In The Know: Attorney General strongly sides with group hoping to repeal tax hikes

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.

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In The News

Attorney General Strongly Sides with Group Hoping to Repeal Tax Hikes: The referendum petition being circulated to repeal taxes passed by the Legislature is valid, and a protest filed by the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators should be rejected, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office argued Friday to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In written arguments, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office said the state Constitution has always afforded broad protection to the right of citizens to seek a referendum on legislation [NewsOK]. What we know – and don’t know – about the revenue bill veto challenge [OKPolicy].

Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite Call for Special Session, Saying Teacher Raises Don’t Require New Taxes: Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and other supporters of a referendum petition to repeal a $400 million tax measure on Friday called on the Legislature to reconvene in special session to find a way to pay teachers more without higher taxes. [Tulsa World]. The group says they’re on track to get the signatures they need [News6]. Fact Sheet: Is education fully funded? [OKPolicy].

Gubernatorial Hopefuls Differ on Teacher Raise Tax Package: Gubernatorial hopefuls are deeply divided over the state’s first tax hike in nearly three decades that is supposed to pay for a long-promised teacher raise. In an effort to ward off a threatened teacher walkout, the cash-strapped Republican controlled Legislature passed House Bill 1010XX, which generates nearly $500 million in revenue by increasing taxes on oil and gas drillers, cigarettes and motor fuel. The measure is designed to help fund permanent, average $6,100 teacher salary increases — the first in nearly a decade. Proponents contend it will give districts a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining teachers [Norman Transcript].

June 1 Last Day to Register in Oklahoma for Medical Marijuana, Governor Primary Votes: To vote for medical marijuana, a party’s pick for gubernatorial nominee or myriad new state lawmakers, Oklahomans must register to vote by June 1. People who don’t register on or before that day won’t be able to cast a ballot in the primary election on June 26. There is evidence, however, that shows a surge of new registrations — mostly Republicans — over the past four months as voters prepare for one of the most significant statewide elections of a generation [NewsOK].

Chronic shortage of poll workers plagues county election board:By at least one estimate, the average age for Tulsa County poll workers is about 75. One recently told the Election Board she would not be helping with the upcoming election because “I’m 100 years old and I’m tired.” All of that adds up to high turnover, and is the reason the Election Board is constantly looking for workers [Tulsa World].

More Women File for Office, but Oklahoma’s Gender Gap Persists: Just 35 women filed for one of the 125 Oklahoma legislative seats that were up for election in 2012. This year, there will be nearly four times as many women running for the same number of seats. And following a trend across the nation, women will be better represented on the ballot than in at least a decade – and likely ever [Oklahoma Watch].

The Teachers’ Strike and the Democratic Revival in Oklahoma: The last days of the teacher walkout coincided with candidate filing—a bureaucratic process in which the spirit of democracy is fused with the spirit of the Department of Motor Vehicles. The walkout mostly failed to secure more funding for classrooms, but it was a baptism by fire for a movement of politically literate and engaged Okies. In the 2014 elections, eighty-seven Democrats ran for legislative office in Oklahoma; for this fall’s elections, the number has more than doubled [The New Yorker].

I Work at One of America’s Underfunded Schools. It’s Falling Apart: In my Oklahoma high school classroom, it is not easy to tell where federal funding ends and state funding begins – in fact, most teachers don’t have a clue about where our funding comes from. But what is abundantly clear is that our schools need more funding. Unless you are in a school every day, you might not see the results of underfunding education [The Guardian].

Proposal Would Expand Unproven Concept: Online-Only Alternative Schools: The state’s largest virtual charter school wants to open an alternative high school for at-risk students, saying the school will better address the needs of struggling students who already attend or will enroll in its regular online school. If approved, Epic Charter Schools would begin enrolling students in its alternative school for the 2018-19 school year. Epic would become the second virtual school in the state that is a designated alternative school [Oklahoma Watch].

Okla Democratic Party Staff First in Nation to Unionize: Non-managerial staff members of the Oklahoma Democratic Party are the first in the nation among state Democratic Party headquarters to officially unionize with a signed contract. And they did it with the full support of management and party leadership. It is a significant move for those who toil in the engine rooms of party politics where the next fund-raising event and 24/7 campaign pressures can create an always-on-everywhere work environment [Free Press OKC].

Legal Counsel: Medical Marijuana Measure Manageable for Employers: A close reading of SQ 788’s proposed statutory language, and attention to the treatment similar laws have received in the increasing majority of states to have enacted them suggest both that medical-marijuana reform would create relatively modest obligations for Oklahoma businesses and that responsible employers are already familiar with those obligations. In short, SQ 788 probably would not impose impossible burdens on Oklahoma’s employers or eliminate drug-free workplaces [J. Blake Johnson/NewsOK]. State health department would regulate marijuana, if voters approve state question [Tulsa World]. Learn what proponents and opponents are saying of SQ 788 [OKPolicy]. 

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp Program Is Taking Applications: Colleges and universities can now apply to participate in a new industrial hemp program that will oversee the research of the crop as a possible addition to Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape. Lawmakers this year approved the pilot program. Individuals cannot hold a license, but they can contract with colleges and universities to produce hemp for industrial use [NewsOK].

Lawmakers Speak on New Law Allowing Ten Commandments Public Display in Light of Voters Rejecting Similar Measure: After voters rejected a state question that would have allowed a Ten Commandments monument on public property, lawmakers recently approved legislation that could have the same effect. On Nov. 8, 2016, voters rejected State Question 790 that would have removed a portion of the Oklahoma Constitution cited in an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision in 2015 that led to the removal of the privately funded Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol [Tulsa World].

State Ag Board Member Dies: Recently appointed Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture member Joe Mayer has died. Mayer, 68, of Guymon, died after a heart attack on Saturday. “We will miss Joe very much … Joe was a caring, hardworking state and national leader for many years. Our prayers go to his family in our loss,” said Jim Reese, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture [NewsOK].

How a specialized app is helping keep women out of prison: At the doorstep of a lengthy prison sentence, Jill Oomen thought she could beat the rap on drug distribution, possession and forgery charges to go on living her life using methamphetamine. Oomen’s public defender balked at his 33-year-old client. She had been in and out of incarceration since she was 18. He pushed for Oomen to enter Women in Recovery, a comprehensive and intensive 18-month rehabilitation program for female substance abusers. Now 36, Oomen is living clean as a cosmetologist a year after her graduation from the program [Tulsa World].

Organization Opens Facility Aimed at Preventing Children in Foster Care: A world where every child lives with a stable parent in their own home – it’s the dream of Lilyfield, an organization helping families through adoption and foster care placement. “What if the community empowers families so the kids never have to go into foster care?” said executive director Holly Towers [KFOR]. With state contract ending, Marland Children’s Home to transition into therapeutic foster care facility [Tulsa World].

Where the buffalo roam: Auctioned bison herd to stay in Oklahoma: In a first for the state, a herd of more than 60 bison were auctioned to the highest bidder this month — a bidder who has worked for decades to reintroduce the animals to what was once part of their native habitat. Sold in a state surplus auction, the herd, totaling about 65 head of bison, had roamed the grasslands in Foss State Park but were put on the auction block due to drought conditions in western Oklahoma that left the state to rely on costly purchases of hay to feed the animals. Nearly 110 bids were made for the bison, with the winning bid of $88,002.01, or a little more than $1,350 per head, made by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes [NewsOK].

Editorial: Terrible Media Relations Dog Scott Pruitt: Last week, beleaguered Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt saw his office receive even more national criticism, this time for the attempted exclusion of an Associated Press reporter from a public meeting. A Pruitt aide reportedly called AP journalist and Oklahoma native Ellen Knickmeyer to apologize for her forceful removal from a national summit on dangerous chemicals [William W. Savage III/NonDoc].

Quote of the Day

“Our current history textbook, The Story of Oklahoma, is so old that the Oklahoma City bombing only gets a couple of pages in the epilogue. It’s OK, though. We only have about 60 copies for our 600-plus freshmen, so the teachers have to create their own resource packets anyway.”

-Melissa Smith, teacher at US Grant High School in Oklahoma City, describing the conditions in her underfunded classroom [The Guardian].

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma adults who reported having a poor mental health status in 2016

[Kaiser Family Foundation]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Harm to Women from Taking Away Medicaid for Not Meeting Work Requirements: Policies that take Medicaid coverage away from people who aren’t working would harm many women who are caregivers for children or other family members, as well as those with disabilities or serious illnesses who may not be exempt or may struggle with the bureaucratic hurdles to secure an exemption. These policies would also harm women who work hard in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours and, as a result, may not meet work requirement standards each month [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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