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Senate Republicans release agenda, but no easy answers for how to accomplish it (Capitol Update)

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz and members of the Senate Republican Caucus announcing their 2017 legislative agenda

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

State Senate Republicans, who hold 42 of the 48 seats in the Senate, held a press conference this week and outlined their agenda for the 2017 legislative session in a press release. President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus said “Senate Republicans are united in our desire to implement ideas and policies that will help our state’s economy grow and put us on a long-term path to prosperity. Helping our economy grow means more good paying jobs for Oklahoma families and more resources to fund core government services without raising taxes.”

To support education the Senate Republican plan includes respecting and supporting teachers by removing obstacles to a teachers’ ability to help students learn and achieve; reducing administrative costs to increase teacher salaries; allowing parents, taxpayers and local school boards to more closely direct and increase the quality of classroom education; and ensuring accountability measures to provide parents and taxpayers a useful and accurate reflection of school performance and student achievement.

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In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin to propose major overhaul of the state’s tax system

by | February 3rd, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Gov. Mary Fallin to propose major overhaul of the state’s tax system: Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday said she will propose a major overhaul of the state’s tax system. Fallin spoke to reporters during a legislative forum at the Capitol. She will deliver her state of the state address to lawmakers Monday and release her proposed budget. With the downturn in the energy industry, the past few years have been challenging, she said [Tulsa World].

Governor’s task force calls for decreasing sentences for drug crimes: Faced with a rapidly growing prison population in a state with the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation, a task force created by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued a report Thursday calling for dramatic decreases in sentences for nonviolent drug dealers and manufacturers. Without reform, Oklahoma is on pace to add 7,218 inmates over the next 10 years, requiring three new prisons and costing the state an additional $1.9 billion in capital expenditures and operating costs, the report said [NewsOK]. The recommendations can be found here

Drug possession close to schools would become felony again under Biggs’ bill: Scott Biggs has an expanded leadership role in the legislature this year, but that hasn’t stopped District 51 Republican from crafting bills he believes are near to his constituents’ hearts. One such bill is HB 1482, called the, “Keep Oklahoma Children Safe from Illegal Drugs Act of 2017.” Biggs filed over 40 bills during the 2017 legislative session, and a couple joint resolutions making him one of the more active representatives in the Republican Party [The Express-Star].

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In The Know: Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma

by | February 2nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Amazon Expected to Collect Sales Taxes Soon in Oklahoma: Online retail giant Amazon could soon start charging sales taxes to Oklahoma customers – a move that would help fill a sizable state budget shortfall for next fiscal year, Oklahoma Watch has learned. An Oklahoma Tax Commission official said the agency is in discussions with online retailers to voluntarily collect sales and use taxes, and two state legislators said they expect agreements could be struck in coming weeks or months with Amazon, the country’s largest e-commerce site [Oklahoma Watch]. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that Oklahoma lost $140 million in unpaid use tax revenues from e-commerce in 2012 [OK Policy].

Oklahoma House Speaker says new oversight panel to review expenditures: Oklahoma’s new Republican House Speaker Charles McCall is setting up a special committee to review and approve House expenditures in excess of $15,000. McCall announced the creation of the new committee on Wednesday based on a recommendation from a special panel that is investigating a $44,500 wrongful-termination settlement with a former employee who alleged she was sexually harassed [NewsOK].

OPI looks to reduce burden for people who can’t pay court fines: The Oklahoma Policy Institute is calling on the state Legislature to make big changes to save citizens money and keep people who miss court fees out of jail. “Too often this leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty,” said Ryan Gentzler, with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The call aims to reduce financial burdens for people who are thrown in jail because they can’t pay court fines [KOCO].

The Cost Trap: How Excessive Fees Lock Oklahomans Into the Criminal Justice System without Boosting State Revenue: Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year and come out with thousands of dollars in legal financial obligations. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can amount to most of their family’s income, and it often leads to a cycle of incarceration and poverty. The system does nothing to improve public safety but incurs high costs to law enforcement, jails, and the courts [OK Policy]. Video from the report’s press conference is available here

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New OK Policy report shows how criminal fines and fees trap Oklahomans in justice system without increasing state revenues

by | February 1st, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year, and many come out owing thousands of dollars in fines and fees. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can swallow up most of their family’s income and trap them in a cycle of incarceration and poverty. Dozens of state agencies receive funding from these fees, which have been used to plug holes in their budgets as tax revenue dries up. However, because most criminal defendants are already in poverty, only a small fraction of criminal fines and fees are ever collected, and state and local governments in Oklahoma spend far more incarcerating people for nonpayment.

A new report from Oklahoma Policy Institute examines the growth of fines and fees in recent years; how increasing court debt impacts the justice system poor Oklahomans; and the role that fine and fee revenue has come to play in state agencies’ budgets. The report also lays out recommendations for reform.

You can find the executive summary and full report here.

In The Know: Oklahoma’s brand-new drug law on chopping block

by | February 1st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma’s brand-new drug law on chopping block: Oklahoma lawmakers could reverse the choice voters made three months ago to soften anti-drug laws. Legislators filed seven bills that would significantly change the language adopted by voters in State Questions 780 and 781. As a result of the vote, most drug possession crimes were reclassified as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Voters reduced the sentences that could be given to people convicted of drug possession and also supported funding county rehabilitation programs. State Sen. Ralph Shortey said people didn’t understand what they were voting for because the ballot’s summary paragraph, or gist, was only 200 words [NewsOK]. Oklahoma Policy Institute formally endorsed State Questions 780 and 781 in January, joining a wide and politically diverse coalition focused on reducing incarceration rates and addressing the root causes of crime [OK Policy].

Speaker Charles McCall puts Real ID, teacher pay at top of priority list for state House: Implementing Real ID and passing a teacher pay raise are priorities for House Speaker Charles McCall in the upcoming session that starts Feb. 6. McCall, R-Atoka, is serving his first session as leader of the lower chamber. On Tuesday, McCall said he is optimistic lawmakers can pass a phased-in teacher pay raise and come up with the funding for the first year, despite an $868 million budget hole [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Issues Record-Breaking Number Of Emergency Teaching Certificates: The teaching shortage in Oklahoma is breaking new records. In a meeting last week, the state board of education granted 43 more emergency teaching certificates to schools across the state. That’s the largest number of emergency teaching certificates issued at one time. Most schools already have at least one certified emergency teacher but a new grant adds more, specifically in Jenks, Broken Arrow and throughout Muskogee and Tulsa Counties [NewsOn6].

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In The Know: Oklahoma lawmakers speak out on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban

by | January 31st, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (2)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers speak out on President Donald Trump’s immigration ban: Senator James Lankford led the discussion among Oklahoma Lawmakers Monday regarding President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Lankford says though he agrees we have a responsibility to secure the homeland and reminds people this is just a 90-day pause. Lankford also noted that the order is not ban on Muslims or a change in immigration policy. “However, this executive action has some unintended consequences that were not well thought out. I encourage the President’s staff to evaluate American policy with an eye on both security and compassion for the refugees fleeing the terrors of war and persecution,” said Lankford [KJRH]. Rep. Steve Russell said he plans to ask for exemptions, and is also seeking to form a ‘Warriors Caucus’ of congressional representatives who have served in the military [NewsOK].

University of Oklahoma students hold rally on immigration ban: Monday, students at the University of Oklahoma held a rally days after President Trump announced an executive order regarding immigration. The rally comes one day after the university released a statement regarding the immigration ban. University of Oklahoma President David Boren spoke at the rally saying, “We’re here to send a message today. We cherish the Constitution now and forever and we will defend it to the last breath.” [KJRH]

Imam Imad Enchassi: Muslims in the Bible Belt: Imad Enchassi, an imam who founded the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, grew up in Palestinian refugee camps in war-torn Lebanon and ended up in the heart of the Bible Belt. He talks about treatment of Muslims in a Christian-dominant society, his boyhood memories of a nun and the good will that arose out of the evil of the Oklahoma City bombing [Oklahoma Watch].

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In The Know: State groups condemn U.S. immigration ban

by | January 30th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

‘Cruel and dangerous’: State groups condemn U.S. immigration ban: Social justice and civil rights organizations are speaking out against President Donald Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban immigrants from coming to the United States. The order issued Friday calls for a four-month ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. The Frontier sought comment from Oklahoma’s congressional delegation over the weekend. On Sunday, U.S. Sen. James Lankford’s office issued a statement that neither supported nor opposed the policy but criticized its impact [The Frontier].

OU urges students affected by immigration order not to travel outside United States: OU President David Boren issued a statement urging students affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration to remain in the country, or to return to the U.S. as quickly as possible. Trump’s executive order banned travel to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Currently, 113 international students from those countries are enrolled at OU, according to OU Press Secretary Matt Epting [OU Daily].

Sykes’ bill would broaden residency definition for college students: As funding for higher education continues to dwindle, one state senator has proposed a bill that could take more money from the system. The state’s two public research institutions get a substantial majority of their tuition receipts from out-of-state tuition, and Senate Bill 400 would cut the number of students required to pay the elevated rate. State Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, sponsored the bill, which would change the residency requirements for Oklahoma’s publicly funded schools. Students would qualify for in-state tuition if they have a grandparent who lives in the state. Although it would bring in less tuition money, a former Oklahoma State University president said the measure could pay for itself [Journal Record].

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The Weekly Wonk: The 2017 Legislative Primer, long-acting reversible contraceptives, and more

by | January 29th, 2017 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week, we released our updated 2017 Legislative Primer, which providers information about the upcoming Legislative session in a concise, user-friendly format. We also recently updated our State Budget Guide. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam evaluated a local initiative providing education and access to highly effective long-acting reversible contraceptives and found that it had decreased Tulsa County’s teen birth rate. Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column made the cast against confirming fast food czar Andy Puzder to be Secretary of Labor. 

OK Policy in the News

In its coverage of our 2017 State Budget Summit, KWGS shared highlights of Blatt’s discussion of Oklahoma’s budget crisis and Putnam’s presentation on the threats posed by turning federal entitlement programs into block grants. OETA covered the State Budget Summit as part of a segment on the state’s budget crisis. The Editorial Board of the Enid News & Eagle quoted Blatt in their remembrances of Oklahoma journalist Frosty Troy

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In The Know: Everything ‘on the table’ as lawmakers tackle $868 million budget hole, Republican Senate leader says

by | January 27th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Learn how to influence your legislators! Together Oklahoma will hold Legislative 101 trainings in Tulsa this Saturday, January 28th; in Norman this Saturday, January 28th; and in Oklahoma City this Sunday, January 29th. Click through to learn more and to RSVP in your city.

Everything ‘on the table’ as lawmakers tackle $868 million budget hole, Republican Senate leader says: Everything, including new revenue sources, “will have to be on the table” as lawmakers grapple with an $868 million budget hole, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz said Thursday. “There is no one thing, no silver bullet” that will solve the problem, Schulz said during a morning press conference at the Tulsa Press Club. “Certainly, discussions are going on about revenue-raising measures.” Among those measures are a broadening of the state sales tax to services not currently taxed, accelerated elimination of a renewable energy tax credit and an increase in the state tobacco tax [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma on Track for $2B Budget Hole by 2030: You’ve heard this before, but it’s just as true today — Oklahoma is locked into a structural budget deficit. “Or, even simpler, we’re broke,” said Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt at the group’s fourth annual budget summit in Oklahoma City. “The structural budget deficit was already almost $700 million in 2015. Based on current policies, that will climb to $2 billion by 2030, about 15 percent of revenues.” [KWGS] Our January 2017 Budget Trends and Outlook fact sheet is available here

Be prepared for the 2017 session with the new Legislative Primer: How many bills were filed this year? What are the steps for a bill to become law? Who’s in Governor Fallin’s cabinet? As the 2017 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more. Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2017 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format [OK Policy]. We’ve also recently released our updated Online Budget Guide

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Be prepared for the 2017 session with the new Legislative Primer

by | January 26th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Matters, Featured Home Page | Comments (5)

How many bills were filed this year? What are the steps for a bill to become law? Who’s in Governor Fallin’s cabinet? As the 2017 Oklahoma Legislative session gets underway, our newly updated Legislative Primer will answer these questions and more.

Whether you are a veteran advocate, a complete novice to Oklahoma politics, or anyone in between, the 2017 Legislative Primer will provide you invaluable information in a concise, user-friendly format. You are welcome to download, print, and distribute the Legislative Primer to anyone who may need it to figure out what’s happening at the Capitol.

We also invite you to check out “What’s That?”, our online glossary of terms related to Oklahoma politics and government, and the newly updated Online Budget Guide, an in-depth resource for understanding how our state and local governments collect and spend money. 

We hope these tools will help to empower your advocacy for a better Oklahoma. If you’re interested in getting more involved with other grassroots advocates for better budget and tax policies in Oklahoma, we invite you to sign up at Together Oklahoma.

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