In The Know: Donations to lawmakers; Oklahoma’s tax incentives; new mental health court…

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

(Capitol Update) Policy discussions slowing down under new governor: For a while there was speculation that the Legislature would adjourn on May 10th, which would be this Friday, 3 weeks before the constitutionally-mandated deadline. Safe to say that’s not happening. Then the speculation moved to May 17th. Given the time frames needed to pass measures, even after agreements are reached, that date is now somewhere between overly optimistic and almost impossible. Speculation now centers on May 24th, one week ahead of the deadline. What happened? [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

In The News

Donations to lawmakers keep flowing even as they vote on bills: An Oklahoma Watch review of recent campaign reports found that other donors also continued to spend heavily during the first half of the session and the three-month window between last year’s election and the start of the session. The filings track spending through March. Since Nov. 6, donors have given more than $1.7 million to sitting lawmakers and top state leaders, with about 20 percent donated while the Legislature has been in session. [Oklahoma Watch]

Gallery: How much do Oklahoma’s tax incentives cost the state in revenue? The state takes $15.3 billion a year in taxable activities and gradually winnows it down to about $7 billion in appropriations. A reader caught on to the fact that a lot of that $15.3 billion was going to tax exclusions, exemptions, credits, deferrals and incentives and wanted to know more. [Tulsa World]

Muskogee County debuts mental health court: Muskogee County District Court added a mental health component to its criminal justice system, an oftentimes safer and less costly alternative for those who would benefit from treatment than incarceration. The program was made possible by increased appropriations for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. District court officials implemented the program in conjunction with the Muskogee County District Attorney’s Office, Green Country Behavioral Health Services Inc. and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. [Muskogee Daily Phoenix]

Two criminal justice reform measures headed to governor: Two bills intended to help people with criminal records find jobs are on their way to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk after easy passage through the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday. House Bill 1373, by Rep. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, would bar the state’s various licensure boards from blanket certification denials because of past convictions. Also approved by the House on Monday was HB 1030, by Rep. Ty Burns, R-Morrison. HB 1030 is similar in direction but much more limited in scope. [Tulsa World]

Amid negotiations, House touts 1,148 new teachers since 2018 raise: Oklahoma House leaders are saying “momentum” from last year’s large teacher pay raise has helped bring more than 1,100 new teachers into state classrooms, arguing that an additional $1,200 teacher salary hike this session would keep the ball rolling. The Oklahoma State Senate’s leader, on the other hand, says lawmakers should provide new funding this year through the state funding formula in a manner that offers district school boards and superintendents greater flexibility and local control. [NonDoc]

Leadership change at Oklahoma’s largest virtual charter school likely necessitated by new transparency, conflict of interest law: New restrictions on conflicts of interest at virtual charter schools will necessitate a change at the top of the organizational chart at Epic Charter Schools, according to the Tulsa lawmaker who sponsored legislation to crack down on such practices. [Tulsa World]

Fiercely debated liquor bill heads to governor’s desk: Gov. Kevin Stitt gets to decide a hotly contested liquor bill that advanced to his desk Monday. Senate Bill 608 would require all wholesalers get the opportunity to distribute the 25 top-selling liquor and wine brands. [NewsOK] The Senate voted 34-11 to approve House amendments to Senate Bill 608. [Journal Record 🔒] “There are probably grounds for this to end up in the courts. It probably should, and if this gets it there, great. But our retailers need some relief,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Kim David (R-Porter) who carried the bill. [NonDoc]

Governor Stitt approves measure to extend CNG tax credit: A measure that redefines and extends tax credits related to compressed natural gas vehicles and to the infrastructure used to keep them rolling cleared Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk on Monday. [NewsOK] Authored by state Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa; state Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore; state Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee; and state Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, House Bill 2095 is known as the Clean Transportation Reform and Modernization Act of 2019. [Journal Record 🔒]

House committee orders study of 4% COLA for state retirees: A 4% cost-of-living adjustment is back within reach next year for retired teachers, firefighters, judges and other state pensioners. Members of a key committee in the Oklahoma House of Representatives have acted to initiate an actuarial study of how six pension funds managed by the state would be affected if a 4% increase in retiree pay were to be passed. [Journal Record 🔒]

Smoking stays legal in Oklahoma bars: Oklahoma will continue to be one of the only states in the country that lets you smoke inside bars. A bill that would ban smoking from indoor public places did not make it through the state legislature this year. Rep. Harold Wright, who wrote the bill, says some of the strongest opposition came from business owners who allow smoking inside. [FOX25]

Oklahoma court expenses, fines and fees rise in recent years: Fines, dues and court expenses assessed to Oklahoma defendants have spiked since fiscal year 2007 and government agencies are increasingly relying on them as an income source, criminal justice advocates said. [AP News]

Tulsa World editorial: Oklahoma courts and prosecutors depend on fines and fees — an unjust and unsustainable model: To its shame, Oklahoma foists the cost of justice on an unpopular group with little recourse — criminal defendants. The idea is to use fees and fines to make the people responsible for the cost of the state’s criminal courts bear the costs of operating those courts. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

April medical marijuana sales top $18M in Oklahoma: Oklahoma tax officials say medical marijuana sales topped $18 million last month, marking the seventh straight month of growth for the new industry. The Oklahoma Tax Commission reported Monday the state collected more than $1.2 million in April from the 7% excise tax on marijuana that is in addition to state and local sales tax also collected from medical marijuana sales. [AP News]

Even with digital driver’s licenses, tag agencies likely to remain: Gov. Kevin Stitt has made government modernization a centerpiece of his first year in office. In his State of the State address, he gave state government a “D+” in digital transparency and pledged to centralize government services online. Up ahead, he said, were digital orders for driver’s licenses, a single portal for most state services and a click-of-the-mouse look at all state spending. [Oklahoma Watch]

Gateway Mortgage-Farmers Exchange Bank merger complete: A mortgage company founded by Gov. Kevin Stitt has finalized a merger to form a new banking corporation. Stitt founded Gateway Mortgage Group in 2000, long before his ascension into state politics. But he stepped down as the company’s CEO on Aug. 1, 2018, during his gubernatorial campaign. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma school district “on track” to hit $32K in unpaid student lunches: A school district in northeast Oklahoma may rack up $32,000 in unpaid balances for students’ lunches if something doesn’t change, a school official says. In Bartlesville Public Schools, 52% of students get free or reduced lunches. But according to the district, their negative balance in unpaid lunches continues to rise. [KFOR]

OKC district seeks to standardize contracts: John Rex Charter Elementary School, which doesn’t pay rent and receives tens of thousands in financial assistance from Oklahoma City Public Schools, is pushing back against a plan by the district to start collecting those fees. [NewsOK 🔒]

The Opportunity Project is expanding after-school development options for area students: AfterOpp was created by The Opportunity Project, a citywide intermediary network that connects schools with organizations and agencies to improve the quality and access of expanded-learning opportunities. [Tulsa World]

OK25by25 initiative tackles early childhood development issues: Approaching the third anniversary of the launch of the Oklahoma Early Childhood Coalition, supporters of the 10-year initiative called OK25by25 took a look back at the progress made and the work yet to be done. [Eddie Roach / NewsOK]

Ardmore man plans meth crisis ‘response team’: The methamphetamine issue continues to wreak havoc on portions of southeastern Oklahoma. Officials say the dangerous drug is becoming easier and easier to buy. “Lately, the prices have bottomed out to where it’s so accessible for teenagers and children to have,” said Ronald Robinson, director of BEAR Inc., an Ardmore non-profit that provides drug and alcohol recovery services. [KTEN]

Cherokee Nation Election Commission orders halt to campaigning by corporation founded by principal chief candidate’s former campaign consultant: The Cherokee Nation Election Commission unanimously voted Monday afternoon to send a cease and desist letter to a corporation it says is illegally supporting a candidate for principal chief. [Tulsa World]

‘It feels great,’ says Oklahoma man pardoned by Trump: Michael Behenna won’t ignore phone calls from the president of the United States anymore. The 35-year-old Guthrie man and former soldier, who was convicted by a military court of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaida terrorist in Iraq, was on the phone with his father when he saw a strange number pop up on the screen. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“So if they need to hire new teachers to get lower classroom sizes, they can use that money and their hands aren’t tied. If they want to give a pay raise, their hands are not tied. They can do that. If they want to hire more counselors to be able to get mental health professionals into the education arena — which we’re in desperate need of — they could do that.”

-Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, speaking about why he favors increasing general funding for schools rather than requiring it to go to another teacher raise [Source: NonDoc]

Number of the Day

28%

How much Oklahoma’s state appropriations for CareerTech have been cut over the past decade.

[Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

County jails struggle with a new role as America’s prime centers for opioid detox: The National Sheriffs’ Association estimates that at least half to two-thirds of today’s jail population has a drug abuse or dependence problem. Some counties say the number is even higher. … “We have to physically, medically detox about 40% of our population as they come in off the street,” he says, “and probably 80 to 90% of our population inside has some type of drug or alcohol dependence.” [NPR]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. Born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, she immigrated to Oklahoma with her family at a young age and obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from Oklahoma City University as a Clara Luper Scholar. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked as an Inbound and Digital Marketing Specialist for an OKC based firm. She is an alumnus of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a Board Member for Dream Action Oklahoma, a community organization dedicated to advocating and empowering immigrant youth in the state.

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