Juvenile justice, child welfare, suicide get attention (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

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. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Dealing with continuing social issues has been front and center at the Capitol of late.  Juvenile justice, child welfare and suicide prevention received attention.  The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Crain, heard a couple of interim studies dealing with juvenile justice. 

The first, requested by Sen. A.J. Griffin, looked into the possibility of passing legislation next year requiring courts to consider the competency of a juvenile to stand trial in a delinquency proceeding.  A delinquent act is an act that would be a crime if the young person were an adult.  The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held several years ago that a juvenile charged with delinquency must go to trial without the court considering whether he or she is able to understand the proceedings and aid in his or her defense.  The court reasoned that the end result of delinquency adjudication is “treatment” rather than “punishment” so the rights involved in an adult criminal proceeding do not apply.  It turns out that Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that denies a juvenile the right to raise the competency issue before trial.

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Oklahoma continues to lead U.S. for deepest cuts to education

by | October 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (1)

education-cutsLast year, Oklahoma had the dubious honor of having made the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession in 2008. Now an update from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that our lead has widened. Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma’s per student school formula funding has dropped 23.6 percent over the past six years, significantly more than in any other state.

Oklahoma is one of 20 states that continued to cut education funding this year, even as the economy recovers, leaving per student spending $857 below pre-recession levels after inflation. Although the Legislature and Governor Fallin provided a $41 million increase to the school funding formula in this year’s budget, it was not enough to keep up with inflation and rising enrollment. This year Oklahoma’s state aid funding per student dropped another $21 after inflation. Total state appropriations for the support of schools is $172 million below what it was in fiscal year 2008, even before accounting for inflation.

That may come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following what is happening in our schools. As Booker T. Washington High School teacher John Waldron wrote last week on our blog, schools have been left fighting with each other over too few resources, as class sizes increase and entire programs are eliminated. Oklahoma’s standards for class sizes and up-to-date textbooks were suspended when the recession hit. Since then lawmakers have repeatedly voted to suspend the standards because schools still can’t afford to meet them. Kids are using textbooks without covers or held together with duct tape. Schools began this academic year with more than 800 teacher vacancies statewide, and they’re still struggling to hire people because teachers can get much better pay in any of our neighboring states.

“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report released today.

The Center’s full report can be found here.

In The Know: Oklahoma leads the U.S. in education cuts for 2nd straight year

by | October 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Oklahoma leads the nation for the second straight year in the percentage of per-student spending cuts, according to a new report. The Governor’s Coordinating Council on Seismic Activity held its first meeting earlier this month, but the council can’t write rules, it has no formal responsibilities or authority and it is not planning on preparing a report or making any policy recommendations.

OK Policy wrote about how the state’s judges are chosen, what’s at stake in the elections, and how you can learn about the candidates. The blood lead levels of children living in Ottawa County and the Tar Creek Superfund cleanup site have been falling since 1997

The Oklahoman Editorial Board argued that the state was right to continue to postpone pending executions. The large gap between educational attainment and workforce needs continues to grow in Oklahoma; only two in ten high school graduates earn a post-secondary certificate or degree.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s elementary school teachers who are women. In today’s Policy Note, a new study has found that the number of emergency room visits falls dramatically within a year when low-income adults are enrolled in public health coverage. 

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Judges on the Ballot in Oklahoma: What you need to know

by | October 15th, 2014 | Posted in Elections | Comments (3)
Photo by julochka.

Photo by julochka.

This post is by OK Policy intern Forrest Farjadian. He is a senior at the University of Tulsa studying political science and Spanish.

Oklahoma is one of 39 states where voters have a role in selecting judges. On November 4, nine appellate court justices will appear on the statewide ballot for retention. Voters in many parts of the state will also be asked to select district and associate district judges in nonpartisan, competitive elections. Judicial elections usually don’t attract as much publicity as other races, so we’re taking a look at how judges are chosen, what’s at stake in the elections, and how you can learn about the candidates.

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“The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform” Dr. Lawrence R. Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota

by | October 15th, 2014 | Posted in Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Oklahoma Scholars Strategy Network & Oklahoma Policy Institute invite you to hear Dr. Lawrence R. Jacobs, Director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota on Monday, November 10th at the Jim Thorpe Association & Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame Event Center, 4040 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City. Lunch will be served at 11:45am.

Dr. Jacobs will give a public talk on “The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform”. The 2014 elections are likely to strengthen the power of Republicans in Congress, where Democrats may lose their majority. The Republican victory may, ironically, end up being good news for health reform by shifting the opposition from repeal toward accepting the Affordable Care Act and focusing both parties on reforms of its basic structure. This shift will be fostered by the institutional checks in Washington, the expansion of state health reform, and the new set of rights and expectations that are emerging. 

Jacobs has published 14 books and edited volumes and dozens of articles on elections, legislative and presidential politics, elections and public opinion, and a range of public policies including health care reform and American politics. His book, Health Care Reform and American Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (revised and updated 2012), co-authored with Dr. Theda Skocpol, provides a definitive account of the political struggles that led to passage of the Affordable Care Act and the impact of the new law on American health care. Dr. Jacobs is a member of the national Steering Committee of the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN) and Director of the Minneapolis-St. Paul SSN Regional Network.
Seating is limited so please reserve your spot today!

In The Know: State Supreme Court hears arguments in tax cut challenge

by | October 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Oklahoma Supreme Court justices interrupted the state’s solicitor general repeatedly with questions during oral argument in a case challenging the constitutionality of an income tax cut passed earlier this year. State Health Commissioner Terry Cline says no cases of Ebola have been reported in Oklahoma, but the state is ready in case of outbreak.

The OK Policy Blog examines two state ballot questions that would expand property tax breaks for certain military personnel and their families. An editorial in The Oklahoman pointed out that a bill to expand DNA testing of persons charged with some crimes might be set back by testimony from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that thousands of tests already mandated under existing law go undone. 

Only 2 percent of U.S. colleges and universities are giving students the best tools for success, according to a new report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma is among them. Protesters are planning to demonstrate at Oklahoma City University’s International Energy Conference this week.

The Number of the Day is the number of active underground storage tanks in Oklahoma carrying hazardous substances or petroleum. In today’s Policy Note, Politico surveys the fluid, confusing legal environment facing immigration courts as thousands of migrant children from Central America process through the system, many without representation.

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SQ 770 & 771 would expand property tax breaks for some veterans and their families

by | October 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

pennsylvania national guardAfter Oklahoma voters decided twenty state questions in 2010 and 2012, including several broad and contentious issues, this November’s ballot may seem anticlimactic. Oklahoma voters will have just three state questions to decide, none of which are especially momentous. Two of these, SQ 770 & SQ 771, involve homestead exemptions for certain military personnel and their families.

In Oklahoma, most homeowners get the first $1,000 of the assessed value of their primary residence, also known as their homestead, exempted from property tax.  Some categories of homeowners, including low-income families and seniors, are provided a larger exemption.

In 2004, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved SQ 715. The measure amended the state Constitution (Article X, Section 8E) to fully exempt veterans with a 100 percent permanent disability from paying any property tax on their homestead property. The exemption also applied to the disabled veteran’s surviving spouse.

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In The Know: Attorney General says state not ready for executions

by | October 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Despite earlier reassurances from the Department of Corrections that the state was prepared to move forward with executions scheduled for November, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt has filed a 60-day stay on all upcoming executions. The family of Clayton Lockett, who was killed during a botched, 43-minute execution in April, is planning to sue Gov. Fallin and the state’s execution team, claiming that the procedure constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments today in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent, which claims that an income tax cut passed and signed into last spring is unconstitutional. We’ve written about the lawsuit before. Steven K. Mullins, a top attorney in Gov. Fallin’s administration is applying for an open seat on the state Court of Criminal Appeals. A Judicial Nomination Commission will narrow the field of 11 applicants down to three, one of whom is then chosen by Gov. Fallin to fill the open seat. Last week, during an intermission of an interim study on the state’s Common Core repeal, some educators and parents requested assistance fighting changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum. Opponents claim that the new curriculum overemphasizes the role of racism and oppression in American history.

Google has designated Tulsa an eCity of the year, citing the state’s strong online business community. The award is given to one city in each state, with Edmond having received it last  year. The cost for the city of Tulsa to house municipal inmates in the Tulsa Jail may increase in November from $45 per inmate per day to $52.02, plus a new $118 booking fee. Oklahoma City Public Schools plans to recruit 150 community members to help the district devise a district improvement plan focusing on student learning and achievement.

Owasso residents will have the chance to vote on a half-cent sales tax increase in January. City officials say that the tax will help cover things the general revenue fund can’t. The water level in Skiatook Lake is over 15 feet below normal, the lowest level noted since the lake’s impoundment in 1984, due to drought and the lake’s small drainage area. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s public elementary school teachers who are women. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post explains why connecting employees to social services can reduce employee turnover, particularly in entry-level, low-income jobs.

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State Question 769: Allowing military guard and reserve members to hold elected office (Guest Post: David Dickerson)

by | October 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections, State Questions | Comments (4)
Oklahoma Air National Guard soldiers prepare to conduct search and rescue operations in Moore after the May 2013 tornado. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James.

Oklahoma Air National Guard conduct search and rescue operations after the Moore May 2013 tornado. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James.

David Dickerson is a retired military officer who served in the active component, Reserve, and National Guard. He now works as an advocate for veterans at the local, state, and national level.

During the last thirteen years of sustained war in Afghanistan and Iraq, National Guard and Reserve units and personnel have been deployed with unprecedented frequency to augment the active component forces. Thousands of Oklahoma’s National Guard and Reserve service members have served with distinction while having their “normal” lives disrupted. Some of those mobilized and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom also held elected and appointed offices in state and local governments.

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In The Know: Hispanic Oklahomans underrepresented in state government

by | October 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Analysis by Oklahoma Watch notes that despite a large and growing Hispanic population in Oklahoma, Hispanic legislators are underrepresented at all levels of Oklahoma’s government. Community leaders are working to not only convince Hispanic candidates to vote and run for office, and representatives from both political parties are increasingly urging Hispanic Oklahomans to get involved. The Tulsa World described some of the lower-profile statewide races, and The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board urged Oklahomans to vote in  upcoming elections. We’ve written about some of the factors prompting Oklahoma’s chronically low voter turnout before.

State officials reiterated that access to scholarships, such as Oklahoma’s Promise, is a major determining factor in whether Oklahoma students go to college. We’ve written about the mechanics of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship before. Oklahoma Watch discussed the disparity in college- and career-readiness forecasted by SAT and ACT results in Oklahoma: the SAT is taken by fewer than 5 percent of Oklahoma graduating seniors, but indicates that those who take it are overwhelmingly likely to be ready for college, while results from the more widely-taken ACT suggest that only one in five students are.

On the OK Policy Blog, a Tulsa high school teacher described how he sees the state’s education crisis play out in his classroom. The state Office of Juvenile Affairs is proposing opening a charter school inside its detention facilities, arguing that their students’ needs can’t be adequately handled by the local public school system. A new program from the state Department of Human services can provide intensive, home-based services to parents who are at risk of losing custody of their children. The recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Oklahoma has been somewhat subdued in Oklahoma’s rural counties, with only a few couples applying for marriage licenses outside the state’s metro areas. On Friday’s PolicyCast, we discussed a new report in which Oklahoma scored poorly on a nationwide ranking of the economic status of women. We’ve written about the topic before. 

A column in the Tulsa World explained why upcoming judicial elections are important, and urged voters to inform themselves before going to the polls. On average, Tulsa has the lowest gas prices in the US, according to industry analysts. Due to the current drought, Oklahoma wheat farmers are urging the USDA to implement a new crop insurance policy planned for 2016 ahead of schedule. The Number of the Day is the number of deaths due to stroke in Oklahoma in 2012. Strokes were the fifth leading cause of death in Oklahoma that year. In today’s Policy Note, Vox explains why racial disparities in the criminal justice system mean that African Americans are the people most likely to be affected by death penalty cases and least likely to have a say in those cases.

continue reading In The Know: Hispanic Oklahomans underrepresented in state government

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