With neither explanation nor comment Thursday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives rejected on a voice vote a proposal to impose the death penalty on repeat child molesters.
With that, and the House’s failure to consider a second bill that contained the death penalty before a legislative deadline, House Republicans put the rights of child molesters above those of their victims, according to the author of the original bill to enact the death penalty for repeat child molesters.
“Thursday was a very sad day for Oklahoma’s children,” said Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant. “House Republicans like to talk a good show on ‘law and order,’ but they miserably, utterly and completely failed Oklahoma’s children with acts both of commission and omission Thursday.”
The act of commission took the form of a motion by Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, to reject Senate amendments to House Bill 2538, of which she was the House author. The amendment rejected was the death penalty provision.
HB 2538 was amended by Senator Gumm on the Senate floor to include the death penalty for repeat child molesters. All that was lacking for the bill to go to the governor was for the House to accept the Senate amendment.
With neither explanation nor discussion, the motion passed on a voice vote – sending the bill to yet another committee rather than to the governor. The motion was made and the voice vote called before House members even had a chance to know what the Senate amendments were.
Gumm resorted to amending the bill after his original bill – Senate Bill 1747, which passed the Senate 40-7 – was denied a hearing in the House Corrections and Public Safety Committee. That decision was made by the committee chair, Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell.
After Blackwell refused to hear SB 1747, Gumm successfully amended HB 2538 on the Senate floor to include the death penalty language. Only hours later, Blackwell’s committee placed the death penalty provision into a different Senate bill – SB 1708 – along with several other provisions.
For more than two weeks, both bills languished, awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives. All that time, the clock was running out on the Senate bill. Thursday was the deadline by which the House of Representatives had to consider Senate bills, which leads to the act of omission.
SB 1708 was allowed to die by House Republican leaders as the deadline expired, never having been considered by the full House of Representatives. While the death penalty proposal is still technically alive in a third bill Gumm amended on the Senate floor, that measure is destined for a conference committee where its future is uncertain at best.
“The Senate has repeatedly passed the death penalty for repeat child molesters, on bills that could have gone directly to the governor if the House simply had done the right thing,” said Gumm, a Senate assistant majority leader.
“The House of Representatives’ Republican leadership has put up roadblock after roadblock – refusing even to debate the proposal. It appears they are going out of the way to kill this idea and that absolutely does not reflect the will of the people or is in the best interests of Oklahoma’s children.”
Gumm said Oklahoma parents will not accept any excuses House leaders offer for their failure to pass a bill with the death penalty for repeat child molesters.
“Lame excuses or more stonewalling will never wash away the wrong done by House Republicans to Oklahoma’s children,” he said. “I wish House leaders agreed with the Senate on this issue. We in the Senate believe Oklahoma should send the message that anyone who harms a child in this unspeakable way will be punished to the fullest extent of the law."
“While we may be down, we are not out; I will never give up in my fight to protect Oklahoma’s children. Every time House Republicans put up a wall to protect child molesters, I will try to find a way around it.”