Story by: Randy Krehbiel

Strangling a domestic partner is a serious crime, the Oklahoma House of Representatives unanimously agreed Tuesday.

That might seem obvious, but many argue Oklahoma law doesn’t reflect the fact. And so, by a 93-0 vote, the House passed and sent to the Senate legislation that increases the maximum penalty from three years to 10 for a first offense.

House Bill 3371 author Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, said domestic violence strangulation complaints are up sharply in the Tulsa area, and that strangulation is often a signal of escalating violence in a relationship.

“If we intervene at an earlier stage, if we incarcerate these people, we can stop a homicide at a later date,” Ford said.

HB 3371 also attempts to clear up apparent confusion over whether Oklahoma law treats strangling a domestic partner less stringently than strangling anyone else.

In a committee meeting last week and again Tuesday, Ford said strangling a total stranger could result in a penalty of up to life in prison, while strangling a domestic partner was punishable by no more than three years.

The problem is that, outside of domestic violence, Oklahoma law does not list strangulation as a separate crime. Instead, it is considered as an element in other crimes against persons, from assault and battery to murder.

Those who work with victims of domestic abuse have advocated for a change in the law as it relates to strangulation because of its link to further violence. A Senate bill similar to Ford’s was reported out of committee Tuesday about the same time his was leaving the House floor.

Also Tuesday:

 The state’s revenue picture continued to darken somewhat as the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported general revenue was 7.5% below projections in January. All major revenue streams came up short and all but income tax receipts were below the same month a year ago. Despite January’s shortfall, general revenue is only slightly below expectations for the first seven months of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

• Two potentially controversial bills failed in committee.

House Bill 1112, by Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, would have required the Legislature to approve changes to required school vaccinations that involved prevention of sexually transmitted disease. In particular, West said lawmakers should be particularly vigilant about the human papillomavirus vaccine.

HPV, as it’s generally known, is identified as a leading cause of cervical cancer and other medical conditions.

The vaccine is generally considered remarkably safe, but West produced a young woman who said she has suffered paralysis, strokes and continual pain since receiving it.

The Public Health Committee voted the bill down, 4-6.

The Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, rejected HB 2781, by Rep. David Hardin, R-Stilwell. The bill would have required all law enforcement officers in the state to refuse to comply with any future federal order calling for door-to-door confiscation of firearms.

 The appropriations and budget subcommittee on education unanimously approved a $250 million bond issue to meet the state’s matching requirements for a backlog of endowed positions at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities. The new issue would include refinancing of about $160 million in outstanding debt from a previous bond issue for the same purpose.

 The same committee voted to reinstate a $5,000 stipend for teachers achieving board certification.

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