Two vital, cost-saving measures making their way through the Oklahoma Legislature this session will save county governments and taxpayers millions of dollars annually. SB 244 and HB 2282 are companion bills that will eliminate a controversial and unconstitutional section of law that penalizes counties that do not transmit sentencing documents within three days of a court’s decision.
Known as “the three-day rule” owing to its original language, the provision was proposed by Robert Patton, former Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Approved by the Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2015, the three-day rule required county jails to notify the DOC when a state inmate housed in a county jail received their “judgement and sentence” from the court. It also included a provision allowing the DOC to withhold payment for housing an inmate if sentencing documents were not received within three days of the court’s decision. Often, these documents are not issued until the 10-day appeal period has passed. The law was later amended to allow five days after a court’s decision.
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The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter believe this penalty violates the Oklahoma Constitution as was written in Attorney General Opinion 2017-3. Hunter’s opinion clearly states that the DOC is in violation of Article XXI Section 1 and Article X Section 9 of the Oklahoma Constitution, however DOC leadership has continued to defy the law and the Attorney General’s opinion for the nearly two years since its publication. The end result is skyrocketing daily costs to county governments and taxpayers.
A timely and proper solution to the issue is available if the DOC would simply follow the constitutional provisions of the three-day rule, and reimburse from the day of sentencing. For over three years since the rule went into effect in late 2015, the DOC has knowingly violated the Oklahoma Constitution in a glaring maneuver to skirt their financial obligation to all 77 Oklahoma counties. In fact, in the first year of the law’s existence (December 2015 to December 2016), 29 counties lost more than $1.2 million due to the DOC’s negligence. The financial detriment to those counties, other counties and Oklahoma taxpayers has only accelerated since.
During the 2018 legislative session, Senate and House members approved a bill removing the unconstitutional timeline and financial penalty from the law, only to encounter a last-minute veto by Fallin. The Legislature once again has a prime opportunity to address this festering issue this session by approving SB 244 and or HB 2282.
Also, in a proactive and protective decision, several counties have filed a lawsuit against the DOC addressing the constitutionality issue, and recovery of ongoing financial losses. Counties and taxpayers cannot afford to continue to be taken advantage of by a state agency whose primary mission is to deliberately cloud their own financial picture for political and legislative advantage. It is deceiving, financially costly and abundantly unfair to the citizens of Oklahoma. These two bills address the issue, and they are the preferred solution of counties. However, if the DOC is successful in establishing roadblocks at the Capitol, counties across Oklahoma are absolutely prepared to bring suit.