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KEATING signs criminal justice reform measure

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Gov. Frank Keating on Friday signed a reform bill that calls for ``tougher and smarter'' punishment of criminals.

Senate Bill 397, which takes effect on July 1, drops some minor property crimes out of felony status, while stiffening penalties for more serious, violent offenses.

``This historic reform is a tough approach to criminal justice, but it is also a smarter approach that will help ensure the public safety,'' Keating said.

Among other things, the bill raises from $50 to $500 the felony threshold for bogus check writing and certain property crimes. Offenses under $500 will be misdemeanors.

The measure encourages restitution instead of incarceration for many nonviolent crimes.

It adds eight crimes to the list of felonies that require inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences.

They are second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, poisoning with intent to kill, assault with intent to kill, shooting with intent to kill, manufacturing high levels of controlled dangerous substances, robbery involving two or more people and first-degree robbery.

The bill lowers the blood-alcohol threshold on drunk-driving convictions from .10 to .08.

It also repeals the controversial ``cap'' law that triggered the release of some inmates during prison overcrowding.

Keating also signed House Bill 1545, prompted by the investigations of Oklahoma City police chemist Joyce Gilchrist. The bill earmarks $650,000 to the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to continue DNA testing of criminal cases.

Among the bills vetoed by Keating was a measure that would have allowed anyone who was wrongfully convicted of a crime in Oklahoma to collect claims against the state for up to $200,000.

Keating said he favored state awards for ``truly innocent persons'' but the bill he vetoed was too broad and might have led to the state giving cash to criminals freed on technicalities.

``I urged the Legislature to rewrite the bill next year with more specific language,'' the governor said.

The Legislature, which adjourned on May 24, sent Keating 468 bills. He signed 442 and vetoed 26.

In his seven years as governor, Keating has issued 285 vetoes, all of which have been sustained.

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