OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — A bill looking to reduce criminal court fines, fees, and the number of Oklahomans incarcerated is heading to Governor Stitt's desk for signature.
Some Oklahomans are forced to choose between buying food or paying court fines and fees, which is something House Bill 2259 could change.
"There are so many Oklahoman parents I've talked to say I had a probation sentence which means every month I had to ask, should I not pay rent, should I not pay for food, should I not pay for medical bills so that the court won't take me away from my kids," said Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director, Damion Shade. "Those are the kinds of questions that no parent should have to ask."
HB 2259 is one of the failures to pay fines and fees reforms that lawmakers are working on this legislative session.
"This bill will make it harder for people to get a failure to pay warrant which could cost them their driver's license, which could cost them their freedom," Shade said. "Obviously, they could be incarcerated and arrested for a period of time, which could even cost them their home, their livelihood, and their freedom."
The bill does not increase or decrease any fees, but should reduce arrest warrants issued for failure to pay, which in turn will reduce the number of Oklahomans incarcerated for owing money.
"Being incarcerated for a failure to pay is essentially criminalizing poverty," said Shade.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform says the bill is a first step in getting a system that is not punishing people for not having money.
"This is something that a lot of people in the public don't understand, but it really makes it harder for so many families to just function," Shade said. "It really is the poorest people, the poorest families in the state of Oklahoma who are getting that bill from courts and it's just breaking up families and making their lives harder. This year, we have a real opportunity to make a dent in that bad policy."
If HB 2259 is signed by Governor Stitt the law will become effective on July 1, 2023.
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