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In Arkansas, liquor stores sell cold beer, as illustrated by this walk-in cooler at Sodie's Wine & Spirits in Ft. Smith, Ark. (Josh McBee)
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In spite of the Oklahoma House of Representatives meeting for just shy of two hours on Thursday and the Senate being inundated with no less than nine entourages of high school athletes and musicians, some sensible legislation managed to make headway at Northwest 23rd Street and Lincoln Boulevard this week. As usual, some shadows contrast the light.

FTW: Booze you can use

Are you some kind of misanthrope who actually likes buying warm beer from the liquor store, taking it home, cooling it, and then cracking into it? How about making two trips during your shopping routine: one to the grocery store and one to the liquor store?

Modernization may number those days.

SJR 68 passed out of the House Rules Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 6 to 3, which means, come November, the citizens of Oklahoma could vote to change the state’s longstanding and archaic liquor laws prohibiting the sale of cold beer in liquor stores and wine sales in convenience and grocery stores.

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As it stands, the potential ballot question would remove the Alcohol Beverage Laws Enforcement (ABLE) Commission from the state Constitution and replace it with a regulatory body created by statute.

SJR 68 now moves to the House floor for consideration, and we’ll be watching it with bated (beer) breath.

FTW: Criminal-justice reform continues progress

Given Oklahoma’s No. 1 ranking nationally for female incarceration and high rates of male incarceration, the issue of criminal-justice reform has motivated grassroots efforts and former politicians to demand change.

It’s also an economic issue in this time of budget crisis, as Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-OKC) wrote in a September commentary for NonDoc, “The annual cost of incarcerating a person in Oklahoma sits between $13,000 and $28,000 per year. To put that in perspective, per pupil spending on education is about $8,000 annually.”

So it should be seen as a positive that, on Wednesday, four criminal-justice reform bills moved ahead from the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa) is the principal House author of all four measures, and Sen. Greg Treat (R-Edmond) is the Senate author for:

  • HB 2472: gives prosecutors discretion to file charges as a misdemeanor instead of a felony;
  • HB 2479: reduces the mandatory punishment for subsequent drug offenses;
  • HB 2751: raises the threshold for property crimes to be charged as a felony to $1,000.

Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove) is the Senate author of HB 2753, which seeks to establish broader use of drug courts.

Audio from Sen. Treat on criminal justice reform, from OKSenate.gov:

Audio from Sen. Shaw on the drug court bill:

The bills will move to the full Senate for potential consideration next week.

WTF: Get your hands outta my gender gap!

In 2011, women in Oklahoma earned 76 cents for every dollar a man made. On Thursday, Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-OKC) put that figure at 73 cents in a press release. Unfortunately, the advancement of a measure to narrow the pay gap between men and women will likely do little to close the gender gap, thanks to some sticky fingers in the Department of Labor.

In HB 2929, Dunnington and Loveless seek to amend an existing statute by raising the fines for gender-based discrimination. The amendment would double the penalty for employers who sexually discriminate.

Sounds great, right? Not so fast, ladies.

Even after doubling the old fines, the new upper and lower bounds for penalizing gender-based pay discrimination are only $200 and $50, respectively. Further, language added by Scott Inman (D-Del City) in February states the Commissioner of Labor can:

“…keep an amount equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the back pay owed to the employee to be deposited in the Department of Labor Revolving Fund. All civil fines recovered pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be deposited in the General Revenue Fund of this state.”

So not only are the fines for violations of gender discrimination still paltry, but if, say, a woman does actually have a winning case that she’s being paid unfairly, the state government could keep one quarter of the missing payment she was found to be rightly owed in the first place. Last, the existing fine has never generated any revenue for the state.

“Don’t worry, ladies!” the politicians cry, “we’re really lookin’ to nail these chauvinistic employers to the wall — just as long as you buy the thumbtacks.”

HB 2929 now moves to the House floor for consideration.