OKLAHOMA CITY – The 2021 session of the Oklahoma Legislature is barely a week old, but a statewide child advocacy group has released its “Top 10” legislative priorities for the year.
Each year, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) works with lawmakers of both parties to enact measures that will improve the quality of life for the state’s youngest residents.
“Legislative advocacy is at the heart of why we exist,” said Joe Dorman, chief executive officer of the organization. “Having been born in the aftermath of what was likely the greatest policy failure for children in Oklahoma history, OICA’s ‘Job Number One’ is to make sure the policies enacted by our lawmakers and agencies reflect the fact that children are our greatest and most precious resource.”
OICA was formed in the wake of the infamous “Terry D” lawsuit, which was filed in 1978 alleging unconstitutional conditions in the state’s juvenile system. Six years later, the federal court issued a consent decree listing the multitude of changes that had to be made in the juvenile system, from improving facilities to banning cruel punishments. OICA was created to ensure something like those failures is never repeated, according to Dorman.
“We have been fortunate to work with so many legislators – Republicans and Democrats alike – who share our belief that we in Oklahoma must constantly strive to improve the legal and regulatory structure to value our state’s children,” he said.
“The measures on our legislative agenda would, if passed, move the state forward in the goal that is virtually universal in the state of Oklahoma: making things better for the youngest Oklahomans.”
The “Top 10” measures the organization has outlined for the 2021 session include:
• House Bill 1709 by Rep. Brian Hill, a Republican from Mustang, which allows services of the Successful Adulthood Act to continue to age 21 for those who were in state custody or foster care prior to the age of 16.
• Senate Bill 217 by Republican state Sen. Jessica Garvin from Duncan. This measure would redefine juvenile delinquents to apply only to children 12 years of age or older who commit certain offenses.
• House Bill 1773 by state Rep. Sherrie Conley, a Republican from Newcastle, would increase requirements for certain teacher candidates to better serve students.
• Several measures proposed by Rep. Mark Lawson, a Republican from Sapulpa and OICA’s “Representative of the Year” in 2020. Among his measures is House Bill 2317 which amends the grievance process within the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, as well as the Office of Juvenile System Oversight.
• House Bill 2742 by Republican state Rep. Ross Ford of Broken Arrow and Senate Bill 339 by Sen. Roland Pederson, also a Republican from Burlington. The measures fix a glitch in the state’s seatbelt law that currently allows children over the age of 8 to not have to wear seatbelts.
• House Bill 1027 and House Bill 1762 by Democratic state Rep. Trish Ranson of Stillwater. The measures would require schools to develop and offer violence de-escalation programs, as well as requiring the state Department of Education to provide school districts with information and training on violence de-escalation.
• Senate Bill 98 by Democratic state Sen. Carri Hicks of Oklahoma City, which prohibits the sale and use of crib accessories that have been identified as a cause of infant suffocation.
• House Bill 1639 by Rep. Mark Lepak, a Claremore Republican. The measure would restore payment of excess credits under the Earned Income Tax Credit, an important tax break for lower income families.
• Senate Bill 668 by Sen. Kay Floyd, the Senate’s Democratic leader from Oklahoma City. This measure would add child trafficking to the list of violent crimes under state law.
• House Bill 1799 by Rep. Nicole Miller, an Edmond Republican, and House Bill 1952 by Democratic Rep. Jose Cruz from Oklahoma City. The bills would ease the process of expunging certain juvenile court records upon request of the child, the parent, the legal guardian, or the child’s attorney.
Former GOP state Sen. AJ Griffin serves on the OICA Board of Directors and is chair of OICA Advocacy Committee. She noted that the measures on OICA’s legislative agenda will be the basis for the organization’s Legislative Scorecard, which will be released shortly following the completion of the 2021 session in May.
“An important part of advocacy is accountability,” she said. “We intend to not only advocate for these measures, OICA’s officers, members, and staff will work to shine a light on those lawmakers who worked to make Oklahoma a ‘Top 10’ state for our children, as well as those who do not.”
In addition to the “Top 10” bills, normally about 10-15 additional measures are used to develop OICA’s Legislative Scorecard. These are determined based on how measures develop and their impact on children’s policy during the four-month legislative session. OICA generally scores 20-25 bills on its final Legislative Scorecard.
The bills on OICA’s agenda will be highlighted on the organization’s social media channels regularly throughout the 2021 session. In addition, interested parties can subscribe to “action alerts” distributed when votes are scheduled on important bills and OICA’s weekly e-newsletter distributed at 2 p.m. each Thursday afternoon.