In a rare show of unanimous agreement, chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature recently passed measures to help domestic abuse victims and to establish a statewide Civil Rights Trail.
While the proposals address different topics, both show where lawmakers can find common ground.
House Bill 1639, called the Oklahoma Domestic Abuse Survivorship Act, would require courts to consider whether a defendant has been physically, sexually, economically or psychologically abused by an intimate partner in criminal domestic cases. If domestic violence is proven, the bill would provide for modified sentencing.
It passed by a 91-0 vote and is pending in the Oklahoma Senate.
Oklahoma has known of its domestic violence problem for decades, but the 2020 Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation report shows a 44% jump in domestic-related deaths across the state. It found an increasing trend in overall domestic abuse, a 12% spike compared to a decade earlier. Of those, nearly 80% were assault and battery.
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The state ranks No. 2 in women killed by men, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Last year, several advocacy groups formed the Oklahoma Survivor Justice Coalition, and it backed the bill.
The coalition estimates between 100 to 500 people are in Oklahoma prisons who were victims of domestic violence or committed their crimes in direct response to abusive treatment.
The measure is now pending in the Senate. We urge lawmakers to push this into law.
The other measure, Senate Bill 509 — proposed by Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, and Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City — would create a Civil Rights Trail across Oklahoma.
It would connect notable sites such as Tulsa’s Greenwood District, Standing Bear Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma City’s Clara Luper Civil Rights Center and Fairfax, where the reign of terror occurred in the late 1920s in the Osage Nation (depicted in the upcoming feature film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” based on a 2017 book by David Grann).
It passed the Senate by a 45-0 vote and heads to the House for consideration. The proposal comes with a one-time $1.5 million revolving fund for the Oklahoma Civil Rights Trail Grant Program, which would be administered by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
There is no downside to this statewide project. Oklahoma had more all-Black towns than any other state at the turn of the 20th century and has a rich Indigenous history in the fight for civil rights.
The state has 38 federally recognized Native American tribes located within its borders and the third highest population of Native American citizens in the U.S.
Having a Civil Rights Trail creates a living history lesson and could be connected to civil rights trails in other states, as lawmakers pointed out.
The measure ought to become law.
It’s morally right, educationally relevant and a potential boon for tourism.