The recent case of a Republican lawmaker who continued to receive his legislative salary while locked up in jail should never be repeated, Senator Jay Paul Gumm said Tuesday.
Gumm, a Democrat from Durant who is an assistant majority leader in the Senate, has filed legislation that would suspend the pay of any state elected official who is in jail for as long as they are locked up.
According to court records, then-Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Enid, pled guilty to the misdemeanor crime of outraging public decency. The veteran Republican lawmaker was originally charged with felony sexual battery over the incident in an Oklahoma City hotel.
“If an elected official is sitting in a jail cell, he or she is not doing the job for which taxpayers are paying them,” said Senator Gumm. “The case of Representative O’Neal has shown a glaring loophole in our state law on elected officials’ pay.”
According to the victim’s affidavit, O’Neal groped her after he made vulgar remarks to her and other women. When the victim tried to get away, O’Neal chased her to an elevator and pried open the doors. Hotel staff came to the victim’s aid.
Because the plea agreement was for a misdemeanor crime, O’Neal remained a member of the House of Representatives despite the jail term and a five-year deferred sentence. State law automatically removes convicted felons from elective office; those guilty of a misdemeanor can continue to hold office.
“So, here we had an elected member of the House of Representatives sitting in a county jail and not only are taxpayers footing the bill for his incarceration, they are paying his salary,” Gumm related. “That simply is not right.”
In fact, according to legislative records, O’Neal was in jail and did not vote while his fellow representatives were considering articles of impeachment against another state official charged with wrongdoing. Despite being behind bars, O’Neal received the same amount in salary his House colleagues received.
The proposed law would also prevent locked-up elected officials from participating in retirement programs and other compensations. If an elected official was acquitted, the compensation would be restored. If, like O’Neal, the official were found or pled guilty, the compensation would be forfeited.
A companion to Gumm’s law is an amendment to the state’s constitution, placing the standard in the state’s highest law. If approved by lawmakers, Oklahoma voters would pass judgment on the new constitutional provision in the 2006 general election.
“Those serving in public office should be held to a higher standard,” Gumm concluded. “This common sense proposal will close a loophole and help protect the trust all of us who serve in public office should maintain.”