In The Know: Bill tightening initiative petition requirements goes for governor’s signature | Looking at education budget discussions | Voter-approved justice reforms haven’t been given chance to work

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Voter-passed justice reforms haven’t been given chance to work: When voters approved State Questions 780 and 781 in 2016, these two measures were intended as a reform package. SQ 780 would reduce overcrowding in our state’s prison system by reclassifying certain low-level, non-violent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, while SQ 781 would sweep the savings realized from decreased incarceration into county-level behavioral treatment and rehabilitation. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

State Government News

Bill to tighten initiative petition requirements passes Legislature, goes to governor: A bill that could make it more difficult for Oklahomans to participate in lawmaking advanced through the Legislature on Wednesday. The measure would tighten requirements for using the initiative petition process to get state questions on voter ballots. Among other things, it would allow the secretary of state to collect a filing fee of up to $750 to offset the costs of publishing petition notices. It also would set a higher bar for verifying the legitimacy of signatures collected on petitions. [Tulsa World]

Education negotiations: House proposal flat, Senate seeks staff stipend, other items: As has often been the case in recent sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature, a primary area of difference in House and Senate budget negotiations involves common education funding. To that end, the two chambers are around $115 million apart on crafting the State Department of Education budget for Fiscal Year 2025, but both proposals are relatively flat compared to last year’s historic increase. [NonDoc]

  • Education Watch: What’s in the House and Senate Budgets for Education? [Oklahoma Watch]

House advances legislation that allows Oklahoma law enforcement to boot squatters upon request: Oklahoma lawmakers on Wednesday advanced legislation that would allow law enforcement to immediately remove squatters at the request of a property owner. Supporters said Senate Bill 1994 will ensure property rights are protected and avoid protracted litigation to remove trespassers, but critics argued that it is another legislative attempt to further criminalize homelessness. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma lawmakers report ‘bipartisan concern’ with Walters’ new education rules: New rules from the Oklahoma State Department of Education — ranging from “foundational values” to accreditation penalties — are meeting bipartisan scrutiny in the state Legislature. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern over new regulations from state Superintendent Ryan Walters and whether they have shaky legal ground. [Oklahoma Voice]

House votes down resolution that would change state’s judicial appointment process: A controversial resolution that would have given the public the opportunity to vote whether or not to eliminate the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission went down in flames Tuesday morning in the House of Representatives. [The Oklahoman]

Cannabis prepackaging bill headed to governor: Most products people buy are packaged, and medical marijuana should be, too, state Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, argued Wednesday in support of legislation that seems to be controversial in cannabis circles. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Survivor Justice Coalition Praises the Oklahoma House For Nearly Unanimous Passage of the Oklahoma Survivors’ Act: The Oklahoma Survivor Justice Coalition praises the Oklahoma House for passing the Oklahoma Survivors’ Act (Senate Bill 1470) with a vote of 84-3. This legislation would allow sentencing courts to resentence survivors of domestic violence whose victimization was a significant factor in their underlying offense. [The Sentencing Project]

Nation’s first nonbinary state lawmaker reflects on public service, rhetoric in Oklahoma legislature: Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City, is one of just a few nonbinary lawmakers in the U.S. — a distinction that comes with prominence and pressure. KOSU spoke to Turner last month as they were verging on a decision to seek another term. They were undecided then, but earlier this month, Turner announced they would not seek re-election in November due to their health and a need to focus on self-care. [KOSU]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma researchers find Native Americans underrepresented in CDC database: A new study says the CDC reclassified Native American participants who self-reported their race in a survey, causing the total number of Indigenous respondents to be underreported. [KOSU]

Si-Si A-Pe-Txa Annual Report highlights building and service developments: A new state-of-the-art assisted living project for Hominy has been sub-awarded $8 million to move from concept to scope of work. [Osage News]

Health News

Oklahoma agency makes headway toward ending 13-year waitlist for disability services: Oklahoma Human Services is getting closer to addressing its 13-year Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) waitlist as it works to connect a fifth group of 899 people to services. DDS services include things like caregivers, transportation and job coaches for Medicaid-eligible Oklahomans with developmental or intellectual disabilities. [KOSU]

New study finds that Oklahoma is the worst state for senior care staffing: A new study found that Oklahoma is the worst state for senior care staffing due to its low ratio of nursing home staff to occupied beds and low occupancy rate. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma State program to support healthy aging through intergenerational conversations: The goal of Oklahoma State University’s Active Aging for LIFE program is to challenge stigmas against aging and bridge generational divides in six rural communities. [KOSU]

Opinion: Mental health tragedies avoided through collaborative Community Response Teams: Since 2018, the CRT has responded 3,506 individuals in crisis and 5,876 responder units have been freed up for other urgent calls. This not only ensures individuals receive appropriate care tailored to their needs but also relieves strain on Tulsa’s first responders. [Dee Harris / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Mental health bill balances due process with prioritizing early intervention: Oklahomans are demanding a comprehensive approach to mental health reform, and House Bill 3451 is one step toward addressing the critical shortcomings in our current statute. [Rep. Jeff Boatman / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Oklahoma has a shortage of mental health providers. Here’s how we can fix it:  Oklahoma soon will have hundreds more psychiatric hospital beds for adults and children in need, a product of our state’s impressive momentum to increase access to mental health services. [Zack Stoycoff / The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma Prisoners Confined to Shower Stalls Sue Corrections Department: Seven state prisoners who were locked in three-by-three foot shower stalls at the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton last August are suing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, alleging their prolonged confinement in cramped and unsanitary conditions amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma County jail trust member resigning, leaving two open seats: The number of empty seats on Oklahoma County’s jail trust is back to two. Chad Alexander, who was appointed to the trust in October 2021 by then-Commissioner Kevin Calvey to fill a seat formerly held by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, is stepping down. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Community builder to oversee $15 million investment fund focused on minority start-ups: A veteran northeast Oklahoma City community builder is overseeing a new $15 million investment fund established to promote minority owned start-ups. Sandino Thompson, backed by Echo, an investment firm founded by Christian Kanady, said the new impact firm is structured to focus on “high opportunity” ventures in east and south Oklahoma City. The firm is starting with $1.5 million from Echo with the goal of raising $15 million. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Prospective Teachers Get Clarity After Questions Swirl About Certification Exam: After weeks of uncertainty, prospective teachers are getting some clarity over whether the State Department of Education will accept one of the state’s main teacher certification exams. Some school districts, universities and teachers started hearing in mid-March that the state would no longer accept Praxis subject tests offered by the Educational Testing Service. [Oklahoma Watch]

Class sizes in OKC schools will be going up thanks to the end of COVID -era funding: The depletion of pandemic-era relief funding provided by the federal government to school districts will force the Oklahoma City Public Schools district to increase staffing ratios at all grade levels, meaning increased class sizes across the district for the 2024-25 academic year. [The Oklahoman]

The end of pandemic-era federal dollars may mean the end for the school programs it funded: In Tulsa, there are about 450 after-school programs at risk of shrinking to just 75 once ESSER funds are gone. [KGOU]

Tulsa Public Schools seeking court guidance on how to pay teachers’ retirement contributions: Tulsa Public Schools is asking a court to determine how it will pay for outstanding contributions to the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System. [Tulsa World]

Ryan Walters, Ebony Johnson meet during high-stakes testing for Tulsa Public Schools: Tulsa students are taking a battery of tests that of course are supposed to measure how much they’ve been learning. And it’s especially high stakes this year because Superintendent Walters threatened to take over the district due to failing scores. And Walters spoke to a number of teachers at Skelly Elementary where he took a tour and he said they’re excited about testing. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial: Take note of rising turmoil at the Oklahoma State Department of Education: State Superintendent Ryan Walters is relying on his outlandish rhetoric to distract attention from his poor governing outcomes. We ask the public to put aside his culture war and examine his actual performance as an agency head. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Local Headlines

  • Tulsa mayor’s proposed fiscal 2025 budget surpasses $1 billion [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa City Council approves measure to increase next mayor’s annual salary nearly 81% [Tulsa World]
  • Route 66 travelers facing one-year detour in Oklahoma [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“We’re taking a process that’s already the most difficult in the country and we’re adding additional obstacles that will prevent ordinary Oklahomans from shaping public policy, from even having the opportunity to vote on public policy.”

-Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-OKC, speaking about SB 518 that would make it more difficult for Oklahomans to bring state questions to a vote of the people. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percentage of households in the Tulsa metropolitan area that can’t afford the average cost of a safe and decent quality two-bedroom rental, which is about $987 per month. [Housing Solutions]  

Policy Note

Solutions to Homelessness Within Reach Regardless of Supreme Court Ruling in Upcoming Case: Homelessness has risen to historic levels, and the Supreme Court is about to weigh in on whether communities can fine or jail people for sleeping outside when they have nowhere safe to go. But evidence shows that we can solve homelessness if we address its primary driver: the gap between incomes and rents. Expanding rental assistance is a highly effective way to close that gap. Policymakers must also sustainably fund the supportive services people need to find and keep housing. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.