Governor Kevin Stitt Discusses Border Security, Criminal Justice Reform, Tribal Tag Legislation

Governor Kevin Stitt was back in front of state media Friday morning, to answer questions and discuss a number of topics at the state capitol.

Friday, April 12th 2024, 10:07 pm

By: News 9, Haley Weger


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Governor Kevin Stitt was back in front of state media Friday morning, to answer questions and discuss a number of topics at the state capitol.

Border Security

State lawmakers are finalizing legislation to criminalize illegal immigrants who move to Oklahoma. Republican leaders say there is an illegal immigration crisis in Oklahoma that they are hoping to eliminate with the legislation.

The bill was modeled after Senate Bill 4 out of Texas. The legislation has not been filed yet, but it is being sponsored by the pro tem and house speaker, who say it is absolutely necessary to keep Oklahomans safe…  

“Do we need a strong border? 100%,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Stitt says state lawmakers are having to file this legislation because the border isn’t being controlled on the federal level. “We think President Biden has the tools that he needs, he's not doing it and so states are then forced to stop the migration from coming,” said Stitt.

The new legislation will create the “crime of impermissible occupation.” If passed into law, anybody who illegally enters and remains in Oklahoma would face criminal charges, and would be required to leave the state within 72 hours.

Penalties for violating the proposed law would be:

  1. First offense – Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term of not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $500, or both, required to leave the state within 72 hours from the date and time specified on the written order and prohibited from reentering the state at any time thereafter.
  2. Second or subsequent offense – Felony punishable by imprisonment in the custody of the Dept. of Corrections for a term of not more than two years, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both, required to leave the state within 72 hours from the date and time specified on the written order and prohibited from reentering the state at any time thereafter.

“They have to go back to the Trump era policy which means ‘Remain in Mexico,” said Stitt.

The legislation would also prohibit municipalities from becoming sanctuary cities. “We are not targeting anyone, we are just that Oklahoma is not a sanctuary state. We will follow the rules in the state of Oklahoma. You have to apply for work visas the proper way,” said Stitt.

Governor Stitt has been outspoken about border security. Stitt sent the National Guard to the Texas and Mexico border last year and says he is ready to do it again, if Texas Governor, Greg Abbott requests the additional assistance. 

“We want a legal workforce that is contributing 100% to society that's totally separate from border security,” said Stitt.

House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat say they are planning to file the legislation next week. "This is common sense legislation that supports Oklahoma's right to legally defend our state's borders from those in our country illegally," said McCall. "I will not allow Oklahoma to become another border state, or be inundated with the issues that are being seen in states like New York and California. Oklahoma citizens should not be footing the bill for those illegally in our country, and this legislation will make Oklahoma the least attractive state in the nation for illegal immigrants to come to. It is my hope that this common-sense protection for our state's border will pass the House and Senate quickly so we can get it signed by the Governor."

“Legal immigration provides endless opportunities for individuals to come to our country and prosper,” said Treat. “There is a clear pathway to citizenship, and we should know who we are allowing to come here legally. With the influx of illegal immigration, we are seeing a scourge of violent gang members coming in who are bringing deadly drugs like fentanyl across the border and into Oklahoma. After extensive discussions with law enforcement officials, our congressional delegation and many others, this legislation is absolutely necessary to keep Oklahomans safe, while upholding the rule of law in our country.” 

“We obviously have to know who is coming into our country and I think it's really an effort to kind of stop the tide,” said Stitt.

Criminal Justice Reform

Governor Stitt also discussed legislation working its way through the state capitol, that Republicans hope will cut down on organized retail crime. 

This was a big push from Republicans in both the House and Senate who say there’s been an alarming increase in gas station and convenience store thefts since state question 780 passed in 2016.

That state question changed certain theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and approved a $1000 misdemeanor threshold. Statistics from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations show that since SQ780 was passed, shoplifting cases have more than tripled.

Lawmakers and law enforcement say people are going into gas stations and convenience stores across the state, stealing just enough to stay below the felony threshold.

Republicans in the state house pushed a bill forward this week that would reduce that threshold to $500, and create a task force at the Attorney General's Office to further investigate this organized retail crime. “There's a real problem with this smash and grab and some of the things that are happening at Quick Trip and Walmart, and if you know you can go steal something and it's under $1,000 and you're immune from prosecution, that's a problem,” said Stitt.

Gov. Stitt says he is on board with any legislation that will keep gas station and convenience store employees safe.

Tribal Tag Legislation

Stitt also voiced his frustration over a bill that was blocked in the state house, which he says would have ensured everybody driving on Oklahoma turnpikes were paying the same amount in tolls. “We’re breaking the law by allowing vehicles to run up and down the turnpike without collecting it, I mean I don't know why everybody is not outraged by this,” said Stitt.

Senate Bill 1907 passed out of the state Senate but hit a roadblock in the House. The governor is now questioning why state reps would vote against this bill. “That bill what it did was allow the OLEPS (Oklahoma Law Enforcement Professional Standards) which is the highway patrol to be able to share the information with the Turnpike Authority so we know how to bill those people,” said Stitt.

Governor Stitt is a proponent of that legislation, saying it would have ensured everybody in the state paid the same tolls regardless of if they had tribal tags or not, “When you drive on our turnpike system, call me crazy, but everybody should pay the same amount that drives on our turnpike,” said Stitt.

Senate Bill 1907 failed in a House committee, with bipartisan pushback. The bill failed with a vote of 2-6.

“It's a head-scratcher. I have no idea why you think you should allow one race of people not to pay on the turnpike,” said Stitt.

Stitt says that move will end up costing the state millions in unpaid toll fees. “The Creeks, they owe the state of Oklahoma $1.8 million for these illegal tags that are running up and down the turnpikes,” said Stitt. “Right now the Cherokees owe the state of Oklahoma for Cherokee tags $4.7 million. At the end of this month, it's going to be over $5 million.”

Cherokee Nation Principal, Chief Chuck Hoskin said in a statement, “I appreciate the careful consideration of tribal sovereignty by the members of the House Public Safety Committee which led them to reject SB 1907.”

Chief Hoskin went on to say, “Cherokee Nation remains committed to upholding all obligations from our compacts with the state of Oklahoma, as well as negotiating in good faith solutions going forward. The switch by the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority to PlatePlay, which was done without consultation with tribes, has led to an adjustment period. But, I am confident we can reach a solution that both respects tribal sovereignty and meets the needs of the state.”

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