In The Know: Lawmakers advance criminal justice reform

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

Lawmakers advance criminal justice reform: After almost a year of doubt and weeks of waiting for movement at the Oklahoma Capitol, lawmakers advanced seven bills that would mark the state’s next step in criminal justice reform. Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat said the proposals that could reach Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk this week are significant to reducing Oklahoma’s prison population, but he acknowledged there’s still more work to do [NewsOK]. With little fanfare, Oklahoma House approves two long-suffering criminal justice bills [Tulsa World]. Passing revised justice reform measures is necessary but not nearly enough [OK Policy].

Lawmakers in House, Senate leaving Capitol politics: Almost two dozen Oklahoma lawmakers will leave office before triggering term limits, and many of those are leaving electoral politics altogether. It’s easy to blame their departure on the frustrating politics they’ve experienced at the Oklahoma Legislature over the past two years, but most downplay the negatives and focus on the benefits of leaving office [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Legislature’s Special Session Continues With Bill Allocating Fuel Tax Hikes: The Oklahoma House sent the Senate a special-session measure on Tuesday to dedicate recent fuel tax increases to road and bridge repairs. House Bill 1014X specifies revenue from 3 cent gas and 6 cent diesel tax hikes will go into the account for state highway and bridge repair, known as the ROADS Fund. Some Democrats cried foul [Public Radio Tulsa]. Everything you should know about Oklahoma’s special sessions [OK Policy].

Fallin signs bill preventing sex offenders from living near their victims: Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday signed a bill that would prevent sex offenders from living near their victims. House Bill 1124 prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet and loitering within 1,000 feet of their victims’ homes. Current Oklahoma law bans sex offenders from living near places such as schools and playgrounds but does not ban offenders from living near his or her victim [KOCO].

Meet the 19 already ‘elected’ to 2019 Legislature, learn more about record-breaking candidate filing in Oklahoma: One month ago, 73 percent of the Oklahoma Legislature members running for re-election had no challenger. Now only 13 percent of the races appear to be uncontested after Friday’s candidate filing deadline. Of the 24 races for the state Senate and 101 in the House, 19 are decided already as only one candidate has filed for each of those seats. Below are legislators whose seats are already secure in the 57th Oklahoma Legislature next year [Tulsa World].

Updating drug courts is important, but Oklahoma must invest in all forms of substance abuse treatment: In the wake of the passage of SQ 780, which reclassified simple drug possession as a misdemeanor, legislators and advocates began to discuss how the state should adjust its approach to substance abuse. As Oklahoma continues to adjust to SQ 780, evidence from other states provides lessons that our lawmakers should consider: drug courts can work for misdemeanor defendants, and increasing funding for treatment before a person enters the justice system is the most effective way to combat substance abuse [OK Policy].

Oklahoma doing something about opioid crisis: With more than 65,000 annual overdose deaths attributed to opioids nationally, and tons of prescription opioids coming into Oklahoma annually, it’s high time we more intelligently and tightly controlled this frighteningly dangerous drug. Attorney General Mike Hunter’s Opioid Task Force is to be commended for shining a light on the layers of complex, debilitating issues associated with the opioid crisis’ effect on Oklahoma [Bob Howard / The Oklahoman].

Trucking bill dies in committee: A measure that would change trucking industry oversight stalled this week in a House committee. Senate Bill 1380 won’t move forward this legislative session, but co-author Rep. Dustin Roberts said he plans to take up the issue in the Appropriations and Budget Committee next session. The measure would move oversight of heavy trucks from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety [Journal Record].

I’m an Oklahoma educator who had become complacent about funding cuts. Our students will be different: I’ve spent the last 40 years watching the state I love divest in its future. The cuts to education budgets just kept coming. Oklahoma City Public Schools, where I spent the last 10 years working with teachers, had to cut over $30 million in the 2016-17 academic year alone. Over time, students, teachers, and parents, at times including myself, became complacent [Chalkbeat].

Medical Marijuana Push Spreads to Utah, Oklahoma: The push for legalized marijuana has moved into Utah and Oklahoma, two of the most conservative states in the country, further underscoring how quickly feelings about marijuana are changing in the United States. RELATED CONTENT Fake Pot Plagues Illinois If the two measures pass, Utah and Oklahoma will join 30 other states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the pro-pot National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws [AP].

US Supreme Court rejects Oklahoma death row inmate’s appeal: The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the final appeal of an Oklahoma death row inmate convicted in the 2004 death of a security guard. The Oklahoman reports that justices declined to review Wade Lay’s case on Monday. The 57-year-old was convicted of fatally shooting 36-year-old Air Force veteran Kenny Anderson. Anderson was killed during an armed bank robbery in Tulsa involving Lay and his son, Christopher Lay [AP].

Bridenstine Confirmation Vote Could Take Place Soon: Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine may be one step closer to becoming the head of NASA. A motion filed Monday moves his confirmation vote forward. President Donald Trump nominated Congressman Bridenstine to oversee NASA last year, but his confirmation has been held up by some lawmakers who believe Bridenstine may not be the best candidate for the job [News On 6].

Quote of the Day

“The prison population in Oklahoma unfortunately will continue to grow. But I think these bills do represent progress, and these bills are a foundation that we can continue to build upon.”

– Kris Steele, chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and former Speaker of the House, commenting on several justice reform bills that advanced on Tuesday. The bills were revised from their original forms as proposed by the Justice Reform Task Force last year (Source)

Number of the Day


Share of Oklahoma children eligible for Medicaid (SoonerCare) who were enrolled in the program in FY 2015

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New Research Highlights Ways to Increase Impact and Limit Costs of Business Incentives: State and local governments commonly use economic development incentives such as tax credits and exemptions to try to boost their economies by encouraging businesses to relocate or expand within their borders. But such incentives can represent major budget commitments, costing these governments tens of billions of dollars every year. To make the best decisions about which policies to pursue, policymakers need reliable, high-quality tools and methods for evaluating their incentives and ensuring that they yield the intended results [Pew Trusts].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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