State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, has filed legislation to require racial impact statements for specific Senate and House bills, a move he says can help reduce the disproportionate impact the state’s criminal justice system has on minority communities.
Senate Bill 209 would require a racial impact statement for any piece of criminal justice legislation that creates a new offense; significantly changes an existing offense; changes the penalty for an existing offense; or changes existing sentencing, parole or probation procedures.
Under the measure, a racial impact statement would have to be filed with the chairman in order for a bill fitting the criteria to be heard in committee.
“Appropriations bills that could have a fiscal impact are required to have fiscal impact statements attesting to this in order to be heard, a step that is in place to protect the legislature from passing something that could have unintended consequences,” Young said. “A racial impact statement would be no different than this. The legislature needs to know if they could be disproportionally impacting specific minority or ethnic groups with certain bills.”
Six states – Oregon, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Connecticut and New Jersey – require racial impact statements for criminal justice legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six additional states have established committees or commissions to address racial and ethnic disparities, including Texas, Kansas and Missouri. Oklahoma has no racial impact system in place.
Under the measure, each racial impact statement would be drafted by the Oklahoma Statistical Analysis Center at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation with help from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Office of Juvenile Affairs. Each racial impact statement would include the estimated number of criminal cases per year the legislation would affect; the impact of the bill on a minority; and the impact of the bill upon correctional facilities and services; and other matters deemed relevant to the bill at issue.
“It’s no secret that incarceration disparities exist and are deeply ingrained in our criminal justice system,” Young said. “The events that unfolded just last year across the nation further magnify that we still have a long way to go to achieve true racial equity. Requiring racial impact statements is just one way we can work to bridge the gap of disproportionate incarceration in our state.”