OKLAHOMA CITY – A bill strengthening the role of victims’ impact panels in helping to stop driving under the influence (DUI) offenses in Oklahoma and to reduce the number of repeat offenders passed the state Senate on Wednesday and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.
House Bill 2877, by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, was a request by victims’ impact panel programs currently operating in Oklahoma. It passed the Senate with a vote of 31-13.
“Nothing is more impactful than having to meet face to face with a victim of your crime,” Sanders said. “This legislation makes sure that DUI offenders will have such a meeting. It is a strategy that has proven to be 90 percent effective in our state. It will save future lives by helping cut down on repeat offenses.”
Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is the Vice Chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate author of HB 2877.
“Drunk driving is a serious problem in Oklahoma and, unfortunately, we have a high occurrence of repeat offenders,” Paxton said. “Given the statistics, it’s apparent that fines and jail time don’t deter some people from their dangerous habits. However, it’s been proven that having to talk to victims and listen to their heart wrenching stories in person has proven extremely successful in stopping repeat offenses. It’s one thing to think about your wrongs in a cell, but it’s a totally different thing to talk to a family member who will never get to see or talk to their loved one again. This is a powerful bill, and I’m glad the legislature has supported this measure to help further reduce the number of repeat drunk driving offenses in our state.”
Sanders said the measure accomplishes three things:
First, it puts teeth in the enforcement of current statutory requirements for operating a victims’ impact panel. The District Attorney’s Council now will collect information and certify the panels by ensuring they meet all statutory requirements and operate properly.
Second, the bill ensures that all defendants are being sent to a victim’s impact panel and standardizes the sentencing requirements statewide.
The bill also makes the fee for a victim/offender reconciliation program and Victims’ Impact Panel program a flat $75 instead of the sliding scale that now exists across the state.
“This keeps fees equal in all parts of the state,” Sanders said. “This fee helps these panels continue to be able to provide these services, particularly in our rural areas so participants do not have to make a long drive to attend.”
Sanders said victims’ impact panels have to pay a $1,000 filing fee.
Sanders said this bill is a continuation of legislation he passed in 2016, which strengthened prosecution of repeat drunk drivers. House Bill 3146 created the Impaired Driving Elimination Act, moving all DUI cases to a court of record, ensuring district attorneys statewide would have access to records of DUI offenses.
HB 2877 previously passed the House by a vote of 94-1.