OKLAHOMA CITY — The Senate Republican Caucus on Tuesday announced it was backing a measure that could help those who have trouble paying court fines and fees.

The caucus unveiled its legislative agenda, which included criminal justice reform.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said senators want to reduce the court system’s reliance on fees and fines to fund it.

The state should raise the amount of money taken from the state’s General Revenue Fund to pay for court operations, he said.

He said he envisioned a two-year effort to get the change done. He said it will cost an additional $80 million a year from the General Revenue Fund.

“We have got to do something in criminal justice reform,” Thompson said. “It is not working the way it is.”

Those involved with the justice system have complained that the fees and fines pose a barrier in a number of areas. Failure to pay could lead to jail time.

Jari Askins, administrative director of the courts, said 84 percent of the district courts budget is based on fees and fines. She said judicial leaders are open to suggested changes.

Meanwhile, Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his caucus is supporting requiring schools to return to a five-day school week.

Treat said the school could remain with a four-day week if it could show an economic savings and that there is no adverse impact on student achievement.

The specific details of which entity would make that determination has not been determined, he said.

He said a four-day school week is not helpful to the state’s efforts to recruit businesses to the state. In addition, it puts a hardship on parents who need to find care for their children, Treat said.

No additional state money is involved in the restoration to a five-day school week, he said.

Currently, 209 sites in 92 districts have four-day weeks. The state has a total of 512 traditional districts, 26 brick and mortar charter schools and four virtual charter schools, according to information provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

“We strongly support increasing days of instruction,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “Just this morning, we presented a $3.35 billion budget request for next fiscal year to a joint meeting of the Legislature.

“It is critical that we continue our investment in a high quality public education that maximizes time on instruction to give nearly 700,000 kids the greatest potential for academic success.”

The Senate Republican Caucus also supports the creation of a legislative budget office and allowing the governor to appoint agency directors.

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Barbara Hoberock

405-528-2465

barbara.hoberock@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @bhoberock

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