In The Know: Governor signs criminal justice reform measures

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.

Today In The News

Governor Signs Criminal Justice Reform Measures: After years of delays, fighting with judiciary chairman and public opinion battles, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a slew of criminal justice reform bills. Fallin signed six of them on Thursday. She did so surrounded by women who have benefited from the kind of programs she has pushed for, which address mental health and substance abuse with treatment instead of incarceration. She was also surrounded by policy analysts, national and local, who helped craft the evidence-based policies to decrease the state’s prison overpopulation and the lawmakers who fought to get those policies passed [Journal Record]. Advocates of criminal justice reform are concerned that new laws will disappoint many who have worked for the past decade to change Oklahoma’s status as the state with the largest rates of incarceration [CapitolBeatOK]. Though the bills are expected to avert most, but not all, prison growth over the next 10 years, the Department of Corrections (DOC) will still require one new prison [OK Policy].

Despite Funding Boost, Budget Fails to Restore Most Cuts: Lawmakers are on their way to passing the largest state budget in Oklahoma history. But that doesn’t mean state agencies have recovered from years of cost-cutting. The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a $7.5 billion appropriations bill that will be $724 million – or 10.9 percent – more than the state’s current fiscal year budget. The bulk of the new funds will be used to boost salaries for teachers, school support staff and state employees. And millions of additional dollars will go into the school funding formula and targeted initiatives for criminal justice, social services and other programs [Oklahoma Watch]. As a benefit to state agencies, lawmakers also significantly cut back on the practice of raiding revolving funds, which are accounts that departments use to save money for large projects [NewsOK].

SJR 70 Could Create Tough Choices for Oklahoma Schools: As the dust settles in the aftermath of Oklahoma’s teacher walkout, advocates are still trying to understand what’s been achieved and what still needs to be done to fully fund the state’s education responsibilities. Now another wrinkle could emerge from a pair of bills — SJR 70 and SB 1398 by Sen. Stephanie Bice and Rep. Elise Hall — that could give local districts more flexibility in how they use their funding, but at the cost of creating some hard choices for schools [OKPolicy].

Adoption bill dubbed ‘un-American’ by advocacy group passes House, heads to Governor: A bill dubbed “un-American” by an LGBTQ advocacy group now heads to the Oklahoma governor’s desk. The Oklahoma House passed SB 1140 60-26. The bill would allow adoption and foster care agencies to cite religion to turn away same-sex couples, single mothers, interfaith couples and children [Fox25]. Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, added an amendment during the committee process that nixed the protections for agencies that use public funds [Journal Record].

Hamilton: A Back-Door Scheme, Taxes and Dr. No: For most of the last two decades, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was the face of an ascendant Republican Party in Oklahoma. Now he could become its worst nightmare. Dr. No’s vocal support for a veto referendum aimed at nullifying the Legislature’s $400 million funding package for teacher and state employee pay raises is feeding a prairie fire that threatens the GOP’s statehouse supermajority [Arnold Hamilton/Journal Record]. Putting the funding package on the ballot almost guarantees a huge mobilization and strong electoral turnout by teachers and other supporters of public education [OK Policy].

‘They are so underpaid’: School support staff scrape by on meager earnings: Jessica Morales gets to Prairie Queen Elementary before the bell rings. In class, she is a lifeline for recent immigrant students, translating lessons they cannot understand. Last year, when a teacher had to leave school unexpectedly, Morales filled in, decorating the classroom, teaching the class, holding parent-teacher conferences. Her job as a teacher assistant is more fulfilling than the one she held at a meatpacking plant, but it pays far less: $12 an hour [Washington Post].

Bill to Allow 10 Commandments Monuments Passes State Senate: A bill that would allow for the display of the Ten Commandments along with historical documents on public property passed the state Senate on Thursday. House Bill 2177 by Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, and Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, passed by a 39-3 vote and heads to the House for consideration. An amendment to penalize lawmakers who author unconstitutional bills failed to secure approval [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma states Murphy case could split state into two territories: In U.S. Supreme Court documents filed April 23 in the Royal v. Murphy case, attorneys for the State of Oklahoma argue that allowing the appellate court’s decision to stand will rip the state apart. “Oklahoma stands on the brink of the most radical jurisdictional shift since statehood,” the brief states. The attorneys suggest the state would no longer be able to prosecute crimes involving Native Americans in the eastern half of Oklahoma. In the latter half of 2017, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Congress had not disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation created by an 1866 treaty, and therefore the State of Oklahoma lacked the jurisdiction to try and sentence Murphy for murder because he is a Muscogee (Creek) citizen and the crime occurred in Indian Country [Mvskoke Media].

‘I have nothing to hide’ Pruitt tells Congress as he faces ethics controversies: With his job, his reputation and possibly his political future hanging in the balance, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt showed little contrition as he faced nearly six hours of questioning before congressional committees Thursday. “Let me be very clear: I have nothing to hide as it relates to how I’ve run the agency for the past 16 months,” Pruitt told members of the House Commerce Committee. Pruitt has spent months batting back ethics complaints related to expenses on travel, a soundproof booth and a significant security detail, along with large raises to EPA staffers and a Capitol Hill condo he rented at below market-rates from the wife of an energy lobbyist with business before the EPA [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Supreme Court Vacates Corporation Commission Order Approving OG&E’s Plan to Upgrade Its Coal-Fired Sooner Generating Plant: An Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling issued Tuesday won’t stop a $500 million project by Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. to install coal scrubbers at its Sooner generating station near Red Rock. But the decision does require the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to vacate a decision it issued in 2016 that determined the proposed project was “reasonable” for the utility to undertake to meet stricter federal environmental rules and regulations [NewsOK].

Oklahoma City Receives $800,000 Grant from Environmental Protection Agency: Just days after Earth Day, city leaders received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. On Thursday, city officials announced that the $800,000 grant from the EPA will be used to support environmental cleanup in Oklahoma City to promote the redevelopment of under-used property. City leaders say the money will be used across Oklahoma City, including areas in and around downtown [KFOR].

Adam Soltani: High Court Should Strike down Muslim Ban: There come those moments in everyone’s life that you envision sharing with your family. Weddings, the birth of your children and other milestone moments in our lives are ones you always dream of celebrating with those closest to you. Embracing one another in moments of joy, comforting one another in moments of sorrow, but most of all being there regardless of whether the sun is shining brightly or the rain is pouring down. That is the amazing thing about family — you get to be there for one another through it all [Adam Soltani/NewsOK]

Law Day to Be Celebrated with Free Legal Advice: Attorneys across Oklahoma will provide free legal advice on May 3, during the 67th annual statewide celebration of Law Day, a news release states. Oklahoma City and Tulsa lawyers will staff the statewide toll-free hotline between 9 a.m.-9 p.m. May 3. Those who speak only Spanish can call the hotline with legal questions from 3-9 p.m., as Spanish-speaking attorneys and translators will be available to take calls. The toll-free number to call is (800) 456-8525 or email or [Muskogee Phoenix].

One Idea to Boost Science Education in Oklahoma: Move Classrooms Outside and Way from Textbooks: The state’s market for engineering and technology jobs is growing, but Oklahoma students lag behind national averages on science and math test scores. Researchers say one way to fix this gap is training science educators to do more than teach the facts — and to think beyond the textbook [State Impact Oklahoma].

Quote of the Day

“I am the nurse. I am the teacher when the teacher is gone. I’m the mom, dad, counselor — you name it. We wear maybe more hats now because of budget issues.”

– Carmon Williams, the secretary at Edwards Elementary in Oklahoma City who dispenses medication to students because the nurse comes in only once a week. She supports herself and four children on about $19,000 a year [Source].

Number of the Day

$1.93 billion

How much total annual payroll for all industries decreased in Oklahoma from 2015 to 2016, a 3.2% drop.

Source: U.S. Census County Business Patterns Survey

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

These Volunteers Are Battling Idaho’s Government To Expand Medicaid: State legislators in Idaho have refused to accept federal funding that could help thousands without health insurance get coverage. Meet “Reclaim Idaho,” the group that’s trying to do what elected officials won’t and put Medicaid expansion up for a vote in November [Buzzfeed News].

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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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