Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Leaders Ponder Need for Special Session

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Leaders Ponder Need for Special Session

Article excerpt

Associated Press

Gov. David Walters is hinting at calling a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature to confront crime and prison issues, but the idea appears tenuous, at best.

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate are cool to the suggestion of returning to the Capitol in October or November _ for many reasons.

And Walters himself says discussions of an extra session are "very preliminary."

Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Cullison, D-Skiatook, and House Speaker Glen Johnson, D-Okemah, said they had not been informed about talk of a special session and expressed doubt about what it could accomplish.

A potential political powder keg, in the form of a new prison early-release program, is the issue driving the special session discussion.

State Rep. Tony Caldwell, R-Oklahoma City, is hammering away at the release of some inmates, who meet the criteria for early release even though they have a history of violence or lengthy records.

Caldwell wants the law changed and also says any plan to alleviate inmate overcrowding should include proposals for new prisons.

Legislative leaders also have expressed concern about the type of inmates released in the program, which sponsors said would target nonviolent offenders.

But they say the problem can be handled administratively, and they doubt what could be accomplished at a special session.

They noted the state revenue picture is tight and contend the public does not want to raises taxes to build new prisons, or take money away from such areas as education to construct the facilities.

"The question you would have is what are the issues he has that we couldn't resolve in a regular session," said Johnson, D-Okemah.

The fact is Walters has not announced what ideas he has in the area of crime and prisons.

He said those issues were the subjects of intense discussions between himself, cabinet secretaries and senior aides during a retreat at the end of last month.

He subsequently appointed a task force to come up with recommendations on solving the problems.

At a news conference last week, Walters said he has sent a letter to the head of the Oklahoma Corrections Board asking that construction of a drug offender work camp be accelerated. …

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