Legislators take up cause for children's safety

Apr. 24—Claremore legislators Sen. Ally Seifried and Rep. Mark Lepak are celebrating what they call "a meaningful step forward" for the safety of children during supervised visitations when facilitated by third-party volunteers.

Senate Bill 1756, authored by Seifried and sponsored by Lepak in the House, was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt last week. It takes effect Nov. 1 this year.

The impetus for S.B. 1756 was a 2023 murder-suicide that occurred during a supervised visit in the mother's Verdigris home. On July 20, 2023, Brandy McCaslin, 39, shot and killed her three kids — 11-year-old Noe, 6-year-old Bryce and 9-month-old Billy — and then turned the gun on herself.

"This tragedy shook our community to its core. While we cannot erase the pain of those we have lost, I am honored to have played a role, however small, in bolstering safeguards that may prevent future tragedies. The memory of those precious children will forever inspire our efforts to create a safer world for our Oklahoma children," Seifried said.

Seifried added that there are many individuals and organizations, as well as her hometown colleague, Lepak, who helped on the journey to pass S.B. 1756.

Seifried said she and Lepak discovered while visiting with Ryan McGee and Billy Jacobson — fathers of two of three children killed in the July 2023 murder-suicide — that two volunteers charged with visitation supervision of the children would not have passed a background check. One individual was appointed in January 2023 and another in the July 2023.

"We were clear that had this law been in effect, it might not have changed the outcome," Seifried said. "In discussing with the fathers, we were surprised to learn that there was no reason or procedure for the judges to learn about the background of the individual conducting the visits if both parents agreed to the individual."

The new law requires volunteer supervisors to be court-approved after they provide an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation criminal history background check, an affidavit stating who resides in their home, and whether the volunteer has mental health or substance abuse issues.

"This bill is more focused on giving the judge all available information to ensure kids are with good-charactered individuals during an already not ideal circumstance," she said.

In a statement released by the Senate Communications Office, Seifried and Lepak lauded the children's fathers, who they said "showed remarkable determination to prevent similar heartbreak for other families."

"This is a great example of turning grief into action in the service of others," Lepak said. "What a wonderful way to memorialize their children. Sen. Seifried did a great job listening to the fathers of Noe and little Billy, and forming what they learned into common-sense legislation that might someday prevent another tragedy."