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Top Senator With History Of Criminal Justice Reform Bills Not Taking On Fines And Fees This Year

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An Oklahoma lawmaker who is a proponent of reforming court fines and fees does not plan to carry legislation on it this year, dealing a blow to advocates who see that step as a priority.

During a panel discussion at Oklahoma Policy Institute’s budget summit this week, Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) said Oklahoma’s courts are actually in line for a supplemental appropriation of around $15 million early in the legislative session because they haven’t collected enough in fines and fees this fiscal year. The pandemic is largely to blame.

"A lot of the courts have been shut down. And so, therefore, they’ve not been operating. So, the fees and fines have not been charged. And while it is — and I would agree — not a good way to fund the courts, but right now, that’s how we are doing it. We’ve got to work our way out of it," Thompson said.

Thompson also cited a loss of cases in the wake of the McGirt v Oklahoma decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found the state does not have jurisdiction over the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation.

"If I look in just one area, and that’s in Okfuskee County, we’ve lost about $50,000 just simply in our court fines and fees. And so, that’s another area that we’re having to work through the pandemic, plus in eastern Oklahoma, through the McGirt case," Thompson said.

A 2019 report found in some Oklahoma courts, state appropriations accounted for just 10% of their operating costs. The rest came from collecting fines and fees.

Thompson has carried several criminal justice reform measures in past sessions, including a bill to limit bail to what people can reasonably pay.

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