Members Of State Legislative Black Caucus Question House Leadership Not Hearing Police Reform Bills
Members of Oklahoma's Legislative Black Caucus this week questioned Republican House leaders' decision not to hear several police reform bills this session.
"I know from working with my colleagues and from studying what other states are doing that these reforms have strong bipartisan support," Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) said at a Wednesday press conference. "But in this building, we can’t even get these reforms a hearing. There is a disconnect between what needs to be done to address these issues and where our priorities as a Legislature seem to be, which is unfortunate because this issue demands urgency."
Some of the bills Nichols said were important but went unheard include proposed legislation to require state investigation into uses of deadly force; require police departments with body cameras in their inventory to use those body cameras; ban the use of chokeholds, and more.
"These are not things that some of us kind of dreamed up, these aren't make-believe solutions, these are actually bipartisan solutions that are tried and true in other states that get to the heart of the reason why folks took to the streets this past summer," Nichols said.
"We believe that we need good officers and a good citizenry, and the only way we can do that is with good policy and good law," said Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa), chair of the Black caucus. "And with that we say to you: Oklahoma cannot be okay if we come into this body and we're not allowed to have our bills even heard in committee, let alone get to the House floor or the Senate chamber and be signed by the governor."
"So we're asking for real common-sense measures and we're asking for good hearts and right minds to come together."
"When we don't listen to these bills in committee, what we're saying is that we're okay with stripping away peoples' rights and their access to life," said Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City), who said they were "disheartened" by leadership not hearing the bills but encouraged Oklahomans to continue pressing lawmakers for reform legislation.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) directed Public Radio Tulsa to Reps. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane), chair of the House criminal justice committee, and Robert Manger (R-Oklahoma City), chair of the House public safety committee. Humphrey did not immediately return a request for comment.
"I understand and appreciate the concerns that many members have expressed in regards to law enforcement training and procedure reforms, and I believe that continued bi-partisan conversations should take place to address these issues," Manger said in a statement provided by a spokesperson. "The bills that were brought to me for consideration did not take into account a number of variables encountered by our law enforcement officers in the field, and had law enforcement been consulted during the drafting process, some of these could have been addressed. I look forward to future discussions about how we can protect both our law enforcement officers and the public from unnecessary harm."