Each year with the start of November we embark on the most wonderful time of the year, the Season of Giving. The Season of Giving encompasses not only Giving Tuesday which falls on November 28th but continues through the end of year and focuses on generosity and love for all. These last few months of the year are not only a time for us to offer support to our communities, but also an opportunity to reflect on the past year, how we contributed, and how we showed up. It’s the perfect time to think about not only the challenges we faced this year but also our successes.
- This year we celebrate the long overdue recognition of Indigenous students in Oklahoma and their right to wear tribal regalia during graduation ceremonies. While SB 429 was a hard-fought battle and originally vetoed, it was eventually overridden by the Legislature on the second to last day. Advocated on by the ACLU of Oklahoma, SB 429 becoming law represents a step forward for Indigenous students in a state where we continue to witness Oklahoma politicians interfere with the curriculum our schools teach, and the ceaseless erasure of Indigenous history. Tribal regalia is a symbol of resistance, resilience, and reclamation by students of their right to an education that honors their culture and heritage.
- In May of this year, SB 844 would finally fund SQ 781, which required the redirecting of funds saved from divesting from incarceration (SQ 780) into mental health services for the state. While SQ 781 took effect in 2017 by vote of the people, it took the legislature 6 years to create a revolving fund for counties to apply for mental health funding.
- This year also saw the passing of two bills which dealt with paid leave for certain employees. The first, SB16X allows for 6 weeks (about 1.5 months) of paid maternity leave for full-time state employees after 2 years of employment. Likewise, SB 1121 also allows for 6 weeks paid maternity leave for public teachers after 1 year of employment.
- HB 2259 will allow defendants to request a cost hearing after sentencing to determine their ability to pay. It allows courts to waive all or part of their court costs if they cannot pay. The new law, which will go into effect Nov. 1, provides an opportunity immediately after sentencing for defendants who are unable to pay to request a “cost hearing” where a judge will determine their ability to pay and will be able to waive all or part of the costs that are beyond the defendant’s ability to pay. It also allows defendants, if their circumstances change later, to ask for additional cost hearings. Judges must take into account not only income and living expenses but also factors such as number of dependents, physical and mental health conditions, assets, and child support. This bill allows for less wasted action, time, and money being allocated towards those who are unable to pay their court costs. This can help to relieve some of the burden from individuals, family members, and communities.
- HB 2210 allows courts to depart from mandatory minimums when sentencing victims of sexual violence who are sentenced as adults for offenses committed as a minor. Often, victims of sexual violence will get stuck in the vicious circle of the criminal legal system in order to survive the abuse they are living through.
This year we choose to celebrate the victories of 2023 because we are all too aware of the challenges we continue to face. For Oklahoma, censorship is at the center of our challenges, and Oklahomans must continue fighting for and supporting those who are impacted. Next year we will continue to work in the courtrooms, at the Capitol, and on the streets, for the countless communities of our state that are facing attacks on their freedoms. Whether we are fighting for 2SLGBTQ+ rights, reproductive freedom, the right to learn or any other issue, we look forward to sharing that journey and working alongside you.