HB 2915 and 2916:
Both of these bills are attempts to confront the problem of police brutality. HB 2915 would ban the use of chokeholds by officers, and HB 2916 would require body cameras to be used by all cops if their agency possesses the cameras.
Several states and cities have already banned the use of chokeholds by police officers. Many of these bans came in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protest movement last year. These bills seem to be, at least in part, driven by the momentum still very much alive from last summer.
These measures, of course, are not enough on their own to end police brutality. Eric Garner was killed in New York with a chokehold that was illegal at the time. However, they are both a first step in the right direction and a method of shifting the conversation in the House to actually existing problems. Police violence is a systemic and racist issue, and it must be confronted as soon as possible.
It’s valuable to contrast these bills with ones Republican legislators have proposed in response to the events of last summer. These are almost exclusively anti-protest bills, including a bill giving the right to run over protestors with a car. Whether or not any of these bills pass, and however far-reaching their effects are, it’s clear that Democrats are trying to help with important issues and Republicans are making up problems to solve. “There is a disconnect between what needs to be done to address these issues and where our priorities as a Legislature seem to be,” according to Tulsa Rep. Monroe Nichols.
The bills will be hard to pass. They are not new ideas; many police reforms have already been attempted in the Oklahoma congress. It is very possible they will never even get hearings.
This bill attempts to drastically alter the makeup of the Oklahoma Science and Technology Research and Development Board. Higher learning institutions and actual scientists seem to be the main targets for removal from the board. The presidents of Oklahoma University, Oklahoma State University and our very own Janet Levit from TU would all be removed, as well as five members who have worked as executives at scientific corporations significant to Oklahoma.
To fill most of these empty seats, the bill adds two members of any background appointed by the Governor, as well as three members of any background by both the leader of the Senate and House. Thus, all of these new members would thus be appointed by Republicans with no restrictions on who they may choose.
The implication of the bill seems to be that people on the Science and Technology Board don’t need to actually be knowledgeable or experienced in science and technology. The board can just be another partisan arena to wield as a political tool.
It’s important to point out that the current makeup of the board isn’t perfect. Choosing executives of companies over actual scientists still creates a conflict of interest and risks profit being the driving motive of the board. Of course, the board is an economic development board concerned with science and technology, not a science and technology board concerned with economic development.
The bill passed through the Senate last Thursday and is now off to the House.