By M. Scott Carter
Oklahoma's House Criminal Justice and Corrections committee narrowly passed a measure Wednesday that would make fines and sentences for cattle theft steeper than they are for aggravated assault.
House Bill 1387, authored by freshman Rep. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, would assess fines at three times the value of the animal or equipment stolen and set a prison sentence of up to 15 years for those convicted of the crime. The measure passed on a 6-5 vote. Murdock said many cattle being stolen are valued at more than $30,000 each, which, under the bill, would create a penalty of up to $90,000.
He said Oklahoma had 28 incidents of cattle rustling in 2014.
“It’s a big problem in my district. The value on these animals, you really can’t put a price tag on,” Murdock said. “They are breeding stock and represent a lifetime of work. When they're stolen, you lose a lifetime of work.”
Democrat Corey Williams countered that part of the problem was a lack of prosecution in western Oklahoma.
“You have a prosecution problem. Yyou don’t have a statutory problem,” Williams, D-Stillwater, said. “Go elect a new district attorney.”
Murdock said he agreed with Williams but wanted to make a statement with the bill.
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Norman, said the penalty was more severe than the penalty for assault. Under state law, the penalty for aggravated assault and battery is up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $500 or both. Restitution also can be ordered.
“I understand it’s (cattle rustling) a problem but I have a problem with the fines going back to the agency who is supposed to be doing the job to begin with,” Cleveland said.
State records show that lawmakers have added 40 new fines and fees since 1992.
Five members of the committee voted against the bill: Representatives Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, Randy Grau, R-Edmond, Ben Sherrer, D-Choteau, Williams and Cleveland.
Members voting in favor of the bill were Representatives Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, Lisa Billy, R-Lindsay, Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel and Terry O’Donnell, R-Tulsa.
The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.