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Oklahoma State Senate

Communications Division
State Capitol
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105

For Immediate Release: March 1, 2005

Senator Jay Paul Gumm

Senate Passes Constitutional Amendment to
Suspend Pay of Locked-up Lawmakers

A measure that would close a loophole that allowed a former Republican lawmaker to receive his legislative salary while locked up in jail is one step closer to becoming a law.

Senate Joint Resolution 5, by Senator Jay Paul Gumm, easily cleared the Senate Tuesday on a unanimous 45-0 vote. The measure was forwarded to the House of Representatives.

The resolution would give Oklahoma voters a chance to put in the state constitution language that prevents any state legislator from being paid while locked up on a misdemeanor conviction.

A constitutional amendment is needed because legislators cannot change legislative pay. Only the Legislative Compensation Board, a constitutional body, can change lawmakers’ pay and only the people can change the constitutional law that directs the board.

“If an elected official is sitting in a jail cell, he or she is not doing the job for which taxpayers are paying them,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “The case of Representative O’Neal has shown a glaring loophole in our state law on elected officials’ pay.”

According to court records, then-Rep. Mike O’Neal pled guilty last year to the misdemeanor crime of outraging public decency. The veteran Republican lawmaker was originally charged with felony sexual battery over the incident in an Oklahoma City hotel.

Because the plea agreement was for a misdemeanor crime, O’Neal remained a member of the House of Representatives despite the jail term and a five-year deferred sentence. State law already removes convicted felons from office; because most misdemeanor crimes are minor – like traffic tickets – there is no automatic removal or reduction in pay. SJR 5 would change that.

The measure has been the subject of numerous editorials in newspapers from across Oklahoma. One editorial called Gumm’s bill, “common sense legislation,” and said “if this legislation doesn’t sail through both houses . . . then there is something terribly wrong under the dome.”

The proposed constitutional amendment also prevents locked-up elected officials from participating in retirement programs and other compensations. If an elected official was acquitted or charges dismissed, the compensation would be restored. If, like O’Neal, the official were found or pled guilty, the compensation would be forfeited.

If approved by lawmakers, Oklahoma voters would pass judgment on the new constitutional provision in the 2006 general election.

“Those serving in public office should be held to a higher standard,” Gumm concluded. “This common sense proposal closes a loophole and protects the trust all of us who serve in public office should strive to maintain.”

For more information contact:
Senate Communications Office - (405) 521-5774

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