November 12, 2014
Human Rights / Social Justice Advocate
Leaving Legislature After 18 Years
OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton retires from the Legislature next week after 18 years of service during which she exhibited a bulldog’s tenacity on social issues such as abortion, domestic violence, abuse/protection of the elderly, and human trafficking.
“Throughout my legislative career I tried to do things that would give people a sense of hope and a brighter future,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.
Retirement doesn’t mean Hamilton is slowing down. She’ll just devote her time to various other projects.
She maintains a blog, Public Catholic, at Patheos, “the nation’s fastest-growing faith blogging site,” she said. She also is writing two books: one about the effect of abortion on America’s feminist movement, another that she described as a meditation. “After I finish them, I have more books in the pipeline,” she added.
Hamilton is one of only a few Oklahoma lawmakers to have served split terms in the Legislature. She was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980 and served three consecutive two-year terms before bowing out in 1986, while chair of the Public Health Committee.
Afterward she reared and home-schooled her two children; “did a turn” as Oklahoma director for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church; and volunteered at Birth Choice of Oklahoma, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.
Sixteen years later, after her children were older, Hamilton campaigned for, and was elected to, the same House seat in southwestern Oklahoma City that she had previously occupied. She represented House District 89 for 12 more years before retiring this year because of compulsory term limits.
The Oklahoma City native once endorsed abortion, but became a pro-life champion after her religious conversion almost 30 years ago “while driving to Enid to give a speech,” she remembers vividly.
Hamilton authored the bill that “broke the 16-year logjam on pro-life legislation.” House Bill 1686 required informed consent prior to an abortion, and mandated parental notification before an abortion could be performed on a minor. The measure was signed into law on May 20, 2005.
Two years later Hamilton was the House sponsor of Senate Bill 139, which forbade state employees and resources from being used to perform an abortion that is not necessary to save the life of the mother, unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. That measure became law on May 24, 2007.
Hamilton also was the principal author in 2008 of House Bill 3059, which would have required an identifying sign to be posted at all facilities in Oklahoma where abortions are performed. The bill received a “do pass” recommendation from the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee but was never brought up for a vote by the full House.
Because of her anti-abortion stance, Oklahoma Democrats “came within 50 votes of censuring me” during the statewide convention at which delegates were picked for the 2008 national convention, she said.
Hamilton filed a handful of domestic-abuse measures while in the House, including the 1982 legislation that authorized protective orders. “This was considered outrageous back then,” she recalled. “Some people called me a Communist because of it.” House Bill 1828 cleared both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. George Nigh.
In one four-year period Hamilton authored or co-authored five House bills that proposed penalties for domestic abuse against pregnant women. Her House Bill 1897, which was introduced in 2007 but languished on the House calendar, was revived in 2008, passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Brad Henry.
In related matters, Hamilton was one of the six founders of the first rape crisis center established in Oklahoma, and, along with Catholic Charities and the YWCA, was a leader of the Day of Prayer for an End to Violence Against Women.
For three consecutive years she filed legislation proposing income-tax checkoffs for a Domestic Abuse Prevention Taxpayer Support Fund plus a Crisis Pregnancy and Abortion Prevention Taxpayers Support Fund. However, all of those proposals died in committee.
During her legislative career Hamilton was the principal author of six measures to prohibit the abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation of elderly persons.
She also secured funding for a pilot program that authorized adult day-care centers in Oklahoma. “This program allows people to stay out of nursing homes,” she said. “It costs less than warehousing our elderly citizens in nursing homes, and provides both them and their families with a much higher quality of life.”
She secured passage of a bill to channel more state resources into inner-city schools, “where they should be.” Oklahoma’s two-tier educational system is “a travesty that creates despair and all the terrible social consequences that go with it,” she contends.
In 2006 and again in 2007 Hamilton sponsored the state’s first legislation to outlaw trafficking in human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation, and in 2008 she co-authored House Bill 1021, to make human trafficking a felony offense; that measure was adopted by the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Henry.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control established a Human Trafficking Unit in 2012 because contemporary slavery has gained some traction in Oklahoma, OBNDD spokesman Mark Woodward said. Wiretaps of members of drug cartels revealed that “these people traffic in anything that will turn a profit,” including narcotics, weapons and humans, adults and minors alike, he said.
During her tenure in the Legislature, “If I could do something to save human lives, I did it, regardless of the political consequences,” Hamilton said.
“What I’m most proud of is that there are people alive today who would be dead if I had not been in the Legislature. The lives of our elderly and disabled are better, more hopeful, than they would be if I hadn’t been there.”