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The Shawnee News-Star
  • Legislators seek to make looting a felony

  • Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee, who has personally seen looting issues affect constituents in this area following the May 19 tornadoes, is the principal author of a bill being planned for the next session to change looting from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.
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    Rep. Justin Wood, R-Shawnee, who has personally seen looting issues affect constituents in this area following the May 19 tornadoes, is the principal author of a bill being planned for the next session to change looting from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.
    Wood, along with Representatives Mike Turner, Bobby Cleveland and Dan Fisher, are drafting the bill now and plan to introduce it when the legislative session begins in February.
    Wood said they are all outraged after numerous reports of looting have occurred following the devastating tornadoes in Moore, Shawnee and El Reno. Wood said it appeared most of the offenders came here from other states to take advantage of Oklahomans.
    “On May 19, my hometown was tragically affected by an EF-4 tornado that claimed two lives and damaged or destroyed more than 200 homes and businesses,” Wood said. “Everyone in my district is disgusted to see those that have lost so much being targeted by looters.”
    Wood, who said it’s even more shocking is that looting is only a misdemeanor offense, said a felony charge and its punishment range would have more far-reaching effects on offenders.
    “Taking advantage of another’s tragedy is despicable and should be a felony,” Wood said. “My colleagues and I believe Oklahomans deserve better, and I will be filing this
    Legislation to protect those that have lost the most.”
    Wood, who said this action is needed, said, “In a civil society, we all come to the aid of those devastated by tragedy.”
    Wood, who said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak fully supports the effort to crack down on looters, said making looting a felony also would apply to incidents way beyond natural disasters.
    “At the state insurance department we have been helping thousands of Oklahomans work through the claims process and start putting their lives back together,” said Doak. “The last thing any of them need to be worried about is having what's left of their property stolen by looters.”
    Looting arrests have been reported in this area and three have been charged in Pottawatomie County District Court with disturbing a disaster area, which is a felony.
    But looting also has been reported in other areas, including Cleveland County, Wood said, and the legislators believe action is needed to send a message to those who intend on looting.
    “It is disgusting that some members of society view suffering as an opportunity to rob with impunity. We must send a clear message to would-be looters that harsh penalties, not a slap-on-the-wrist, await them,” said Turner, R-Edmond.
    Cleveland, who represents the tornado-affected areas in Newcastle, said he was shocked to learn that looting was only a misdemeanor offense.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We've seen people come from across the country to prey upon tornado victims,” said Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, adding they need to send a message that punishments await them in Oklahoma.
    Fisher agrees.
    “Thieves who prey on those who have been devastated by something as destructive as a tornado by robbing and looting are a scourge on our society,” said Fisher, R-El Reno.
    The next legislative session begins in February, 2014.
     
     

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