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Today In The News

Lawmaker Predicts Special Session This Fall: The 2017 session may not be over for long. Rep. Jason Dunnington now predicts a special session will be held this fall. The main reason why is based on a lawsuit that was filed not even two weeks after the session ended. Two tobacco companies are suing the state over the cigarette fee that was passed on the final day of session [News9].

Oklahoma City school district to give pay raises to teachers, principals: The Oklahoma City School Board on Monday night unanimously approved retroactive pay raises for about 4,250 workers, with experienced teachers and principals set to receive the largest increases. Board members, however, voted down raises totaling nearly $1 million for 202 central office staff and select operations workers, including members of Superintendent Aurora Lora’s cabinet [NewsOK].

Highs and lows of Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session (Part 1): At the start of session, OK Policy laid out our top priorities in the areas of budget and taxes, health care, education, criminal justice and economic opportunity. As the session developed, we achieved some victories with good bills and helped stop even more harmful bills from becoming law. And there were plenty of disappointments in the form of promising legislation that died along the way. Here are our staff’s recaps of the major highs and lows of the 2017 session in the issue areas where we were most deeply engaged [OK Policy].

Making the grade: Oklahoma leaders, legislators give 2017 legislative session a C-: Although the legislative session ended with a budget that covered a nearly $900 million shortfall, recent legal challenges have placed that budget in jeopardy. While it remains to be seen if the approved budget will stand, legislative leaders are already reflecting on this past session. The Oklahoma Economic Report asked several state leaders to grade the legislative session. This year’s composite grade is a C-, which is the lowest ever recorded [KFOR].

Capitol Update: What supporters of SQ 640 didn’t foresee: This is the first year that SQ 640 has come into play. In 1992, SQ 640 put the requirement in the state constitution that compels a three-fourths majority vote in the House and Senate to enact revenue bills. For most of the years since 1992 the measure served to kill any talk of revenue raising by the Legislature. Legislators were content to avoid the bitter pill of voting on tax increases by adhering to the consensus that a three-fourths majority is just too high a hurdle. The prevailing view held that the Legislature “can’t” raise taxes [OK Policy].

Kansas experiment yields valuable lessons: You’re welcome, America. Our state, Kansas, just wrapped up a 5-year long experiment in governance from which the other 49 states can now glean some important lessons. The Kansas Legislature has voted to roll back much of the 2012 package of tax cuts that sent the state into a downward spiral of financial instability and weakened the Kansas’ public schools, universities, Medicaid program, and virtually everything else that the state funds. With the state facing yet another budget shortfall of $900 million, government leaders decided that enough was enough [Heidi Holliday / OK Policy]. The Kansas tax cut experiment has a close cousin in Oklahoma [OK Policy].

Advocates say more is needed to combat Oklahoma’s addiction scourge: Advocates gave the Oklahoma Legislature a mediocre score on addressing the state’s addiction scourge. While there were some victories in this year’s session, failure of several criminal justice reform measures to make it to the governor’s desk was a huge loss, they said. Those bills were, in part, meant to keep as many nonviolent drug abusers out of prison as possible [NewsOK]. The approach taken by Justice Reform Task Force could be the solution Oklahoma desperately needs [OK Policy].

Criminal justice reform: ‘We’re making them meaner in prison’: The leaders of criminal justice reform efforts in Oklahoma say the state needs change for two reasons: Outrageous system costs are busting the state budget, and mass incarceration harms public safety and security. But several Oklahoma district attorneys and their allies say conflating those two notions is a mistake. They fear advocates are pushing too many reforms too quickly without considering unintended consequences [NonDoc].

Oklahoma schools using food trucks to combat child hunger in summer months: On an early June morning, Taylor Wedman heaved the last of the cargo into the back of the van. Coolers and cardboard boxes filled with PB&Js, apple slice pouches, cartons of milk — enough for 150 lunches. From the Roblyer Middle School parking lot, the assistant child nutrition director at El Reno Public Schools headed to his first stop of the day, Adams Park, where he knew hungry football players waited [NewsOK]. Oklahoma school meals programs bring new strategies to fight child hunger [OK Policy].

Oklahoma City sees second consecutive monthly sales tax increase: Oklahoma City’s sales tax collections are up 3.7 percent, the second consecutive monthly increase after a lengthy slide. The city received $32.9 million from the Oklahoma Tax Commission after accounting for the state’s processing fee and interest earned, including almost $17 million for the general fund, the account for everyday expenses. “That makes two months in a row of positive growth in sales tax,” said Doug Dowler, the budget director [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Transportation Secretary to retire after eight years: Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley, who has worked with the state’s network of roads and bridges for more than 50 years, is retiring. Gov. Mary Fallin said Monday that the retirement of 71-year-old Ridley is effective immediately. He has served as secretary of transportation since 2009. Ridley began working for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation in 1965 as an equipment operator. He rose through the ranks of the department and was named director in 2001. He retired as director in 2013 [Associated Press].

Oklahoma enters third year of oil-, gas-driven economic downturn: Norman’s June sales tax receipts are up 2.56 percent above last year’s, but Finance Director Anthony Francisco isn’t celebrating yet. Sales tax in June 2016 was down 5 percent below 2015 tax receipts so this month’s narrow growth was built on a downtrend economy. Still, growth is growth. “It is a positive indicator,” Francisco said [Norman Transcript].

Oklahoma Democrats pin hopes on new 24-year-old leader: Oklahoma Republicans like to boast that their state is the reddest of the red, with their party holding every statewide elected office and every one of the state’s seats in Congress. Democrats hoping to chip away at the Republican stranglehold have pinned their hopes on Anna Langthorn, a 24-year-old woman who has logged more than five years in the political trenches. While acknowledging her age may raise eyebrows, the newly elected chairwoman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party hopes it will also help her to fan a growing enthusiasm in the state, especially among other young people, to shake up Oklahoma’s political system [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“This wage increase is being proposed now because the district was waiting for some certainty regarding common education funding. We would have loved to make this decision earlier, but the Legislature didn’t fund education in a timely manner.”

– Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora, on providing pay increases to the district’s teachers (Source)

Number of the Day

58,665

Felony cases filed in Oklahoma in FY 2016.

Source: Oklahoma Supreme Court

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The New Tool That Could Revolutionize How We Measure Justice: The enormity of the country’s criminal justice system — 15,000 state and local courts, 18,000 local law enforcement agencies, more than two million prisoners — looks even more daunting when you consider how little we know about what is actually going on in there. Want to know who we prosecute and why? Good luck. Curious about how many people are charged with misdemeanors each year? Can’t tell you. How about how many people reoffend after prison? We don’t really know that, either. … This week the nonprofit Measures for Justice is launching an online tool meant to shine a high beam into these dark corners [The Marshall Project]. Explore the online tool [Measures for Justice].

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