SQ 780 in effect, officials concerned voters were misinformed

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jul 05, 2017

CLAREMORE, Okla. -- A controversial State Question passed by voters in November took effect this week.

SQ 780 is still ruffling some feathers as it changes simple possession of drugs and some property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

The goal of SQ 780 was to reduce the number of people in prison, potentially saving taxpayers millions. However, some think the new law does more harm than good.

For instance, take Rhonda Bear, owner of She Brews Coffee in Claremore, which offers women with criminal histories a second chance.

“I have been previously incarcerated,” Bear said. “I received a 10 year sentence, 15 years ago, and it saved my life.”

She re-entered society a new woman, and now helps others like her.

At She Brews, women who've served time behind bars, now serve others, and for Bear, prison reform is a must.

“Oklahoma is desperate and knows that we have to do something,” Bear said.

She thought SQ 780 was the answer,  decriminalizing simple drug possession and certain property crimes to misdemeanors, and keeping repeat offenders out of prison.

But now she said the state question missed the mark.

“Do I think it is important to keep people out of prison that have a hundred dollars worth of drugs on them? Yes. Do I agree with I can rob you for $999 and it's going to be a misdemeanor?"

Bear’s answer is no. Under  SQ 780, officials said it is only a misdemeanor to commit grand larceny of $1,000, even for repeat offenders.

“I do not support making more victims and saving criminals,” Bear said.

Officials like Claremore's Deputy Police Chief said there's nothing they can do to keep repeat offenders off the streets.

“They will always get a misdemeanor and there's no chance of ever getting an enhancement even if it's a person we catch 10 times,” Deputy Chief Steve Cox said.

The new law also means some drug offenders who receive misdemeanors under SQ 780 won't qualify for certain rehabs, such as drug court, which only offers help to felons, according to officials.

It’s the kind of help Rhonda Bear now offers the women at She Brews. The kind of second chance she said saved her life.

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