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The Oklahoma state Senate on Wednesday voted to pass two bills aimed at criminalizing peaceful protestors. One, House Bill 1674, would allow motorists to run over peaceful protestors without consequence if they claimed self-defense. The other, HB 1643, is similar to an earlier bill that would criminalize Oklahomans for sharing videos or photographs of police officers.
These bills passed largely along partisan lines and are some of the only bills of their kind in the nation.
According to Nicole McAfee, the head of ACLU Oklahoma, Sen. JJ Dossett (D-Owasso) was the only Democrat to vote in favor of both bills. Sen. Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) voted against HB 1633 while Republican Sen. McCotney and Pugh both voted against HB 1674.
Some Democrats Urge Senate to Vote ‘No’
State Senator George Young (D-OKC) urged his colleagues to vote “no” on HB 1643, noting that no attempts are made to protect protestors from malicious drivers. His colleague, state Senator Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa) also voiced concern from the senate floor about the dangers these bills pose.
“People are angry and they just want to be heard,” said Sen. Matthews.
Both Senators also voted against HB 1643, requiring individuals to blur the names and badge numbers of police officers before posting videos online. Even though police officers are public officials, any private citizen who fails to comply would face legal consequences.
The bills have already drawn national attention. In an interview with ABC News earlier in the year, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said “it seems some of my [Republican] colleagues took the wrong lesson from the demonstrations we saw last Summer”.
Lawmakers strip law enforcement officials of ability to prosecute
Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Broken Arrow) is the author of the so called “hit and run” bill (HB 1674). McDugle could not cite a specific incident in Oklahoma where the legislation would have been necessary, despite several requests from his colleagues.
Republicans voting for the measures have often cited the “I-244 incident” in Tulsa as a reason why the “hit and run” law should pass. In that incident, however, District Attorney Kunzweiler declined to press charges against the driver. Should HB 1674 become law, district attorneys would no longer have prosecutorial discretion in such cases.
Both bills now head to Governor Kevin Stitt’s desk for signature. If the Governor chooses to sign both bills into law, they will be among the most aggressive anti-protest laws in the nation.
Many Civil Rights groups are already urging Oklahomans to contact the Governor’s office and urge him to veto.