Lawmakers Work on ‘Back the Blue’ Legislation
Mike Seals - July 20, 2020 9:50 am
OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, and Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, today announced bills backing law enforcement by making the profession more attractive to join and stay in across Oklahoma.
In recent days, eight police officers nationwide were shot over 48 hours, resulting in two officer deaths. Two weeks ago, two Tulsa police officers were shot, resulting in the death of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson.
The casualties combined with efforts in cities in Oklahoma and nationwide to defund police and other law enforcement offices have created a toxic environment for public safety officers, something the legislators said they hope to combat.
“I am very concerned that what is happening right now in our country could have long term repercussions on recruiting and retaining talented law enforcement officers,” said Hilbert, who serves as vice chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. “How in the world sheriffs and police chiefs will be able to recruit and retain talent in the near future is beyond my understanding, with the way things are going. We need to give them the tools to succeed.”
With anti-law enforcement sentiment rising, Hilbert and Leewright collaborated on ideas to ensure Oklahoma can recruit and retain quality law enforcement personnel now and in the future.
“Maintaining the viability and attractiveness of the law enforcement profession is essential to our safety and prosperity as a state and nation,” said Leewright, chairman of the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee. “As the root causes of the unrest across the nation are addressed, as they need to be, we cannot forget the value of those in blue. The law enforcement profession needs talented people, and we as policymakers need to create a climate for that.”
The lawmakers said they intend to file four pieces of legislation next session to “Back the Blue.”
Legislation will focus on:
- Increasing retirement benefits for current and future county deputies.
- Public safety district legislation similar to House Bill 1992 that passed the House this past legislative session, which will benefit municipal police departments.
- Increasing Oklahoma State Highway Patrol Trooper compensation, working to secure funding for future Trooper Academies, and improved funding for enhanced training by the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.
- Significant state-backed life insurance policies for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
The legislators said they are not tied to specific amounts of pay increases or insurance policy details at this time, knowing they will first have to see how the economy recovers from the COVID-19 downturn. They get their first detailed picture of this at the December state Board of Equalization meeting, when a preliminary projection of revenues the state Legislature can spend on state services is made.
In addition to these policy measures at the state level, the legislators encourage county and municipal governments to prioritize law enforcement in their budgets in the coming years as local government budgets emerge from the effects of COVID-19.
In the meantime, they will begin working with stakeholders on legislation to create a better environment to recruit and retain quality law enforcement officers in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma needs a well-rounded approach to these issues. As other areas of public safety policy are considered, we cannot forget the sacrifices law enforcement makes for us every day,” Leewright said.
The lawmakers said constituents are discussing issues concerning law enforcement after demonstrations across the country this spring and summer.
“Our constituents are interested in supporting law enforcement, maintaining public safety and ensuring no one suffers injustice at the hands of their government. Part of attaining those goals is attracting the best and brightest to serve in law enforcement by offering proper pay, benefits and support for those wearing the blue,” Hilbert said.
Several legislative interim studies have been proposed to explore policing policies.
“These bills are our contribution to what we expect will be a larger package of bills on related topics next session. They are by no means the only bills needed on these topics, and we look forward to them being considered along with others next session,” Leewright said.
Joining Hilbert and Leewright in supporting “Back the Blue” legislation are the following organizations:
- Oklahoma Police Chiefs Association
- Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association
- Oklahoma State Fraternal Order of Police
- Oklahoma State Troopers Association
- Oklahoma Game Wardens Association
Hilbert and Leewright encourage any current or former law enforcement officers with recommendations to add to this list to contact their offices.