Oklahoma bill would criminalize homelessness on state-owned land

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A Republican-driven bill that would criminalize homeless people who sleep on state-owned land is heading to the Governor’s desk after passing both the House and Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1854 is authored by Senator Darrell Weaver (R-Moore) and Representative Chris Kannady (R-OKC).

The proposal states tents, shelters and bedding would not be allowed on any state-owned property including parks, highways and underpasses.

“What we’re saying here is you’ve got someone that is in a position of unsafe behavior for not only them, but also the travelers around these highways and underpasses,” stated Sen. Weaver.

First time violators would be issued a warning and offered assistance such as a drive to a nearby food pantry or homeless shelter.

If the individual refuses the offer or removal, they’ll either face a $50 fine, up to 15 days in jail, or both.

“This is written in a very broad manner that makes it difficult to analyze who will be impacted, what type of assistance we’re talking about and what would count as a refusal,” argued Sen. Julia Kirt (D-OKC).

Sen. Kirt asked Sen. Weaver where homeless individuals forced to leave state-owned land are supposed to go. He said, “They could literally go across the street off state property. That’s not what I’m concerned about as a state legislator.”

Sen. Kirt also worries with a lacking availability in homeless shelters, offered resources such as a drive to one wouldn’t be beneficial.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an en banc petition by the City of Boise in Martin v. Boise (formerly Bell v. Boise), leaving in place its September 2018 ruling that homeless persons cannot be punished for sleeping outside on public property in the absence of adequate alternatives.

However, Sen. Weaver said law enforcement officers will be properly trained and are “more in tune than years past.”

The proposal passed both the House and Senate. Although identical bills, both legislative pieces will have to go through the other chamber for further debate.

Only one of the proposals will go to the Governor for signature, though.


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