resources must be increased -- no ifs, ands or buts.
From 1994-96, I served as chairman of the House Mental Health Committee. In 1988-89, I served as executive director of a nonprofit organization serving the needs of this at-risk population.
In the mid 1980s, my wife worked for two years as a classroom teacher in a drug recovery program operated in conjunction with Oklahoma City Public Schools. At our house, we know this issue and we know it well.
If Oklahoma reduces the prison population and fails to properly increase funding for drug addiction and mental illness services, then SQ 780, SQ781 and HB 1269 will end up being failures.
If the legislators are serious about implementing these important new laws, then they must locate a reliable funding stream or carve out the funding for them from existing spending in other programs.
Failure to do this will be simply business as usual.
Ed Crocker resides in Norman. He has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's degree from OU. He has formerly served on the Norman City Council (1989-90) and as House District 45 State Representative (1990-96). From 2011-17, he served as a member of the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.