In The Know: August 30, 2011

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Patricia Spottedcrow, a mother of 4 who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of pot, will have a sentence modification hearing on Oct. 6. A nighttime attack that caused a brain injury to a boy in an Oklahoma juvenile facility has put a spotlight on security weaknesses in the juvenile system after the closure of the L.E. Rader Center. A Tahlequah police officer has resigned after admitting to stealing cash from Hispanic drivers during traffic stops.

The Mountain View-Gotebo School District is suing the Oklahoma Tax Commission over a paperwork error that cost the district about $400,000 in property tax reimbursements. NewsOK compares issues raised in a 1971 National Geographic article about Oklahoma to the situation today. A new poll finds a majority of Oklahoman likely voters oppose allowing strong beer and wine sales in grocery stores. The Corporation Commission ordered OG&E to refund more than $7 million to customers for failing to get approval of a new contract with a natural gas transportation subsidiary.

A federal stimulus grant will help support Oklahoma veterans at risk of homelessness. OKC and state agencies are defending their raid on a nighttime food market against critics who say the enforcement was selective and heavy-handed. Steve Lackmeyer provides more details on the story at the OKC Central blog. The OK Policy Blog features a video of Director David Blatt breaking down the federal budget deal.

In today’s Policy Note, USA Today reports on deep cuts to legal aid programs for the poor. Today’s Number of the Day is how many same-sex couples were co-habitating in Oklahoma in 2010.

In The News

Mom who sold $31 in pot seeks reduction of 12-year sentence

A Kingfisher County woman profiled in a Tulsa World story earlier this year examining the state’s high female incarceration rate has a hearing for a sentence modification set for Oct. 6. Patricia M. Spottedcrow, 26, received a 12-year prison sentence last October for selling a total of $31 in marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010. Her mother, Delita Starr, 51, was also charged. In blind guilty pleas before a judge, Spottedcrow received prison time, and her mother received a 30-year suspended sentence. Neither had prior criminal convictions. The judge, who is now retired, said in a previous interview that Spottedcrow’s decade-long sentence was imposed because her four young children were in the home at the time of the drug buys. The judge said she gave Starr a suspended sentence so she could care for Spottedcrow’s children, who are now 10, 5, 3 and 2. In the filing, Starr reportedly earns about $800 a month from her job at a truck stop earning $8 an hour. Expenses for the children are a minimum of $500 for food, clothes, diapers and medicine, and $500 for utilities, water and home maintenance. She cannot drive because her license was revoked in her sentencing. Starr owes $8,091 in court fees.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Attack exposes security weakness in Oklahoma’s juvenile detention system

A vicious nighttime attack that caused a brain injury to a boy at a Tecumseh institution for juvenile offenders spotlighted a security weakness within Oklahoma’s juvenile system. When the Legislature decided to close the L.E. Rader Center in Sand Springs, the system lost its capability to lock violence-prone juvenile offenders in their rooms at night. The victim was “in bed with the covers pulled up” when he was severely beaten by another juvenile on the evening of Aug. 5, said Pottawatomie County District Attorney Richard Smothermon, who has received an investigative report on the incident. Smothermon said both the victim and the suspect recently had been transferred from the L.E. Rader Center, which had been Oklahoma’s only high-security juvenile facility. All children now have been moved out of the Rader Center, which is in the process of being shut down.

Read more from NewsOK at

Tahlequah police officer admits to stealing from Hispanic drivers

A Tahlequah police officer has resigned after admitting to stealing cash from Hispanic drivers during traffic stops, according to a police report. In a statement, Tahlequah Police Chief Clay Mahaney says the department filed a report with the Cherokee County District Attorney’s office in reference to Officer James Johnson. Chief Mahaney says Johnson resigned during the course of the investigation, which began on July 26, 2011. On that date, Jose Guadalupe Galvan came to the department to file a complaint that Officer Johnson had stolen approximately $1,000 in cash from his wallet. Galvan told a detective Johnson had pulled him over in May. Galvan said that after he told Johnson he didn’t have a green card or a license, Johnson made him place his wallet on the front seat then stand behind his vehicle while Johnson looked inside. Galvan said he immediately noticed the money was missing, but was too scared to do anything about it.

Read more from News On 6 at

Mountain View-Gotebo School District sues Oklahoma Tax Commission for almost $733k

A rural school district that has borne the financial brunt of a paperwork error is suing the Oklahoma Tax Commission for almost $733,000. The Mountain View-Gotebo School District is a small district of about 240 students in Kiowa County in southwestern Oklahoma. The district became entangled in the state’s law regarding tax breaks to manufacturing and power-plant companies last year, when the state Tax Commission refused to reimburse Kiowa County for $733,000 in property tax exemptions given to a wind power plant in the county. Tony Mastin, administrator of the Tax Commission, said previously the county had missed a key deadline set forth in state law and that there was little the Tax Commission could do to resolve the issue. About $400,000 of that reimbursement was supposed to go to Mountain View-Gotebo schools, and it accounts for a quarter of the district’s budget.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma: 1971 vs 2011

Forty years ago this month, National Geographic magazine published a sprawling piece about Oklahoma. Across 41 pages, the article detailed writer Robert Paul Jordan’s monthslong tour of the Sooner State. He met with then-Gov. David Hall, ventured into the oil fields, explored Oklahoma City’s stockyards and marveled at the working oil wells on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol. Reading Jordan’s article, we wondered: How different is our Oklahoma, today’s Oklahoma, from the one he detailed in 1971? What has changed? What remains the same? What follows is a look at some of the highlights of the National Geographic article, along with contemporary accounts of those same issues.

Read more from NewsOK at

Grocery store wine, strong beer sales may face uphill battle with public

Legislative efforts to let Oklahomans vote on whether to allow wine and/or strong beer sales in grocery stores went nowhere during the 2011 session, with the most successful move the creation of a task force to study the issue. A new SoonerPoll may indicate that supporters of that idea and the public may be on different pages. “Results show respondents oppose changing the law by a double-digit margin,” said SoonerPoll CEO Bill Shapard. Currently only low-point beer—with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less—can be sold in grocery stores. When asked whether they believe state law should be revised in a way that would allow high-point beer to be sold in grocery and convenience stores, 54.5 percent of respondents said no, with 41.9 percent supporting the idea. When wine and malt liquor were added to the mix, opposition went up to 61 percent, with 36 percent in favor of the change.

Read more from the 23rd and Lincoln blog at

Corporation Commission orders OG&E to refund more than $7 million to customers

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. residential customers will see their bills drop by more than $3 in September under a ruling Monday by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. OG&E is paying the price for failing to have state regulators review its decision to extend a natural gas transportation contract with fellow OGE Energy Corp. subsidiary Enogex in 2009. The Corporation Commission ordered OG&E to give customers a $4.2 million credit next month, while passing along an additional $3 million in savings through April 2013.

Read more from NewsOK at

Federal stimulus aid to help veterans at risk of losing their homes

The Community Service Council has learned it will receive nearly $1 million in federal stimulus money for helping out veterans in a nine-county area who are at risk of losing their homes or who face other problems. The council, the only agency in the state awarded such funding, will receive one of 85 grants awarded nationally by the Veterans Administration Support Services for Veterans’ Families. The grant will go toward a program known as the Barrier Removal and Residence Exchange for Veterans, which seeks to assist low-income veteran families who are most in need of supportive services in Tulsa, Washington, Muskogee, Creek, Cherokee, Rogers, Okmulgee, Osage and Wagoner counties. CSC hopes to serve up to 500 low-income veteran families who have homes but who are at risk of becoming homeless, as well as those who are currently homeless.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City, state agencies defend sweep of MidTown outdoor market

Officials with the city of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City/County Health Department and the ABLE Commission are defending their raid on an inaugural nighttime food market against critics who say the enforcement was selective and heavy-handed. A large crowd was already gathered and enjoying the inaugural H&8th outdoor food market Friday night when 27 inspectors, police and agents raided the event. The raid started about 8:30 p.m. Friday, just 30 minutes after the market, dubbed “H&8th,” started up in the parking lot of Elemental Coffee, 815 N Hudson. A large crowd that included City Manager Jim Couch was surprised to see a force of inspectors, ABLE agents, police, fire and code enforcement officers descend on an event that consisted of three food trucks, a beer trailer, the coffee shop and nearby Ludivine Restaurant. Organizers admit they held the market despite being rejected for an outdoor event permit. Other violations are in dispute.

Read more from NewsOK at

See also: Peeling the onion on nighttime market raid from OKC Central

Breaking down the debt deal

In this video blog, OK Policy Director David Blatt provides an overview of the deficit reduction agreement reached this summer by Congress and President Obama. The deal calls for close to $1 trillion in cuts to discretionary programs over the next ten yeas and additional automatic, across-the-board spending cuts if Congress fails to enact a further $1.2 trillion in deficit-reduction measures by January 15, 2012.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

This is a case screaming for help. The function of a judge is not just to punish people but to help people. That was lost in her case.
Josh Welch, the attorney for Patricia Spottedcrow, a mother of 4 who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling $31 worth of marijuana.

Number of the Day

Number of same-sex couples co-habitating in Oklahoma, 2010
Source: U.S. Census via ThinkProgress

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Legal aid programs for poor deal with deep cuts

Programs that provide free legal aid to the poor are laying off employees, cutting services and increasingly turning away people who need assistance, as slashed budgets face deeper cuts. “It’s a really dire situation,” says Rebekah Diller, deputy director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “Courts around the country are struggling right now with massive amounts of people who have no legal representation.” Legal aid programs provide representation in civil cases related to domestic violence, foreclosures, child custody issues and similar matters. The Constitution guarantees legal representation if a person cannot afford to hire a lawyer in criminal cases, but in civil cases people are on their own. Congress cut funding for the Legal Services Corp. (LSC), an umbrella non-profit group that distributes grants to 136 programs on the state level, by $15.8 million, about 4% of the program’s most recent budget, in the spring. The House Appropriations Committee has proposed slashing an additional $104 million for fiscal 2012, rolling back funding to $300 million — a level not seen since 1999.

Read more from USA Today at

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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