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In The Know: State House votes to reinstate drug felony voters axed on November ballot

by | March 10th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

State House votes to reinstate drug felony voters axed on November ballot: By the slimmest margin, the Oklahoma House of Representatives decided Thursday that voters might not have fully understood what they were doing when they passed a criminal justice referendum in November. With 51 votes, the bare minimum needed, the members passed House Bill 1482, by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, which in its original form took a big hunk out of State Question 780, which reclassified many lesser drug and property felonies as misdemeanors [Tulsa World]. Learn more about HB 1482 and how to contact your Legislators here.

Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates): Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee [OK Policy].

Payday loan legislation resurfaces: A measure that riled up consumer protection advocates and religious leaders this year died in committee, or so they thought. A measure that would allow what opponents call predatory lending practices has resurfaced in the other chamber [HB 1913]. For a few years now, cash advance companies have pushed for what they’ve called flex loans or installment loans. They increase the cap on small loans [Journal Record]. Learn more about HB 1913 and how to contact your Legislators about it here.

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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

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.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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In The Know: Will more money come to education through the lottery? House approves measure that could generate $20M

by | March 9th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Advocacy Alert

This morning, the Oklahoma House of Representatives is expected to take up HB 1913, a bill being promoted by the payday loan industry that would authorize a new loan product that could change 17 percent monthly interest. OK Policy is concerned that these loans would cause greater hardship on the most financially vulnerable Oklahomans. Please see our advocacy alert to learn more about the bill and how to contact your legislator.

Today In The News

Will more money come to education through the lottery? House approves measure that could generate $20M: After years of lobbying by the state lottery commission and education officials, the House agreed to change the way lottery revenue is allocated. The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a measure that could generate about $20 million a year for education, although not necessarily teacher raises [Tulsa World]. Why didn’t the lottery solve Oklahoma’s education funding problems? [OK Policy]

North Tulsa, Panhandle lawmakers debate meaning of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill: State Rep. Casey Murdock, a Republican from the far western edge of the Panhandle at Felt, said it didn’t occur to him that a bill called “The Blue Lives Matter in Oklahoma Act” [HB 1306] might be interpreted as having racial overtones. Rep. Regina Goodwin, from Tulsa’s near north side, informed Murdock otherwise [Tulsa World].

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Oklahoma’s budget crisis requires new revenue (Guest post: Joe Dorman)

by | March 8th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Joe Dorman

Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). He previously served for 12 years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and has been actively involved in numerous civic, leadership, and youth-development organizations, including Leadership Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Academy.

In the last several weeks, a lot of eyes have been focused on Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall and the effect it may have on our state. We have heard a lot of talk about revolving funds, off-the-top spending, structural imbalances and dozens of other terms capitol insiders use to describe the current budget crunch.

All of that sounds complicated, but if you break down its major components, the state budget is not unlike the personal budgets that families manage. Simply put, you need your income to be greater than your expenses. If it isn’t, you are in trouble.

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In The Know: House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios

by | March 8th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios: Several state agencies have been asked to report how they would approach a 14.5 percent budget cut next year. In an email obtained by The Oklahoman, the state House’s deputy fiscal director asked agencies to send their reports to the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee. Nicole McPhetridge wrote that revenue projections announced in February triggered the request. While speaking on a political news podcast this week, House Appropriation Chair Leslie Osborn invoked a 14.5 percent scenario where education funding remained the same while other agencies took cuts. [NewsOK] Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says he’s cautiously optimistic after overall collections to the state treasury last month were slightly higher than those from the same month last year. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma House passes phased-in teacher pay raise measure: The Oklahoma House has overwhelmingly passed legislation that calls for a $6,000 raise for public school teachers over three years, although lawmakers have not figured out how to pay for it. The House voted 92-7 for the bill on Tuesday and sent it to the Senate. The bill by Republican Rep. Michael Rogers of Broken Arrow calls for a $1,000 raise next year, $2,000 the following year and $3,000 in the third year. [NewsOK] The main challenge for lawmakers is still figuring out how to pay for it. They can’t do that without some kind of tax increase. [OK Policy]

Federal Budget Knife Could Slash Into K-12 Programs: President Donald Trump’s push to drastically reduce domestic spending as a way to boost defense spending could have a significant impact on programs at the U.S. Department of Education, where the biggest streams of funding go toward low-income students and those with special needs. Early last week, Trump announced a proposal to increase defense-related spending by $54 billion in fiscal 2018, which begins in October, and to cut nondefense discretionary spending by a corresponding figure. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the House subcommittee that appropriates money for the Education Department, last week referenced the possibility of $18 billion to $20 billion in cuts to the portion of the budget that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. [Education Week]

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“Small loan” bill would mean big debts for Oklahoma families

For many Oklahomans in a financial trouble, payday loans can seem like a quick and easy fix. Borrowers can take out a payday loan for up to $500, secured by a post-dated check, usually for a period of 12 to 14 days. Under Oklahoma’s deferred deposit lending act, payday lenders can charge $45 in fees for a $300 loan, which amounts to an APR (annual percentage rate) of 391 percent.

While some borrowers turn to payday loans for an emergency car repair or other one-time needs, the industry’s successful business model is built on repeated borrowing by customers facing chronic financial difficulties. Data from Oklahoma’s payday loan database revealed that a majority of all loans went to borrowers who took out twelve or more loans over the course of a year — or an average of more than one loan a month.1 Fifty-three percent of all borrowers took out seven or more loans in a year, compared to just 28 percent who took out three loans or less. The average customer who comes up chronically short of being able to pay their monthly bills paid $324 in fees to payday lenders in 2014.

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In The Know: Struggles at Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs start with staffing issues, payroll analysis indicates

by | March 7th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Struggles at Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs start with staffing issues, payroll analysis indicates: Imagine going to work at a company where nearly two-thirds of the workforce will have moved on in less than two years. That’s the reality at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, where the turnover rate was 62 percent between 2014 and 2016, according to a Tulsa World analysis of payroll data. The high turnover, coupled with overtime cuts and a recent increase in part-time staff hours worked, has put a squeeze on current agency staff, the data suggests [Tulsa World].

Legislature again takes up the shrinking county tax giveaway: One of the worst legislative ideas we’ve ever seen — the shrinking county tax giveaway — has reared its ugly head again this year. House Bill 1156 would give a 100 percent income-tax exemption for five years to anyone who moves from outside the state to an Oklahoma county with a shrinking population. So, if someone moved from Coffeyville, Kansas, to South Coffeyville, for example, we’d forgive their taxes for five years [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Four Weeks into the Session, a Closer Look at Where Things Stand: State lawmakers are officially at the one-quarter point of this year’s legislative session after wrapping up four weeks’ worth of work. So far only one bill – the Real ID compliance act – has made it through the Legislature and been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. And there remains plenty to do to find a solution to the state’s $878 million budget gap and tackle the hundreds of bills that remain at alive this point. Here are five takeaways from what the Legislature has accomplished so far and what is on the horizon for coming weeks and months [Oklahoma Watch].

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The progressive case for increasing the cigarette tax

by | March 6th, 2017 | Posted in Taxes | Comments (1)

Out of all the revenue options that Oklahoma has to fix a deep budget hole, the one getting the most attention from legislative leaders is increasing the cigarette tax. Last year’s attempt to increase the cigarette tax received a majority of votes in the House, but it fell short of the three-fourths supermajority required by State Question 640 for any tax increase, with Democrats making up the biggest block of no votes.

The Republican leadership is trying again this year for a $1.50 per package increase in the cigarette tax with HB 1841, but to get it done they will need some votes from House Democrats. The biggest objection from Democrats is that a cigarette tax increase is regressive — taxing a larger share of income from the poorest Oklahomans — and would result in a troubling tax shift after recent income tax and gross production tax cuts that predominately benefited wealthy individuals and large corporations.

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In The Know: Pawnee Nation Sues Oklahoma Oil Companies in Tribal Court Over Earthquake Damage

by | March 6th, 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Pawnee Nation Sues Oklahoma Oil Companies in Tribal Court Over Earthquake Damage: A Native American tribe here has filed a lawsuit in its own tribal court system accusing several oil companies of causing an earthquake that damaged near-century-old tribal buildings. The Pawnee Nation alleges in its lawsuit filed Friday that wastewater injected into wells operated by the defendants caused the 5.8-magnitude quake in September. The tribe is seeking compensation for damage to public and personal property and market value losses, as well as punitive damages. The case will be heard in the tribe’s district court, with a jury composed of Pawnee Nation members [Associated Press].

District 28 voters return to polls to fill vacancy: Voters in Oklahoma’s House District 28 will head back to the polls on Tuesday just four months after re-electing Rep. Tom Newell, who resigned weeks after the election. Following Newell’s departure, a special election was called for March 7 when Democrat and Republican primaries will be held. A general election race between the highest Democrat and Republican vote recipients will take place May 9 [NewsOK]. Tuesday’s election in central Oklahoma also includes city and school bond questions [NewsOK].

Legislator requires Muslims who want to see him at Capitol to answer questions, including ‘Do you beat your wife?’ State Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, confirmed Friday that three Muslim students visiting his office on Thursday as part of Muslim Day activities were handed tracts that, among other things, asked “Do you beat your wife?” Bennett is critical of Islam and Islamic leaders, having called Islam “a cancer,” and has often clashed with the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Oklahoma, which sponsored the Muslim Day activities. The organization’s executive director, Adam Soltani, said the students went to Bennett’s office “to speak with him as Oklahoma citizens.” [Tulsa World]

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Lawmakers have time to fix this budget crisis, if they choose to (Capitol Updates)

by | March 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates | Comments (1)

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.

The reaction to Lt. Governor Todd Lamb’s resignation from the governor’s cabinet over opposition to her proposal to add the sales tax to services has been overdone. Lamb, who’s planning a governor’s race next year, wanted to separate himself from an unpopular tax proposal, and to some extent, from a governor who might become a liability in next year’s election. Without some dramatic action, Lamb likely felt that his 8-year association with Governor Fallin as her Lt. Governor would hurt his chances in a competitive race.

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