In The Know: Criminal justice bill watch; higher appropriations possible; courts seek supplemental funds…

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.

New from OK Policy

Bill Watch: A strong bipartisan coalition could make huge advances on criminal justice reform: This legislative session, leaders of both parties, the governor, the Oklahoma business community and the public at large have expressed a clear desire to work towards ending Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. Some of these legislative initiatives build on the progress of Gov. Fallin’s Criminal Justice Task Force, but many proposals represent new attempts to lower Oklahoma’s highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. [OK Policy]

Prosperity Policy: Living up to our ideals: On Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, a racist photo surfaced from the medical school yearbook page of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, showing two unidentified individuals dressed in blackface and a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Gov. Northam initially acknowledged, but then denied, being in the photo, then admitted to having once blackened his face to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance contest. [David Blatt / OK Policy]

Ardmore residents get legislative update: Oklahoma lawmakers are now in their third week of the 2019 session. So how are things going? That was the focus of the third annual State of the State Forum in Ardmore on Tuesday evening. “Give people an update on the State of the State, in particular the budget challenges we had and opportunities ahead,” said Oklahoma Policy Institute executive director David Blatt. [KTEN]

In The News

Board of Equalization: Higher appropriations possible: The Oklahoma Legislature will have $574.5 million more to appropriate for the state’s next fiscal year after the Board of Equalization certified an official estimate this morning. After the meeting, however, Gov. Kevin Stitt told media that $237 million of that revenue must be dedicated to existing financial obligations, and he called for an additional $200 million in savings and $60 million to be dedicated to a $1,200-per-teacher pay raise. [NonDoc] Our recent analysis showed that despite this strong revenue growth, the budget is still a long way from full recovery. This year’s appropriated budget is $788 million below the FY 2009 budget of a decade ago adjusted for inflation, and most state agencies have been cut by 20 percent or more compared to FY 2009.

District courts, others seek supplemental appropriation: Oklahoma’s district courts appear to be the most likely state agency to receive a supplemental appropriation for their Fiscal Year 2019 budgets, underscoring why some state leaders want to stop funding criminal justice agencies through court fees. A committee substitute for HB 2737 would appropriate $2.5 million to the Supreme Court, and it advanced out of House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget on Wednesday afternoon. [NonDoc] One of our 2019 policy priorities is to fund public defenders and courts to reduce caseloads and reduce reliance on fines and fees.

Bucking ethics proposal, legislators become lobbyists: Three former legislators who left office in November are now lobbyists, embodying a practice that state ethics officials have unsuccessfully tried to ban in the face of opposition from the Legislature. Oklahoma Ethics Commission records show former Reps. Pat Ownbey, Josh Cockroft and Bobby Cleveland – all Republicans who served in last year’s legislative class – registered as lobbyists within weeks or a few months of finishing their terms in mid-November. [Oklahoma Watch]

House bill looks to replace out-of-school suspensions with alternative punishments: In an effort to help students who are struggling but also keep Oklahoma classrooms safe, a House bill looks to address both by eliminating Mandatory out-of-school suspensions. House bill 1989 would require schools to use restorative practices or alternative punishment areas instead of out-of-school suspensions. [KOCO]

Oklahoma House passes bill to protect children cared for by state: House Bill 1036 would prevent parents whose children have been taken by the state from taking back custody of their child until they have gone through the full process of re-establishing parental rights, according to a press release from the Oklahoma House of Representatives. [OU Daily]

Committee sends bill allowing permitless gun carry to Oklahoma Senate floor: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he will sign a constitutional carry bill, and one could hit his desk as soon as next week. The Senate Appropriations committee passed House Bill 2597 on an 18–4 vote, with all Republican members in favor and four of six Democrats opposed. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Proposed bill would increase incentives for film productions in Oklahoma: An Oklahoma Senate Bill has been filed that would offer more incentives to filmmakers and producers who bring their projects to the state. Journal Record Editor Russell Ray discusses why some proponents view this bill as a front door to economic development. [KGOU]

State water board approves water quality variance rule opposed by environmental groups: proposal backed by industry but opposed by environmental groups that would create a framework allowing variances to water quality standards was approved by The Oklahoma Water Resources Board this week. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma medical marijuana businesses may need food licenses: Foods infused with CBD or THC, like oils, candy or honey are popular choices at dispensaries. Now the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which runs the state’s medical marijuana program, is reminding businesses that sell or manufacture those products that they need a food license by late April, or risk fines. [KOSU]

Rep. Trish Ranson: Advocacy is easy, if you know what you are doing: I’ve had many friends ask me what is the best way to contact legislators on topics that are near and dear to their hearts. Here are the five steps I recommend, plus a couple of great resources for staying on top of what’s happening at the State Capitol. [Rep. Trish Ranson / Stillwater News Press]

Meeting on OKC school closures reset for Thursday: Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel will recommend the best option for closing and consolidating schools when he meets with the school board at 3 p.m. Thursday inside Northeast Academy, 3100 N Kelley. [NewsOK]

Attorneys reach temporary agreement to keep Prague hospital open: The City of Prague was in court Tuesday, trying to take over the town’s ailing hospital. According to Prague city leaders, their hospital has been on life support for months. Employees are consistently paid late, they are paying out of their own pockets for food for patients, and members of the community have had to donate supplies. [News9]

Oklahoma Christian University students learn about criminal justice reform during forum: Criminal justice reform is in the spotlight this week at Oklahoma Christian University, as leaders in the field engage in “Complex Dialogues.” Speakers hope to inspire students to take charge, to change the system. [News9]

OU Regents Chair: President didn’t initiate personnel probe: The chair of the University of Oklahoma regents said an ongoing personnel investigation was not initiated by the current president, but declined to elaborate further following a closed-door meeting Wednesday with attorneys to discuss the probe. The two-hour meeting comes a week after The Oklahoman newspaper, citing unnamed sources, reported that former University of Oklahoma President David Boren was the target of an investigation. [AP News]

Quote of the Day

“I agree it’s not the best model. I think that as a result of a number things — one being State Question 640 where it’s easier to pass a fee than raise a tax — then all of a sudden we’re tacking more and more fees on everything, especially on funding the courts.”

-House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Wallace, speaking about courts’ increasing dependence on unreliable fee collections [Source: NonDoc]

Number of the Day

57.5 Years

Life Expectancy for Oklahomans with an untreated mental illness.

[Source: Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Working to make ends meet during good economic times: We find that families with two working adults are less likely to experience hardship, have financial insecurity, and use AFS than families with a single working adult. However, economic distress is high even among families where both the respondent and his or her partner or spouse are working. We also find that workers with nonstandard work arrangements with changeable working hours and lack of job benefits are more likely to be in economic distress. Despite being employed, many workers are unsatisfied with their current job arrangement, which is insufficient to provide economic security for them. [Urban Institute]

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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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