In The Know: Criminal justice reforms await Governor’s signature

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

Senate approves criminal justice reforms: The full Senate has given bipartisan approval to a slate of common sense criminal justice reforms. The four measures, which were proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee, would still hold criminals accountable, but represent a better approach to dealing with nonviolent offenders that will help reduce chronic prison overcrowding, reduce recidivism, and ultimately help save taxpayer dollars [Norman Transcript]. Governor Fallin’s new, inclusive approach to criminal justice reform is bearing fruit [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Senate passes gun bill opposed by troopers, business groups: The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow people to openly carry firearms without a permit and without training. A total of 34 organizations — including the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Oklahoma State Troopers Association, universities, chambers of commerce and hospitals — sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman in opposition to House Bill 3098 and House Joint Resolution 1009, a proposed ballot measure intended to make it harder to regulate guns [NewsOK].

Oklahoma bill seeks to criminalize ‘revenge porn’: A bill that would make so-called “revenge porn” a crime has passed the Oklahoma House. Senate Bill 1257 would make it a misdemeanor to intentionally disseminate an explicit image of another person with an intent to harass or humiliate. It would be punishable by up to a year in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both [NewsOK].

Raising the felony theft threshold is smart — and overdue: If you steal a smartphone in Oklahoma, you could be charged with a felony that stays on your record for your whole life, with all the consequences that come with it. That’s because Oklahoma’s felony theft threshold is set at $500; stealing something worth that amount or more is a felony rather than a misdemeanor. Our threshold is among the lowest both in the region and in the nation, and it means that petty crimes become lifelong barriers to productive lives [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Senate passes Ten Commandments monument legislation: A proposed constitutional amendment that asks voters to return a Ten Commandments monument to the Oklahoma Capitol grounds has been approved by the Oklahoma Senate. Without debate, the Senate voted 39-5 Wednesday for the House-passed measure. It’s similar to a measure already approved by the Senate. The resolution calls for a statewide referendum on whether to abolish an article of the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of state funds to support a religion [KOCO].

Sacred and profane: Leaders warn about government using religious symbols: To protect the value of religious symbols, Oklahoma lawmakers should stay away from the state constitution, said Gary Peluso-Verdend, president of Phillips Theological Seminary. The Legislature this session approved a state question that would delete language from the constitution prohibiting the use of public resources to the benefit of religion. If passed, the amendment will likely be used to return a statue of the Ten Commandments to the state Capitol; it was ordered removed last year after a long court battle. That’s a problem for Peluso-Verdend and other Christian leaders who said their identities and beliefs are being co-opted [Journal Record].

Abortion of Certain Fetuses Outlawed Under Oklahoma Bill: A bill that would prohibit abortions in Oklahoma due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome or a genetic abnormality has passed the Oklahoma Senate. The bill called the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 passed Tuesday on a 39-6 vote. It also would allow a pregnant woman or her legal guardian to bring a civil action against the doctor who violates the law [KWGS].

Hospitals face doctor recruitment challenges amidst Medicaid cuts: As Oklahoma is on the brink of a healthcare disaster, some metro hospitals fear this could create new challenges when it comes to recruiting doctors. Hospital officials with OU Medical System said the demand for more doctors, nurses and therapists is huge. “We don’t have enough physicians that we train at OU or OSU to fill all of the slots and needs we have,” said Chuck Spicer, president and CEO of OU Medical System [KOCO]. Budget troubles are rolling back Oklahoma’s gains on health care [OK Policy].

Prosperity Policy: False choices: Last month, one of my organization’s staffers was at the Capitol talking with state senators in advance of a committee vote on a bill that would have stripped Medicaid eligibility from some 100,000 of Oklahoma’s lowest-income working-age adults. The bill had been offered as a solution to the state’s budget crisis and to threatened cuts in reimbursement to Medicaid providers. One senator gave our staffer a disturbing comment: “Tell your boss I’ll vote no on HB 2665 if OK Policy will publicly state that we support taking funding from common education to support otherwise able-bodied adults” [David Blatt / Journal Record]. Here is a broad menu of revenue options that are worth considering as part of a fair and sustainable budget [OK Policy].

Bixby Public Schools survey asks parents to consider four-day schedule, fees for bus service: Bixby Public Schools is conducting a survey asking for feedback regarding possible steps by the district to deal with the state’s budget crisis, including a four-day school week and charging fees for such things as bus service and fine arts programs. Amid a state revenue failure in which lawmakers will have $1.3 billion less for the next fiscal year, schools have seen their state funding reduced by more than $50 million since January, and even deeper cuts are expected for the coming school year [Tulsa World]. Four-day school weeks could leave thousands of Oklahoma kids hungry [OK Policy]. Oklahoma leads the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

OKC School District Reaches Deal to Address Discipline Disparities: The U.S. Department of Education on Wednesday announced a final agreement with Oklahoma City Public Schools on reforms to address racial disparities in discipline. A letter, dated April 19 and addressed to Superintendent Rob Neu, reveals previously unknown details of the complaint and steps the school district must now take to rectify the disparities. Specifically, the complaint, filed in 2014 by a parent, accused the school district of racial harassment after administrators refused to allow her son to return to school following five days of a 10-day suspension [Oklahoma Watch].

Regents get good, bad news on college completion efforts in Oklahoma: Efforts to increase the number of Oklahoma students who get a college degree are succeeding, but the state funding shortfall is threatening some programs. Presidents from five institutions reported on their schools’ degree-completion programs Wednesday during a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Tulsa Community College has exceeded its goal to confer an additional 71 degrees each year since Oklahoma launched its Complete College America initiative in 2011 [NewsOK].

Off track: Budget hole could put Heartland Flyer funding on chopping block: As lawmakers meet privately to negotiate the next year of state spending, nearly anything could be on the chopping block. One of those projects is a $3.2 million subsidy to support the Heartland Flyer passenger rail service to and from Fort Worth. “It may be trimmed a little bit,” House Appropriations Chairman Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said Tuesday. “We’ve talked about it, but there’s no hard language in that funding” [Journal Record].

20 somethings, Macy Gleason and Kyle Hilbert, to run for the same seat in the OK legislature: Currently, James Leewright holds District 29 as a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, however will pursue other endeavors as a candidate for the Oklahoma State Senate. With his seat becoming vacant this campaign cycle, three candidates have moved forward to file and replace Leewright. The group includes 22-year-old Kyle Hilbert and 21-year-old Macy Gleason. Both Hilbert and Gleason are students at Oklahoma State University and grew up near one another in Depew and Mannford respectively [KJRH].

Cherokee Chief Praises Decision To Remove Jackson From Front Of $20 Bill: Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker issued a statement on Wednesday, lauding the U.S. Treasury’s decision to remove the likeness of Andrew Jackson from the front of the $20 bill. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a former slave, will be replacing Jackson, the nation’s seventh president and a former slave owner. Tubman is remembered most for her role in helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. Baker said Jackson’s decisions as president led to the genocide of American Indians, including forcing nearly 16,000 Cherokees from their homeland [News9].

Jury hears opening statements in trial of ex-Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Deputy Robert Bates: Although former Tulsa County Reserve Deputy Robert Bates announced to other officers that he was about to deploy his stun-gun to help subdue a suspect, law enforcement video shows that Taser never leave Bates’ bullet-proof vest. Instead, Bates, then 73, fired a revolver that was already in his hand on April 2, 2015, and shot Eric Harris, who died shortly thereafter. A Tulsa County prosecutor highlighted that fact in his opening statement in Bates’ manslaughter trial Wednesday, and jurors saw it for themselves when the defense played the video in its opening statement [Tulsa World].

Cops Taunted Black Veteran as He Died: Elliott Williams spent the last five days of his life in a Tulsa County jail, paralyzed and lying on the cold concrete floor. But despite the 37-year-old Oklahoma man’s pleas for help, guards did nothing to save him, a lawsuit claims. At one point, jailers dumped Williams’s limp body into a shower and left him there for an hour. The dying inmate “would not stand up but we did give him a shower anyway,” a captain later testified, according to a sheriff’s office internal report [The Daily Beast].

Quote of the Day

“We’re not going to be as competitive to attract those doctors from the Mayo clinics of the world and from the MD Andersons of the world, if we don’t have a stable health care economy.”

-Chuck Spicer, president and CEO of OU Medical System, on how the budget crisis and proposed Medicaid cuts present a challenge in recruiting doctors to the state (Source)

Number of the Day

8.3 years

Mean difference in life expectancy between top and bottom income quartiles for the Oklahoma City area.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Obama administration is making it easier for people with criminal records to find housing: The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a new plan to help people who’ve been convicted of a crime find a place to live, NPR reports. The agency is beginning to warn landlords that it might be illegal under the Fair Housing Act to simply ban anyone with a criminal record. It’s not that being convicted of a crime is a protected category under the Fair Housing Act. The law prevents housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. But because the criminal justice system punishes disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic individuals, such blanket policies amount to “de facto discrimination,” HUD’s general council argues [Vox]. Finding housing is one of the most difficult barriers faced by Oklahomans with criminal records [OK Policy].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

One thought on “In The Know: Criminal justice reforms await Governor’s signature

  1. Wish it were possible for you to report partisan divisions on key votes, e.g. most recently on CJ reform bills. How many Repubs voted against these common sense measures? Keep up the great work.


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