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All articles by Jessica Vazquez

Weekly Wonk: FY 2019 Budget Highlights, Farm Bill response, and a new OK PolicyCast

by | May 19th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, 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 the FY 2019 Budget Highlights, which noted that although next year’s appropriations will be the largest in state history, when adjusted for inflation, it still remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009. We also re-launched our podcast, OK PolicyCast, where we explored what just happened in one of the most tumultuous legislative years in Oklahoma history. Spring Intern Lydia Lapidus recounted a recent proposal by the Tulsa City Council to fine parents of truant students and explained that Tulsa has better options than punitive responses to truancy and homelessness.

In his weekly Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt wrote about Oklahoma’s rapid and unprecedented decline in legislative tenure, which may ultimately leave the Oklahoma legislature with a brand-new House – and Senate! On a related note, Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update described this year’s legislative session as a wild ride for first-term legislators, likening these freshman legislators to “combat-weary veterans” who will be welcoming a new class of forty or fifty members in November.

Policy analyst Courtney Cullison wrote a joint op-ed with Oklahoma anti-hunger advocates about the threat of harsh SNAP cuts in a Farm Bill being considered by the U.S. Congress. OK Policy released a statement following the Farm Bill’s failed vote in the U.S. House that Congress must reverse their attacks on SNAP to get a bill that can pass.

OK Policy in the News

The Tulsa World quoted David Blatt about attempts to understand what happened in the State Department of Health’s financial mess. The Enid News & Eagle quoted Blatt about the Oklahoma gubernatorial candidates taking anti-tax pledges. The Tahlequah Daily Press reported on a meeting of Cherokee County Retired Educators where OK Policy was recommended as a valuable source of information. Sandite Pride News cited OK Policy’s budget data in a story about an Oklahoma House candidate running in Sand Springs.

continue reading Weekly Wonk: FY 2019 Budget Highlights, Farm Bill response, and a new OK PolicyCast

In The Know: Grand jury finds State Health Department layoffs and emergency funding were unnecessary

by | May 18th, 2018 | 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.

[Don’t Forget: There’s only one week left to apply for the 2018 Summer Policy Institute! This annual event brings together more than 50 highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students for an exciting and stimulating four-day learning experience. Learn more here.]

In The News

Q&A: Health Department Grand Jury Report, Audit and What’s Next: A cash crisis at the Oklahoma State Department of Health that led to job cuts and an emergency injection of $30 million in cash was more of a mirage than the real thing, a months-long grand jury investigation and audit found in separate reports released Thursday. The state’s multicounty grand jury didn’t hand up any criminal indictments, but it did fault former top officials at the health department for creating a “slush fund” to pay for pet projects and years of financial mismanagement [Oklahoma Watch]. With health department news, waves of disbelief rolled across state [Oklahoma Watch]. Read the grand jury’s full report here.

Former Tulsa Superintendent, Bixby Parent Join Second Challenge to Taxpayers Unite Petition: A coalition that includes former Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, Bixby Public Schools parent Joely Flegler, the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association and most of the state’s major education organizations filed a challenge to proposed State Question 799 with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday. The group, called Decline to Sign 799, follows Professional Oklahoma Educators in trying to head off a referendum petition that seeks to repeal a $400 million revenue bill, HB 1010xx, signed into law this spring [Tulsa World].

FY 2019 Budget Highlights: State agencies will be appropriated a total of $7.567 billion in FY 2019. This is an increase of $718.5 million (10.5 percent) compared to the initial FY 2018 budget approved last May, and an increase of $601 million (8.6 percent) compared to the final FY 2018 budget, which included various mid-year cuts and increases. Next year’s appropriations will be the largest in state history, surpassing the $7.235 billion budget in FY 2015; however, when adjusted for inflation, next year’s budget remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009 [OK Policy].

continue reading In The Know: Grand jury finds State Health Department layoffs and emergency funding were unnecessary

In The Know: Sen. Nathan Dahm, others push for third special session

by | May 17th, 2018 | 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.

[DON’T FORGET: Today is the last day to apply for our two open positions! Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy) is seeking two experienced and effective policy analysts to conduct research primarily related to issues of education policy or criminal justice policy, with a particular emphasis on how these policies affect low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. Learn more here.]

In The News

Sen. Nathan Dahm, Others Push for Third Special Session: Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and a handful of other conservative Oklahoma legislators are circulating a petition among their peers to call a third special session of the 56th Legislature. Frustrated by a series of vetoes from Gov. Mary Fallin, Dahm and others are seeking the support of 68 House members and 36 senators to trigger a special session call authorized under Article 5, Section 27A of the Oklahoma Constitution. He said multiple political events could trigger the need for a third special session called by Fallin, but the Legislature calling itself back in would allow lawmakers to set the parameters of the “extraordinary” session [NonDoc].

State Government Revenues Continue to Rebound: The financial outlook for Oklahoma state government continues to improve, with April’s General Revenue Fund collections up nearly 25 percent over the same month a year ago. “After some tough years I’m encouraged to see our economy showing some real resilience,” said Denise Northrup, director of the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “If we continue to see positive returns, I’m hopeful we can replenish the Rainy Day Fund and restore some of the cuts agencies have experienced the past few years” [NewsOK].

Parole Board Changes Saved at Last Minute: After a slew of political battles only tangentially related to the measure, Oklahoma adopted a policy that requires mental health and substance abuse professionals on its parole board. The idea was introduced in legislation last year, but that stalled. The provision was in another bill this year that sailed through the committee process. But a floor amendment added a separate policy to the bill that would have adjusted sentencing procedures for minors convicted of homicide. That proved to be immensely controversial. On the last day of the legislative session, the mental health policy survived in the form of Senate Bill 185 [Journal Record].

continue reading In The Know: Sen. Nathan Dahm, others push for third special session

In The Know: Group opposed to medical marijuana state question organizes

by | May 16th, 2018 | 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.

[One day left to apply! Oklahoma Policy Institute (OK Policy) is seeking two experienced and effective policy analysts to conduct research primarily related to issues of education policy or criminal justice policy, with a particular emphasis on how these policies affect low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. Learn more here.]

In The News

Group Opposed to Medical Marijuana State Question Organizes: A coalition that includes state medical and hospital associations, district attorneys and the State Chamber has organized to defeat State Question 788, the medical marijuana issue on the June 26 primary ballot, the group announced Tuesday. As its name implies, the group “SQ 788 is NOT Medical” argues that the state question would effectively legalize marijuana production and use for just about any purpose, not just medicinal [Tulsa World]. One Ardmore veteran is sharing his story, saying medical marijuana saved his life, and could save many others [KTEN]. State Question 788 Fact Sheet [OKPolicy].

Oklahoma’s Child Welfare Director Will Resign, Calling It ‘One of the Most Difficult Jobs in State Government’: Oklahoma’s director of child welfare services announced her resignation Tuesday, citing the stress of her job and the pressure of implementing a 2012 legal agreement. Jami Ledoux has led the child welfare wing of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for four years; three years as a director after one year as an interim director [NewsOK].

OSBI Head to Resign Effective June 30; Board Names Ricky Adams Successor: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Commission announced the agency’s deputy director Ricky Adams will become the new head of the OSBI following the resignation of director Bob Ricks. The commission voted unanimously to name Adams to the position effective July 1 after announcing Ricks’ resignation, the agency said in a news release Tuesday. Ricks’ resignation is effective June 30 [Tulsa World].

continue reading In The Know: Group opposed to medical marijuana state question organizes

In The Know: Teachers’ group seeks to stop Oklahoma anti-tax question

by | May 15th, 2018 | 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.

In The News

Teachers’ Group Seeks to Stop Oklahoma Anti-Tax Question: A group representing Oklahoma teachers is asking the state’s highest court to stop an effort to overturn a tax-hike package to fund teacher pay raises the Legislature approved amid a national uprising of educators seeking more classroom money. The Professional Oklahoma Educators filed a protest petition with the state Supreme Court last week against the anti-tax group’s signature-gathering effort [Washington Post].

Home Schoolers Get Tax-Credit Funds to Attend Private School Part-Time: For the first time ever, students can attend an Oklahoma private school part-time yet have most or all of the tuition paid by scholarships funded through a state tax-credit program. The scholarship program, promoted by school-choice advocates, is typically used to subsidize tuition costs for full-time students at private schools. But The Academy for Classical Christian Studies, with three schools in the Oklahoma City area, has added a twist to the program [Oklahoma Watch].

With Veto, Fallin Cites Potential Problems with Vision Fund: When Gov. Mary Fallin acted on scores of bills Friday evening, she vetoed a measure intended to hedge against oil and gas revenue volatility. The Oklahoma Legislature passed two bills that would have created a Vision Fund for the state. They would order officials to set about 5 percent of annual revenue from the oil and gas production tax aside and place it into a trust fund. Lawmakers would be able to appropriate less than 5 percent of the principal each year after that. Supporters said the fund would grow over the years and offset not only volatility in the commodities’ market but also long-term depletion of the unrenewable resource [Journal Record].

continue reading In The Know: Teachers’ group seeks to stop Oklahoma anti-tax question

In The Know: Oklahoma’s governor angers the NRA and gay rights groups — on the same day

by | May 14th, 2018 | 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.

In The News

Oklahoma’s Governor Angers the NRA and Gay Rights Groups — on the Same Day: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) united gun and LGBTQ advocates on Friday, in a sense. LGBTQ rights groups say a bill she signed Friday legalizes discrimination against families hoping to adopt by allowing faith-based agencies to deny placing children with people they believe violate their religious views, such as same-sex couples [Washington Post].

Juvenile Sentencing Bill, Pushed by Lawmaker’s Daughter, Is Nixed: The daughter of a state House leader who pushed a bill to protect the right to sentence juveniles to life without parole is a district attorney who seeks such a sentence in a Custer County case. But District Attorney Angela Marsee, daughter of House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, said she sees no conflict of interest in her working with her father to help draft the amended bill, which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Mary Fallin Friday [Oklahoma Watch]. Juvenile life sentence bill would have been a return to outdated thinking [OK Policy].

Gov. Mary Fallin Signs Bill Allowing Display of Ten Commandments on Public Property: Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday signed a bill that would allow for the display of the Ten Commandments along with historical documents on public property. House Bill 2177 came after a 2015 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that said a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds was religious and had to be removed [NewsOK]. Tulsa World Editorial: Legislature trying again for public displays of the ten commandments [Tulsa World].

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma’s governor angers the NRA and gay rights groups — on the same day

In The Know: Oklahoma seeks to keep no-parole sentences for children

by | May 10th, 2018 | 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.

[Note: In The Know will be off tomorrow. We’ll return Monday.]

In The News

Oklahoma Seeks to Keep No-Parole Sentences for Children: Oklahoma’s Legislature is living up to its tough-on-crime reputation with the passage of a bill making it easier to send child offenders to prison with no chance for parole. While many states across the country are easing no-parole sentences for children, Oklahoma’s Republican-led Legislature shifted in the other direction this session and approved a bill to allow judges to put teenage offenders behind bars with no chance for release [Associated Press].

Governor Fallin “Carefully Analyzing” Bills Awaiting Her Signature: The end of Oklahoma’s legislative session left Governor Mary Fallin with dozens of bills to consider. The majority of them haven’t made headlines, but there are a few contentious measures sitting on her desk right now. The deadline to make a decision to sign or veto the bills is May 18th. If a bill doesn’t get the governor’s signature by then, it cannot become a law. To voice your support or opposition to the bills awaiting her signature, you can call the governor’s office at (405) 521-2342 [FOX25]. Ask Governor Fallin to veto these anti-family bills [OK Policy].

Hand-Picked Group to Begin Wielding Powers over State Agencies: A small group of unelected citizens, all appointed by Republican state leaders, will soon be exercising significant powers to decide how the state’s top agencies spend their funding and which services they should provide. Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin added $2 million to the state budget this year to pay for state agency audits to be conducted by a private firm and overseen by a commission of Oklahoma business leaders [Oklahoma Watch].

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma seeks to keep no-parole sentences for children

In The Know: Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children

by | May 3rd, 2018 | 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

Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that makes massive changes to the sentencing procedures for minors convicted of first-degree murder, and members allowed that policy to circumvent the vetting process all other bills must endure. Senate Bill 1221 started out with no mention of juvenile sentencing. The original bill would have required the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to contain two members with backgrounds in mental health or substance abuse services. The criminal justice reform measure was intended to increase parole rates [Journal Record]. Juvenile life sentence bill is a return to outdated thinking [OKPolicy].

Set for Senate Vote: Bill Would Let Adoption Agencies Refuse Placement with Gay Couples Even If They Accept Government Funds: Through parliamentary sleight of hand, proponents put back into play a bill that would guarantee that private social service agencies could continue to refuse to place children in certain adoptive and foster homes based on religious conviction even if they accept taxpayer money. It is generally accepted that the bill primarily targets same-sex couples. To keep the bill alive, House leadership took the unusual step of creating a special conference committee just for SB 1140 and stocked it with members sympathetic to the agencies [Tulsa World].

The FY 2019 Budget: Been Down So Long This Looks Like Up: In the 1960s, the New York City poet and folksinger Richard Fariña published a novel titled “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” This title certainly applies to Oklahoma’s FY 2019 state budget, approved by the House and Senate last week. After several straight years of large shortfalls and repeated rounds of budget cuts, including mid-year cuts the past three years, lawmakers were finally able to pass a budget that kept funding for all agencies at least flat, provided modest increases for some critical programs and services, and included over $350 million for teacher pay raises [OKPolicy].

continue reading In The Know: Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children

In The Know: State budget headed to Governor

by | April 30th, 2018 | 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

State Budget Headed to Governor: The Oklahoma Legislature made history on Friday. For the first time in decades, the state budget was adopted weeks ahead of the constitutional deadline. And for the first time in several years, lawmakers passed a budget that makes no cuts to agencies. The $7.6 billion spending bill passed the House 63-31 Friday afternoon, essentially along party lines. Senate Bill 1600 now heads to the desk of Gov. Mary Fallin [Journal Record].

With Budget Hammered Out, Legislature Barrels Toward Early Adjournment: The Oklahoma Legislature is barreling toward an early adjournment well before the May 25 deadline. Lawmakers last week sent Gov. Mary Fallin a $7.6 billion budget that provides for teacher and state employee pay raises, clearing the path for campaign season. The budget provides an average increase of 10.92 percent for state agencies. Normally, the budget agreement is not announced until later in May. “I think realistically we are probably looking at (ending session on) Thursday,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus.  [Tulsa World].

After the budget, not much work left for lawmakers: One of the most significant bills still waiting on a vote in the Oklahoma Legislature this year would create a regulatory framework for new alcohol modernization laws adopted almost two years ago in a statewide vote. As the end of session looms, Senate Bill 1173 is one of the few bills considered must-pass that haven’t received a final vote. After lawmakers gave approval to the state budget last week, their to-do list nearly emptied [NewsOK].

continue reading In The Know: State budget headed to Governor

In The Know: Governor signs criminal justice reform measures

by | April 27th, 2018 | 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

Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Measures: After years of delays, fighting with judiciary chairman and public opinion battles, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a slew of criminal justice reform bills. Fallin signed six of them on Thursday. She did so surrounded by women who have benefited from the kind of programs she has pushed for, which address mental health and substance abuse with treatment instead of incarceration. She was also surrounded by policy analysts, national and local, who helped craft the evidence-based policies to decrease the state’s prison overpopulation and the lawmakers who fought to get those policies passed [Journal Record]. Advocates of criminal justice reform are concerned that new laws will disappoint many who have worked for the past decade to change Oklahoma’s status as the state with the largest rates of incarceration [CapitolBeatOK]. Though the bills are expected to avert most, but not all, prison growth over the next 10 years, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will still require one new prison [OK Policy].

Despite Funding Boost, Budget Fails to Restore Most Cuts: Lawmakers are on their way to passing the largest state budget in Oklahoma history. But that doesn’t mean state agencies have recovered from years of cost-cutting. The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a $7.5 billion appropriations bill that will be $724 million – or 10.9 percent – more than the state’s current fiscal year budget. The bulk of the new funds will be used to boost salaries for teachers, school support staff and state employees. And millions of additional dollars will go into the school funding formula and targeted initiatives for criminal justice, social services and other programs [Oklahoma Watch]. As a benefit to state agencies, lawmakers also significantly cut back on the practice of raiding revolving funds, which are accounts that departments use to save money for large projects [NewsOK].

SJR 70 Could Create Tough Choices for Oklahoma Schools: As the dust settles in the aftermath of Oklahoma’s teacher walkout, advocates are still trying to understand what’s been achieved and what still needs to be done to fully fund the state’s education responsibilities. Now another wrinkle could emerge from a pair of bills — SJR 70 and SB 1398 by Sen. Stephanie Bice and Rep. Elise Hall — that could give local districts more flexibility in how they use their funding, but at the cost of creating some hard choices for schools [OKPolicy].

continue reading In The Know: Governor signs criminal justice reform measures

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