In The Know: Justice reform in trouble; competing pension studies; solar energy gaps…

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

Missed opportunities to address disparities in student discipline: Students with disabilities in Oklahoma public schools have experienced disproportionately high rates of exclusionary discipline, such as corporal punishment and suspension, compared to students without disabilities. These disparities are troubling not only because they reveal pervasive inequalities, but also because punitive discipline practices do not effectively address behavioral problems, and they can be harmful to students with identified academic or developmental needs. [OK Policy]

In The News

Stitt ‘circled the troops’ on criminal justice reform, but details murky: Gov. Kevin Stitt publicly waded into one of the Oklahoma Legislature’s most complicated policy negotiations this week, announcing an outline of criminal justice reform efforts he said can be passed this session. “I felt it kind of stalling out, so I circled the troops and we’ve got five bills that I’m trying to push through,” Stitt said Wednesday afternoon as he entered the State Capitol. [NonDoc]

Criminal Justice Reform Advocates Say Bills Lack Mental Health Funding: The state legislature is considering a series of bills that could reduce the prison population. But opponents say the bills don’t do enough to keep people from re-offending. On paper, the bills look like they could make a difference by reducing penalties for those currently in prison for non-violent offenses and changing the cash bail system. Criminal justice reform advocates say to keep felons from returning to prison the state needs to do more. [News9]

OKC senator to decline Gov. Stitt’s education board picks over philosophical differences: Sen. Carri Hicks cited philosophical differences as the reason she declined Thursday to carry two of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointments to the State Board of Education. Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, declined to uphold the nominations of Jennifer Monies and Estela Hernandez, both of Oklahoma City. Hicks, a former school teacher who has carried 13 of Stitt’s nominations, said she met with Monies and Hernandez to discuss their qualifications and views on public education. [Tulsa World]

Stitt signs charter school transparency bill: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday signed a bill that puts new reporting requirements on charter schools. House Bill 1395, by Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, would hold public virtual charter schools to the same reporting standards as traditional public schools. It would require virtual charter schools that contract with education management companies to operate the school to report their financial transactions expended on behalf of the school. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Education Funding Still Not Finalized: Catoosa Representative Terry O’Donnell said lawmakers are finalizing the last few pieces of the budget. He said the education budget increase is probably going to be between $130 and $150 million. “Twenty million of it has to go to the teachers’ insurance benefits – what we call the flex benefits – and then another $70 million could be used for the $1,200 teacher pay raise,” said Rep. O’Donnell. [NewsOn6]

Oklahoma Senate approves incentives for filmmakers: A bill that would allow for an increase in financial incentives offered to encourage filmmaking in Oklahoma passed a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday and is headed to the office of Gov. Kevin Stitt. Senate Bill 200 would allow funds from the Oklahoma Quick Action Closing Fund to be used to make rebate payments to “high-impact productions” pursuant to the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program. [Journal Record 🔒]

Competing studies to look at Oklahoma state retirees’ pensions: The Oklahoma Legislature will not boost state retirees’ pensions this year, but the House and Senate are already laying the groundwork for a potential clash on the issue next year. The House Rules Committee on Thursday opted to pursue an actuarial study to get more information about offering a 4% cost-of-living adjustment to retirees, including teachers, firefighters and police, in specific Oklahoma state pension systems. House lawmakers’ actions run counter to that of the Senate, which already advanced plans to study offering a 2% cost-of-living adjustment to some state retirees next year. [NewsOK]

Statehouses, not the sun, drive solar energy gaps: Shortly after a crew installed 10 solar panels in the yard near his house, Mike Palmer noticed the dial on his electrical meter start spinning in reverse. He was making more power than he was using. “On a really sunny day it would just like zoom backwards,” Palmer said. “There’s something immensely satisfying about that.” Oklahoma, ranked No. 10 nationwide on a common measure of state solar potential, gets plenty of those days. But Palmer’s array is one of only 539 such installations operating there. In fact, 42 states make a greater share of their electricity with solar than Oklahoma does. [The Center for Public Integrity]

Legislature passes new bill to protect military airspace from wind turbine encroachment: The Oklahoma House unanimously passed House Bill 2118 on Wednesday, setting new requirements and penalties meant to protect military airspace from encroachment by wind turbine development. Military aircraft fly training missions from Tinker in Midwest City, Vance in Enid and Altus in Altus. Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas also uses airspace in Oklahoma, and Fort Sill is increasingly using air space to operate drones. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Changing the system: OCU establishing Center for Criminal Justice: The Oklahoma City University School of Law is launching a Center for Criminal Justice to better position its students for their careers and to help enact change in the system, school officials said Wednesday. Students who participate in the center’s bail and bond reform clinic will visit the Oklahoma County Jail, interview detainees and identify candidates for pre-trial release, thus alleviating some of the critical issues that have plagued the building. [Journal Record 🔒]

Air conditioning at the Oklahoma County jail will be turned back on May 13 despite risk of damage to system: Oklahoma County commissioners voted Thursday to go ahead and turn back on the air conditioning at the jail even though pipe repairs aren’t complete. The chilled water system will come back on May 13, almost three weeks early. Commissioners agreed to the “Plan B” at an emergency meeting, one day after Public Defender Bob Ravitz warned them lives were in danger from hot conditions inside the jail. [NewsOK]

Federal grants are preparing a more diverse student body in Oklahoma: The freshmen who enter Oklahoma colleges in 2025 are likely to be more racially diverse than today’s student body, thanks to three federal grants targeting 12,000 pupils in 48 schools across the state. Last fall, the University of Oklahoma K20 Center was awarded GEAR UP grants totaling $68 million to work with three cohorts of middle-schoolers — one urban, one rural and one suburban. [NewsOK 🔒]

Closure of OU-Tulsa Community Health Clinics prompts concerns for at-risk residents: The OU Physicians-Tulsa Community Health Clinics at two elementary schools designed to care for uninsured and underinsured patients will close June 30 because of underutilization, according to OU-Tulsa. School officials and families are concerned that the decision will leave many east Tulsa patients without affordable and convenient access to quality health care. [Tulsa World]

Equality Indicators, including police use of force, show slight improvement in latest report for Tulsa: When it comes to making Tulsa a place where every young person has an equal shot at a great life, things are looking up. But just barely. The 2019 Tulsa Equality Indicators Report released Thursday shows the city’s overall equality score increased slightly to 41.74 out of 100. Last year, the city’s adjusted overall score was 40.02. [Tulsa World]

Program To Prevent Youth Suicides Makes Its Way To Oklahoma: A program to prevent youth suicides is making its way to the metro. The HOPE Squad initiative brings a different approach, by putting other kids on the front line of defense, and it is already working in one Oklahoma town. Three years ago, the Anadarko community was struggling to understand why so many kids were choosing to take their own lives, despite having a suicide prevention plan. Then, they implemented the HOPE Squad initiative. [News9]

Despite Opposition, AG Hunter Doubles Down On Census Citizenship Question: In a recent Opinion column, Attorney General Mike Hunter reemphasized his support for a controversial push to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, despite widespread opposition. [Mike Hunter / Real Clear Politics] Among those who joined the outcry are five former census directors, historians and mathematicians, including some from within the White House. They maintain a significant number of people would be deterred from responding to the census, mostly in Latino and Hispanic communities. They also point to racist uses of the citizenship question in the past including the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II. [News9]

Stitt vetoes measures designed to help the ‘little guys’: It was a lousy week for the little guys at the state Capitol. Gov. Kevin Stitt dropped the veto hammer on two measures that really could have helped workaday Oklahomans – an especially dispiriting turn of events given that both easily won legislative approval. First, the governor nixed House Bill 2465, which would have mandated overtime pay for state employees earning less than $31,000 a year. [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“I think they’ll see way too much incarceration of people who don’t need to be incarcerated. They’ll come to realize that money plays an unbelievable part in the criminal justice system, that people who can’t afford to pay for programs, who can’t afford to pay probation officers, are sometime incarcerated and lose their jobs. The system is more interested in the dollar than in rehabilitating the individual.”

-Public Defender Bob Ravitz, speaking about what he expects students at OCU’s new Center for Criminal Justice will discover about Oklahoma’s justice system [Journal Record]

Number of the Day

More than $173,000

Amount of SNAP benefits that were used at farmer’s markets across the state in FY 2018.

[OKDHS]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

When Rural Hospitals Close, More Than Health Care Is Lost: If you live in a rural area, there’s a good chance that the nearest hospital is in a precarious financial situation. According to the consulting firm Navigant, at least 21 percent of the nation’s rural hospitals are at high risk of closure; iVantage, a health analytics firm, describes 27 percent of the hospitals as “vulnerable.” Indeed, at least 95 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, according to the University of North Carolina’s Sheps Center for Health Services Research. [Governing]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene Perry joined OK Policy in January 2011. 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. Gene also serves on the board of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network, is a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and has chaired the communications advisory committee for the State Priorities Partnership, a nationwide network of state fiscal policy think tanks. He lives in Tulsa with his wife Kara Joy McKee, who is a Tulsa City Councilor.

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