In 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
Meet OK Policy: Justice Data Analyst Ashley Harvey: I provide data related to Oklahoma justice processes; to do this I gather, clean, validate, and document data from various source. I also collaborate with justice system advocates and stakeholders to understand the problems facing our justice system and ways to make progress through accountability and transparency. [OK Policy]
In The News
Legislators expect some form of Medicaid expansion: The Oklahoma Legislature’s regular session ended this year with several issues hanging in the air, as one bill to expand Medicaid died in the Senate, but has generated talk of a ballot initiative. A bill addressing Medicaid expansion was actually heard in a Senate committee meeting this year, but failed to make it any further before the session ended. [Tahlequah Daily Press] Expanding health coverage in the state could mean better health outcomes and fewer deaths, especially from cancer.
Lawmaker’s firm reaps payment to help throw Speaker’s Ball: A company headed by a Republican House member was paid tens of thousands of dollars to help throw a lavish party in honor of House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, raising conflict-of-interest questions. An Oklahoma Ethics Commission report shows Poligram, an event planning and management firm founded and run by Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, was paid $40,000 in operating expenses related to planning the 2019 Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball. [Oklahoma Watch]
Teacher shortage: State to begin crackdown on emergency certifications for nonaccredited teachers: State leaders are rolling out new limitations to try to stem Oklahoma’s surging tide of emergency certifications for nonaccredited teachers. The Oklahoma State Department of Education issued new guidance to public schools across the state this week that places new requirements and restrictions on would-be teachers of the youngest students. [Tulsa World]
Tulsa lawmaker uses rarely invoked legal provision to attend closed-door meeting on Epic Charter Schools investigation, educators: When the Oklahoma State Board of Education met behind closed doors this week to discuss investigations into Epic Charter Schools and proposed actions against educators’ state certifications, they had a unique observer present. State Rep. Sheila Dills, a freshman Tulsa lawmaker, used a rarely invoked legal provision in state law to sit in on the state board’s executive session. [Tulsa World]
State Board of Education annexes Oklahoma school with few staff, little funds: In a dilemma that confounded state officials, a southeast Oklahoma school district has lost its accreditation. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to annex Swink Public Schools after members learned the district’s bank account was significantly low and the school had no governing board, superintendent or principal. [The Oklahoman]
Legal expert says Stitt mistaken on tribal gaming fees assessment: An American Indian law expert says Gov. Kevin Stitt is using incorrect figures to make a case for renegotiating the state’s tribal gaming compacts. In a recent opinion piece, Stitt said “most” tribal compacts nationwide include gaming exclusivity fees that pay states 20% to 25%, compared to the 4% to 6% that Oklahoma gets from its compacts which were agreed upon more than a decade ago. [Tulsa World] OIGA’s Matthew Morgan On Tribal Gaming Negotiations [KGOU]
Sexual assault tracking system set to roll out: In 2017, then-Gov. Mary Fallin created a task force to look at how the state’s law enforcement agencies gather, analyze and store sexual assault evidence. The task force sent a survey to the more than 400 law enforcement agencies in the state to find the number of untested sexual assault kits. [Edmond Sun]
It’s high time: Medical marijuana businesses face compliance deadline: The time is fast approaching when all businesses involved in Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry will be required to participate in “seed-to-sale” tracking of products. Wyatt said many may not be ready. Growers, especially, may have some catching up to do before the law takes effect on Aug. 29. [Journal Record]
State on track for REAL ID in April 2020: The state is on track to get its driver’s licenses up to federal standards by the end of April 2020, but that’s about six months after the federal deadline. Federal officials gave state leaders until October to issue federally compliant identification cards under the REAL ID law. [CHNI]
Tax-free weekend coming to Oklahoma: Savvy shoppers are set to take advantage of a tax-free weekend in Oklahoma. Consumers can make purchases on most clothing or footwear items listed for less than $100 without paying sales and use tax on Aug. 2-4. [The Oklahoman] Sales tax holidays are not the economic boost we think they are – in fact, they cost us money in the long run.
As public funding dipped, student loan debt soared: Dr. Gary Sims’ story is one of dozens we have heard about student loan debt. Most of the stories come from public education teachers, social workers and other professionals who will never earn a physician’s salary. While researching the topic of student loan debt, we have heard from people whose Social Security checks, disability checks and paychecks are being garnished. [Ted Kachel and Karen A. Gray / NonDoc]
Point of View: OKC’s amnesty won’t solve fines-fees problem: Oklahoma City recently launched an amnesty program for people with unpaid fines and fees. While the amnesty program may help a few, it will not give most low-income Oklahomans their independence. It’s a temporary response to a long-standing problem, and city councilors should now focus on permanent solutions. [Ryan Gentzler, Lisa Foster, and Joanna Weiss / The Oklahoman] Those who can least afford it often have the most debt due to fines and fees.
Code School to empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, human trafficking: Oklahoma City’s family justice center is launching a coding academy to empower survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. The program, Ctrl+Shift Code School, is designed to equip survivors with education and training to pursue careers as software and web developers. Applications also are open to the public. [The Oklahoman]
As county commissioner job evolves, women prove effective: On a rock and shale road in Grant County, Cindy Bobbitt’s four-door truck rolled to a stop. She pulled on her brown work gloves — a notable addition to her jeweled belt and sunglasses — and went to inspect a hole in a nearby bridge. [The Oklahoman]
OKCPS suddenly bails on SeeWorth name and campus: Oklahoma City Public Schools announced Friday that they will move the planned SeeWorth alternative school program to the Putnam Heights building at N.W. 36th and N. Georgia. [Free Press OKC] The “alternate school” program will operate under the name Putnam Heights Academy after short notice from Seeworth’s board of directors that they will not be relinquishing their building lease along with the charter school, OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel said during a Friday press conference. [NonDoc]
Police, city leaders tout success in program tackling violent crime: In two areas of Oklahoma City known for violent crime in recent years, police and city officials say they’ve seen significant improvement — thanks in part to an overtime program funded through the Oklahoma attorney general’s office. [The Oklahoman]
Changing the culture: Tulsa activists are reshaping the conversation around race and social justice: Ron Halford remembers his parents screaming at the television in frustration over news that someone who looked like him had suffered an injustice and nothing would be done to rectify it. Nearly a half-century later, Halford — with his hair showing signs of gray — admitted that he’s recently conducted himself in the same fashion. [Tulsa World]
61st and Peoria: Positive progress dominoes in long-troubled neighborhood thanks to community resource officer: Donnie Johnson lofted a spiral skyward, and young Errick Yance reached out in anticipation. The Tulsa police officer told the 8-year-old the pass would be a tough one to catch. The football bounced off Errick’s hands and tumbled to the pavement at the Savanna Landing apartment complex near 61st Street and Peoria Avenue. [Tulsa World]
Unbreakable? Keystone dam stood strong against pressures of historic flood: The flood of May 2019 was a record breaker, but it was nowhere near a dam breaker. At Keystone Dam, when the reservoir’s water hit a record height and the flow through the dam hit a level not seen in three decades, even a black cat that crossed its path turned out to be lucky. [Tulsa World]
House approves two-year budget deal boosting spending $54 billion: A sweeping, two-year budget plan to keep the federal government funded, increase spending on both defense and non-defense programs and suspend the national debt ceiling drew bipartisan support from members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation but created an unusual split among its Republican members. [NonDoc]
Quote of the Day
“I believe wholeheartedly that if it goes to the ballot, it passes. Everyday Oklahomans agree, and it polls very high. We’ve neglected Oklahomans for years, and years, and years at the expense of big corporations, and it’s time we take care of Oklahomans.”
– Rep. Matt Meredith (D-Tahlequah), speaking about the ballot initiative to expand health coverage for over 100,000 Oklahomans that will begin collecting signature July 31 [Tahlequah Daily Press]
Number of the Day
Median prison stay for commercial drug crimes in Oklahoma in FY 2018. This is 60 percent longer than the national average.
[Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections]
Behind the minimum wage fight, a sweeping failure to enforce the law: As Democrats make raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, and Republicans call for states to handle the issue, both are missing an important problem: Wage laws are poorly enforced, with workers often unable to recover back pay even after the government rules in their favor. [Politico]
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