In The Know: June 21, 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 on In The Know, the State Pardon and Parole Board is considering commuting life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent drug traffickers. The Oklahoma City teachers’ union released a “Shared Accountability and Responsibility Blueprint” to encourage negotiation on education reforms. Oklahoma House leaders are sifting through 126 requests for interim studies. They are expected to approve about 50 studies by July 7. You can see a full list of interim study requests here.

Transition services are helping Oklahoma foster children adjust to adulthood. The Oklahoma Department of Labor is cracking down on employers with outstanding fines for failure to provide workers compensation insurance. The OK Policy Blog interviewed fourth grade teacher Anna Eller on ways that teachers can encourage children to be healthier. A judge approved a $3.4B settlement over mismanagement of Native American assets by the federal government. Two longtime Cherokee Nation leaders are in a contentious race to become the next principal chief.

In today’s Policy Note, Illinois is pulling out of the Secure Communities program that uses fingerprints to identify undocumented immigrants in jail because it was catching too many people with only minor convictions or no criminal record at all. In a dozen states, including Oklahoma, more than half of those deported under this program had clean records. More below the jump.

In The News

Pardon and Parole Board considers commutations in life-without-parole cases

Some prosecutors are concerned that action being considered by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board could undermine confidence in life-without-parole prison sentences. The Pardon and Parole Board on Tuesday is expected to discuss procedures for commutation hearings in life-without-parole cases. The board recently voted to consider commutation for Larry E. Yarbrough of Kingfisher County, who is serving a no-parole life term for drug trafficking. Suzanne McClain Atwood, executive coordinator of the District Attorneys Council wrote to Gov. Mary Fallin that commuting life-without-parole sentences would erode and dilute that sentencing option.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma City teacher union pushing for reforms

Across the nation, school districts and teacher unions are drawing battle lines for reform initiatives, particularly when it comes to how teachers are evaluated, retained and compensated. In Oklahoma City, the local teachers union unveiled a “blueprint” Monday that encourages the 40,000-student district to begin negotiations on several controversial education reforms that for many teacher unions are non-starters in collective bargaining. The “Shared Accountability and Responsibility Blueprint” was delivered to the district late last week, and calls for five key points of reform or discussion. The document asks the district to review seniority rules that ensure a last-in, first-out firing practice when there are layoffs. It encourages teacher evaluations to be based on “multiple measures,” including to some extent student growth as shown on tests or other measures.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Okla. House leaders sift through topics for study

Oklahoma lawmakers may have adjourned the 2011 session, but many will soon return to the state Capitol to examine several thorny issues, including long-range policies for the state’s water resources and a study of the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks handed out by the state each year. The House also has assembled a special committee to study further changes to the state’s pension systems, and a task force has been created to explore possible changes to the state’s liquor laws, including the sale of wine and beer with higher alcoholic content at grocery stores. House members submitted 126 requests for interim studies on issues ranging from the age of children entering kindergarten to the use of stun guns by police. House leaders will likely approve about 50 of those requests, said John Estus, a spokesman for House Speaker Kris Steele.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

See also: The full list of interim studies requested by House members

Oklahoma transition services helps young people adjust to adulthood from state custody

Tommy Trammell was 8 when he was taken into Department of Human Services’ custody to spend his years growing up in a number of foster homes. With his 18th birthday approaching and knowing that he would “age out” of foster care, Trammell decided to move in with his grandparents. It soon appeared that things were not going to work out there, and shortly after leaving foster care he was homeless – and would be off and on for the next couple of years. Trammell was living in shelters and other people’s homes, even doing his homework under a bridge trying to achieve something his last foster mother never did – high school graduation.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

State targets companies owing workers compensation fines

Workers compensation scofflaws in Tulsa, Washington and Rogers counties can expect legal action against them in the next few weeks, an Oklahoma Department of Labor attorney said Monday. Labor Commissioner Mark Costello last week announced a crackdown on employers with outstanding fines and penalties for failure to provide proper workers compensation insurance. The campaign’s first judgment was filed on Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court against Shape Fitness, which owes $1,575 in penalties for failing to carry workers compensation insurance from 2002 to 2009. Costello said $1.6 million in penalties are outstanding.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Encouraging kids to be fit, eat right, and have fun!

Public schools have long been clearinghouses for fitness and nutrition initiatives in the United States. Since the 1960s, the President’s Challenge program has inspired kids to meet physical fitness benchmarks. Schoolchildren began to learn about the basic building blocks of a nutritious diet with the introduction of the food pyramid in the 1980s. First Lady Michelle Obama tours the nation promoting the ‘Let’s Move!’ initiative to fight childhood obesity. State and local governments continue to incentivize a variety of public health programs aimed at school-aged children through grants for innovative projects, i.e. planting community gardens. I interviewed Anna Eller, a fourth grade teacher at Tulsa’s Lee Elementary School, to learn about simple techniques teachers can employ at the classroom level to encourage kids to lead an active lifestyle and embrace healthy eating habits.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Judge approves $3.4B settlement of Indian trust lawsuit

A federal judge Monday approved the $3.4 billion settlement between the U.S. government and Indians who sued 15 years ago over mismanagement of their trust accounts — the largest class-action settlement in history against the United States. Barring an appeal, nearly half a million Indians — including an estimated 50,000 in Oklahoma — could begin receiving $1,000 checks within three to four months, according to one of the attorneys for the Indians. Under the settlement, most of the 450,000 account holders will get tax-free checks for $1,000. Many more will get additional money based on the assets in their accounts. Some will get more than $1 million, according to one of the attorneys in the case.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Longtime Cherokee leaders wage bitter campaign

It’s hard to hide the animosity between the two men vying to lead one of the nation’s largest American Indian tribes. From Chad Smith and Bill John Baker’s brief, tepid handshake before a recent debate to the barbs traded by their respective campaigns, it’s obvious the two candidates seeking the top post in the Cherokee Nation don’t particularly care for one another. As voters get ready to decide Saturday whether Smith will serve a fourth term as principal chief or longtime tribal councilman Baker will assume that post, the campaign has become every bit as fierce and nasty as one for a coveted office in Washington.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Quote of the Day

Some don’t have Social Security cards or have never filled out an application for anything and are scared to turn 18. They don’t know where they’re going to go, just that they have to pack up and leave.

Ursula Jenkins, Care Coordinator for a Transition Services program to help foster children adjust to adulthood

Number of the Day


Number of abortion providers – clinics, hospitals, private physicians – in the state of Oklahoma, 2008

Source: Guttmacher Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Deportation record has states reconsidering Secure Communities

Last month, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn pulled his state out of a federal program that uses fingerprints to catch illegal immigrants in jail. Quinn complained that the program was snagging too many people with only minor convictions or no criminal record at all. But federal records show that, in nearly every other state where the program known as Secure Communities is used, the situation Quinn pointed out is even more pronounced. Two out of every 10 people deported from Illinois through Secure Communities had no previous criminal record. Nationally, the initiative has led to the deportations of nearly 109,000 people from 42 states since 2008. Overall, three out of 10 of those people had no prior convictions. In a dozen states with 30 or more deportations, more than half of those removed had clean records.

Read more from this Stateline article 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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