OKLAHOMA CITY – Superintendents are starting to join with state representatives to ask for passage of House Bill 1482, which would restore protections for children and the places where they gather, such as schools, daycares and parks.
“I was absolutely furious to find out that State Question 780 would do away with drug-free school zones,” said Mike Martin, superintendent of Pauls Valley Public Schools. “Not only was the language intentionally withheld from the public but upheld by a court that should be defending public safety. Regardless of what has been done, as educators, we must do all we can to restore protection for our children. House Bill 1482 does that.”
State Rep. Scott Biggs authored and State Rep. Tim Downing co-authored HB1482 by Rep. Scott Biggs, which passed the House Judiciary – Criminal Justice & Corrections Committee with a vote of 11-1 last week and is expected to be heard on the House floor this week.
The bill preserves the portion of state law that makes it a felony to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park or within the presence of a child under the age of 12. This crime could still be charged as a misdemeanor, by discretion, and the options of drug court and deferred or suspended sentences could still be utilized.
“The bill also leaves the totality of SQ780 fully intact in every single square inch of Oklahoma, outside the presence of children and locations where children are targeted,” said Downing.
SQ780 and the removal of drug-free school zones would become effective in July.
Downing explained that the U.S. and all 50 states have laws for drug-free school zones.
“These laws are critical to deter the presence of drugs on and around our schools and students, by increasing the penalty for those offenders,” he said. “Prior to State Question 780, drug-free school zones enhanced the penalty to a felony for possession of drugs on or within 1,000 feet of schools. The distance is approximately 2.5 small city blocks, a standard safety zone, and typical distance a student may walk or ride a bicycle to school. The drug-free zone law provided a strong deterrent to tell potential offenders if they come near our schools or children their punishment can be increased.”
Downing said superintendents were largely unaware that SQ780 repealed drug-free school zones. He said many also did not know that the language of children and schools was deliberately kept from the voters.
“Proponents of SQ780 fought a legal battle to strike from the original ballot language the very clear explanation that passage would remove the enhancement when ‘The person possessed the drug within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or public park,’” Downing said. “The argument to the court to remove this language was that listing the drug-free school zone would ‘appeal to public emotion and fear.’ Accordingly, all that voters read in the ballot box was that passage “changes the classification of certain drug possession crimes,” and there was no mention of schools or children.”
Martin said he finds this unconscionable and is asking other superintendents to examine the issue and support HB1482.
“In my 20th year as an educator and 11th as a school superintendent in Oklahoma, safety of our students is my top priority,” Martin said. “This year alone we have had to lockdown our Early Childhood Center due to drug bust in that neighborhood. Drug dealers know schools are off -limits and carry greater penalties. Without this provision, drug dealers could set up shop and openly recruit our most vulnerable, our children.
“We must protect the children entrusted to our care,” Martin said. “We must keep our schools drug free.”