OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law Tuesday a reclassification of several domestic abuse charges as violent crimes, even though an unrelated criminal justice reform ballot measure threatens to mitigate its effects.
Stitt signed House Bill 3251, which expands the definition of a violent crime to include “domestic abuse by strangulation, domestic assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, or domestic assault and battery with a deadly weapon.”
The reclassification subjects offenders to higher sentencing enhancements under Oklahoma law.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate 43–2 on May 11. It passed the Republican-controlled Oklahoma House of Representatives 92–0 on March 10. The new law will take effect on Nov. 1.
Fellow Republican Stitt said he was “really excited” to sign the measure into law as it “strengthens protections for those suffering” under domestic abuse.
“Domestic violence will not be tolerated in Oklahoma,” Stitt tweeted.
The Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault thanked Stitt for enacting HB 3251.
“This bill is crucial to keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable,” the group posted on Facebook. “Thanks to all of our member programs for helping us advocate for such important legislation.”
Critics of the law have questioned whether it conflicts with State Question 805, a criminal justice reform ballot measure supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
SQ 805 seeks to ban sentence enhancements for all crimes not considered violent on Jan. 1 of this year. It states a nonviolent conviction “for one or more felonies shall not be used to enhance the statutorily allowable base range of punishment” if a defendant is convicted, pleads guilty or pleads no contest.
Yes on 805 has collected over 260,000 signatures to get the measure on the November ballot but Republican Secretary of State Michael Rogers halted signature collections on March 18 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders. Approximately 178,000 signatures are required to get such a question on the ballot. Yes on 805 asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court on May 7 to rule on the dispute.
If SQ 805 does make it on the November ballot, and if it is approved by voters, it would create a situation where habitual domestic abuse convicts would not be able to have their sentences enhanced since HB 3251 will have been enacted after Jan. 1 of this year.
Republican Kris Steele, a former Speaker of the Oklahoma House and current head of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, expressed his support for HB 3251 in spite of his support for SQ 805.
“We applaud Gov. Stitt and the Legislature on passing and signing the bill to raise awareness of the seriousness of these offenses, validate the reality for victims and increase support for survivors,” Steele said in a statement. “Prosecutors have always had the ability to charge domestic abusers with violent charges, but we believe this bill will further clarify and match the crime accordingly.”