In The Know: Ethics Commission and Gov. Fallin will square off in court over funding

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.

In The News

Ethics Commission and Gov. Fallin Will Square off in Court over Funding: The Oklahoma Ethics Commission requested roughly $3 million dollars for the 2019 fiscal year, which began July 1. But the legislature told the commission to use money collected through agency fees in its own revolving fund— some $700,000— to continue operating. Now the commission is suing Governor Mary Fallin and other elected officials, alleging a violation of Oklahoma’s constitution, which requires the legislature to “sufficiently” fund the commission’s duties [KGOU].

Downtown development in Oklahoma City forces homeless migration: Corey Russell, 41, had been homeless for more than two years when he was able to find housing through the Homeless Alliance a few months ago. Construction, combined with an increased police presence, is forcing many to move closer to a cluster of homeless shelters and resource centers around the Metro Park neighborhood, he said. “They have to go somewhere,” Russell said. But that’s led to clashes with area residents and businesses, some of whom already had been complaining for years about the homeless problem. Many of the recent homeless complaints to the city’s Action Center come from businesses in the area [The Oklahoman].

Introducing Open Justice Oklahoma, Now Hiring: Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to launch a new project to improve understanding of Oklahoma’s justice system through analysis of public data. Working closely with justice system stakeholders and advocates, Open Justice Oklahoma (OJO) will use cutting-edge methods to identify problems, craft solutions, and measure reform outcomes. The project will be led by Ryan Gentzler, who has been a criminal justice analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute for the past two years. OK Policy is also hiring a justice data analyst to work with the project, with an application deadline of August 3rd [OKPolicy].

AG to Advise Health Department on Medical Marijuana Lawsuit: Attorney General Mike Hunter agreed to provide a team to advise the Oklahoma State Department of Health, but stopped short of promising to represent it in a lawsuit over medical marijuana rules. On the same day, a lawyer for a medical marijuana group suing the Health Department petitioned Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to investigate five Board of Health members for alleged violations of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act [NewsOK]. Unlike many of the high-profile lawsuits residents have filed against state officials, the complaints against the Oklahoma Board of Health’s medical marijuana regulations will have to take a slower route through the courts [Journal Record].

(Capitol Update) Medical Marijuana Rule Changes Clearly the Result of Lobbying Effort: In my opinion, the State Board of Health stubbed its toe last week with last minute changes to its published, proposed rules implementing the medical marijuana proposal just passed by vote of the people. The Oklahoma State Pharmaceutical Association along with the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Hospital Association seemed to be at the forefront of the effort to get the Board of Health to amend its proposed rules [OKPolicy].

Oklahoma, Tulsa County Republicans Condemn Health Board’s Medical Marijuana Decision: Republican leaders in the state’s two biggest counties are the latest to rip the State Board of Health’s decision on governing medical marijuana in Oklahoma. Oklahoma and Tulsa County Republican Party leaders issued a statement Monday accusing the Health Board of bypassing the State Legislature and say it “thwarted the will of the people” in response to the board’s decision to draft rules regarding medical marijuana’s usage in the state [OKCFOX]. Gubernatorial candidates from the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties say the Oklahoma Board of Health thwarted the will of voters last week by approving rules for medical marijuana that bar smoking pot and require pharmacists to staff dispensaries [NewsOK]. Amid public outrage over the state’s new emergency medical marijuana regulations, pressure continued to mount Monday for the governor to order a special session [Enid News & Eagle]. 

Oklahoma Schools Unsure Impact of Medical Marijuana Law: As Oklahoma prepares for a medical marijuana program that is still being developed, school leaders across the state have raised questions and concerns over the impact on students and school policy. Officials with the state Department of Education have fielded numerous questions from district leaders related to medical marijuana and the department plans to issue guidance to schools next month [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Teachers Learning Through Summer ‘Jobs’: The Oklahoma State Department of Education has expanded a summer externship program for teachers. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said four times as many teachers are participating in the program’s second year, learning hands-on skills in science, technology, engineering and math through temporary gigs with Oklahoma companies. “But it’s also a paid opportunity. We see that our teachers are clamoring for professional development, training, support, resources. So, this helps in multiple areas,” Hofmeister said [Public Radio Tulsa].

TPS Planning Documents Show Unhappy Staff, Low Academic Results and Resentment for Administration: Tulsa Public Schools is hindered in its ability to teach students and retain talented teachers, in part by staff members’ belief in a lack of support from administration and policy, district planning documents reveal. Those documents show that only 23 percent of Tulsa Public Schools’ teachers and principals surveyed said they “agree” that the district’s administration shows concern for the needs of its schools and that only a third of the district’s teaching staff would recommend that a friend or family member work at TPS [Tulsa World].

Despite staff concerns, TPS board approves $160,000 contract for consultant who serves special-needs students: A controversial consultant will be employed by Tulsa Public Schools for another year — albeit at less pay than originally planned. Despite the concerns of current and former staff members about her behavior and what she actually accomplished, the Tulsa school board approved Kim Lewis’ contract for the coming school year. The former and current staff members had called her a bully and blamed her for turnover in hard-to-fill roles, such as speech language pathologist positions, within the district. [Tulsa World]

Average Pay for Public University Presidents Tops Half a Million: Chief executives of public colleges nationwide were paid on average about $560,000 in fiscal year 2017, but a dozen took home salaries topping $1 million, a new survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education shows. In Oklahoma, compensations were below the national average. Former University of Oklahoma President David Boren is 127th on the list with a total compensation for 2016-17 of $437,992 [NewsOK].

A Worthwhile Topic for Oklahoma DHS Lecture Series: Later this month, the Department of Human Services will use its Practice & Policy Lecture Series to discuss something many people prefer not to talk about — suicide. We say, bravo! The lecture series is designed, DHS says in a news release, “to provide thought-provoking presentations on Oklahoma’s emerging policy issues, trends and best practices.” Unfortunately, suicide qualifies. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oklahoma has the eighth-highest suicide rate in the country [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

House Study Would Examine Mental Health in Ag Sector: As Oklahoma officials struggle to address mental health issues across the state, one lawmaker requested an interim study that would allow them to home in on one group that stands out. House Minority Leader Steve Kouplen made a request to look into how Oklahoma can better meet the mental health service needs of farmers and ranchers, who face high rates of suicide. Between legislative sessions, lawmakers use interim studies to delve into issues more deeply than they are able to during the session [Journal Record].

Oklahoma Rape Kit Testing Could Cost at Least $9.5M: State estimates show that testing more than 7,000 unsubmitted rape kits in Oklahoma could cost more than $9 million. The Oklahoman reports the estimates were provided in a report by a statewide task force examining the issue. The actual cost could be different because officials haven’t formally decided how to test the kits or how many to test, and the task force recommends some kits not be tested [Public Radio Tulsa].

Oklahoma Inmates Graduate from Pet Grooming School: Almost three-dozen Oklahoma inmates graduate tonight in Tulsa. The inmates have been taught the art of pet grooming through the Department of Correction’s ‘Muddy Paws’ program. The DOC’s Matt Elliott says the graduates are from the Turley Correctional Facility’s half-way house.  The program gives the soon-to-be-released inmates an employable skill for when they are freed [Public Radio Tulsa].

City Economic Development Commission Looks to Step up Its Game: After its hiatus ended earlier this year, the City of Tulsa Economic Development Commission has big plans. By law, the commission oversees 38.5 percent of hotel and motel tax revenue. Commission Chairman Elliot Nelson said 34 percent passes straight through to the convention and visitors bureau, which said it needs more funding [Public Radio Tulsa].

Survey to Measure Quality of Life in Tulsa Hits Mailboxes This Week: This week, Tulsans get their chance to tell the city how it’s going. The Gallup-Tulsa CitiVoice Index is a survey of 50 indicators of overall city vitality. Check your mailbox — the survey is being mailed to 22,500 households in all parts of town. “Today, with cellular phones not really matching up in terms of area code and that sort of thing, we want to be sure that we’re getting Tulsa residents,” said City of Tulsa Chief of Performance Strategy and Innovation James Wagner [Public Radio Tulsa].

Oklahoma Official Wants to Limit Single-Use Plastic Bags: A municipal official in central Oklahoma is exploring how to limit single-use plastic bags, aiming to combat a leading source of litter and pollution. Norman Councilwoman Breea Clark was already interested in addressing single-use plastic bags when she toured the materials recycling facility where all the city’s recyclable items collected from curbside bins are sorted. Clark says the plastic film gets caught in the machines and workers have to untangle or cut the plastic loose, slowing the sorting process [AP News].

Learning from others’ mistakes: In Kingfisher County, Red Bluff wants to drill the Herod 2-27MH well about 313 feet below a natural gas storage reservoir owned by Oneok. Prudence should be the order of the day. Oklahoma has some of the country’s most lax rules – the federal minimum – when it comes to drilling and hydraulic fracturing near natural gas storage. California, which once had similarly loose regulations, now has some of the most strict. That’s because in October 2015 a massive leak occurred at Aliso Canyon near Los Angeles, taking nearly four months to plug and releasing an estimated 91,000 metric tons of methane gas into the atmosphere [Editorial / Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“The Department of Health’s General Counsel advised the board members during the July 10th meeting that these two amendments to the draft rules that we submitted for the Board’s consideration likely exceeded the scope of their authority. In light of this conflict, I would appreciate the advice and counsel of your office on how best to proceed with the defense of this action.”

-Tom Bates, Interim Commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Health, writing to Attorney General Mike Hunter about a lawsuit over the Department’s newly approved medical marijuana rules [OAG.OK.GOV]

Number of the Day


Percent of Oklahoma students participating in free or reduced-price lunch at school who also participated in breakfast in the 2016-17 school year, 23rd in the US

[Hunger Free Oklahoma]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

American Indian and Alaska Native Maternal and Infant Mortality: Challenges and Opportunities: Natalie, a home visiting nurse in a midwestern city, provides families with in-home support throughout pregnancy and a child’s early years. Natalie mostly serves urban American Indian families who, like all families, want what is best for their children. But accessing the care and support necessary to fully provide for their families can be difficult for urban American Indians, who still feel the legacy of the United States’ historic mistreatment of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities—genocide, forced migration, and cultural erasure. [Center for American Progress]

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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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