Two Oklahoma House Democrats successfully ushered three pieces of legislation through the first House Judiciary Committee of the second half of the 57th Legislature on Tuesday.
State Rep. Chelsey Branham (D-OKC) and State Rep. Collin Walke (D-OKC) passed legislation dealing with mental health, homeless youth and modernizing the state’s archaic subpoena process.
The Connecting Futures Act (House Bill 2927), authored by Branham, authorizes the Department of Human Services to create a pilot program to allow homeless youth in Oklahoma to apply for voluntary DHS guardianship. Doing so would open up access to normal youth activities like sports or even getting a driver’s license. HB2927 passed 16-0.
“We can’t break cycles of poverty without tearing down barriers to opportunity,” Branham said. “By opening the door to these opportunities, we increase the chances that these kids will find the step they need to get out of their unstable situation.”
The Oklahoma Mental Health Court Act (House Bill 2934), authored by Walke, establishes a consistent framework for Mental Health Courts state wide. Diversion programs like mental health courts have proven to be successful and to save taxpayer dollars. HB2934 passed 17-0.
“We need to increase access to mental health services throughout this state, period,” Walke said. “Since statehood, we have treated mental illness as a crime. It is time to try something new. This legislation is a starting point. My hope is that when counties do this, and my colleagues in the legislature see the impact these mental health courts can have, we will begin to see a more empathetic approach to criminal justice in this state.”
House Bill 2789, authored by Walke, allows parties in criminal cases the opportunity to serve subpoenas electronically. Choosing to move to electronic subpoenas would be voluntary under this legislation and would cut down on costs for District Attorneys and criminal defendants, which in turn, would decrease reliance upon fines and fees to fund our judicial system. HB2789 passed 16-1.
“I am a guy that really doesn’t like technology,” Walke said. “In fact, I filed another bill to ensure technology companies can’t steal our data. However, this change is coming. It has already begun in other states, and I just want to give our courts, who are already struggling with funding, the ability to be flexible.”
After passing through the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation is now viable to be heard on the House Floor. Both legislators urge Oklahomans to reach out to their local lawmakers and let them know how they feel.
“People would be surprised how effective a phone call or even an email from a constituent can be,” Branham said. “Please, if you feel strongly about this legislation, let your voice be heard and call your state representatives and state senators.”