In The Know: Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children

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

Legislature Passes Life Without Parole for Children: The Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that makes massive changes to the sentencing procedures for minors convicted of first-degree murder, and members allowed that policy to circumvent the vetting process all other bills must endure. Senate Bill 1221 started out with no mention of juvenile sentencing. The original bill would have required the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to contain two members with backgrounds in mental health or substance abuse services. The criminal justice reform measure was intended to increase parole rates [Journal Record]. Juvenile life sentence bill is a return to outdated thinking [OKPolicy].

Set for Senate Vote: Bill Would Let Adoption Agencies Refuse Placement with Gay Couples Even If They Accept Government Funds: Through parliamentary sleight of hand, proponents put back into play a bill that would guarantee that private social service agencies could continue to refuse to place children in certain adoptive and foster homes based on religious conviction even if they accept taxpayer money. It is generally accepted that the bill primarily targets same-sex couples. To keep the bill alive, House leadership took the unusual step of creating a special conference committee just for SB 1140 and stocked it with members sympathetic to the agencies [Tulsa World].

The FY 2019 Budget: Been Down So Long This Looks Like Up: In the 1960s, the New York City poet and folksinger Richard Fariña published a novel titled “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.” This title certainly applies to Oklahoma’s FY 2019 state budget, approved by the House and Senate last week. After several straight years of large shortfalls and repeated rounds of budget cuts, including mid-year cuts the past three years, lawmakers were finally able to pass a budget that kept funding for all agencies at least flat, provided modest increases for some critical programs and services, and included over $350 million for teacher pay raises [OKPolicy].

Ethics Commission, Legislature Clash over Rules: For 40 members of the Oklahoma Legislature who are preparing to close out their last regular session this week, one of the final votes they cast will determine what type of employment they are eligible for over the next two years. If that sounds odd, consider the background that led to HJR 1029, a resolution disapproving seven new Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules. Among the most controversial for lawmakers is the OEC’s new “cooling off period” that would prohibit legislators from registering as lobbyists or state agency liaisons for a two-year period following the end of their terms [NonDoc]. House Joint Resolution 1029, a measure that essentially vetoed the three rules, passed 64-27 with the opposition coming from Democrats and conservative hard-liners [Tulsa World].

Measure Would Create Energy Tax Savings Account: Oklahoma could soon be saving its oil and gas tax revenue to hedge against drops in production. Lawmakers have discussed creating a savings account to hold gross production revenue for years. Most of the country’s oil-dependent states already implemented the policy, which is designed to hedge against the volatility common to the revenue stream. The Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 35 on Wednesday [Journal Record].

Prosperity Policy: Thoughts for Our Penny: About a year ago, I got a call in the middle of a Saturday afternoon from Penny Williams. “David, I’ve been talking with some friends about what’s going on in education. It’s terrible. We need to do something.” And then Penny, the former Tulsa state lawmaker who died last month at age 80, launched into her latest plan to fix our education system – and what I was going to do to make it happen [David Blatt/OKPolicy]

Inman’s Farewell: ‘Never Confuse the Will of the Majority with the Will of God’: One of Oklahoma’s most gifted orators bade farewell to the Legislature on Wednesday. “Never confuse the will of the majority with the will of God,” former Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, told his colleagues in a somewhat muted adieu to the House of Representatives. The term-limited Inman, his dream of the governor’s mansion gone aglimmer and his personal life the subject of very public upheaval, said he almost did not join the stream of members offering valedictories as the 2018 session entered its final hours [Tulsa World].

Money Follows Republican Gubernatorial Front-Runners, with Todd Lamb as Fundraising Leader: “Follow the money” has been fundamental to political reporting since long before Woodward and Bernstein, and their anonymous source “Deep Throat” popularized the phrase. But while reporters follow the money, the money follows front-runners — and ultimately winners. So it’s not surprising that fundraising for Oklahoma’s jam-packed Republican gubernatorial campaign matches almost exactly the only public polling on the race [Tulsa World].

Once on the Fringe, Cannabis Policy Now a Common Topic for Candidates: Cannabis wasn’t on the political radar in Oklahoma a decade ago. But public attitudes on the topic have shifted such that “what is your stance on cannabis” — medical and otherwise — is now a common question for candidates. Monday’s gubernatorial forum at the University of Oklahoma elicited responses from direct to measured, drawing various budget and criminal justice connections along the way [The Norman Transcript]. State Question 788: Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative [OK Policy Fact Sheet].

Prosecutor Wants Audit, Says $230M Missing from Roads Fund: Officials have requested an audit from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to find $230 million that a local prosecutor says is missing from a county road fund. Paul Smith, the district attorney for Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes counties, has requested that the Oklahoma State Auditors and Inspector’s Office “examine the books and accounts” of the department to find the missing funds. Transportation Department officials said the Oklahoma Legislature has removed the money because of tough budget years [AP News].

Tulsa County DA Debate Turns to Questions over Last Summer’s Betty Shelby Trial: The Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police will, in all likelihood, give its endorsement to Republican Ben Fu to become Tulsa County’s next district attorney. In some ways that fact made Wednesday night’s debate, held at the FOP’s lodge in east Tulsa, more interesting rather than less. Jerad Lindsey, the FOP chairman, has previously criticized incumbent Steve Kunzweiler over the handling of the Betty Shelby case, going so far as to file a bar complaint against Kunzweiler in the days leading up to Shelby’s trial [The Frontier]. Four candidates are running in the primary election for Tulsa County District Attorney on June 26 [The Frontier].

State of Despair: Suicide Rates Remain High in Oklahoma: Amid the celebrations and self-help resolutions, 2017 began in Oklahoma as it has in many other years: with a rash of people taking their own lives. In the first week, there were nine self-inflicted gunshot deaths, four hangings and a deliberate drug overdose, occurring in cities large and small. With those 14 deaths, the year was off to a familiar tragic start in a state that perennially ranks among the 10 worst in the nation in suicide rates [Oklahoma Watch]. Oklahoma’s suicide rate ranks among the worst in the nation [NewsOK].

In Oklahoma, Critics Say Pruitt Stalled Pollution Case After Taking Industry Funds: Scott Pruitt, the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, first came to national prominence back when he was Oklahoma’s Attorney General. In that role, he sued the agency he now runs 14 times, in a series of court cases alleging overreach by the federal government. Environmentalists in Pruitt’s home state say Pruitt was much less aggressive when it came to enforcing Oklahoma’s environmental laws and going after polluters. An examination of Pruitt’s record on environmental issues in Oklahoma shows that Pruitt’s positions were often more in line with business and industry than environmentalists [NPR]. Emails indicate Scott Pruitt directed staff to find space for new EPA office in hometown of Tulsa, according to House Democrats [Tulsa World]. ‘On fire for god’s work’: How Scott Pruitt’s faith drives his politics [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Quote of the Day

“This bill will make our state the worst state in the country for children who commit crimes. We will again be known across this country as a place that does not protect its children.”

– Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, speaking against Senate Bill 1221, a measure making it easier to sentence minors age 13-17 to life without parole [Source].

Number of the Day


Oklahoma prison admissions for nonviolent offenses in FY 2017, 77% of all admissions.

Source: Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Prosecutors Aren’t Just Enforcing the Law — They’re Making It: This phenomenon is not New York-specific. Every state has an equivalent organization of prosecutors with strong policy perspectives, which often have enough sway to simply shut down criminal justice reform at the legislative level. The failure of bail reform in New York mirrors countless other legislative reform failures in many other states. As Jessica Pishko wrote in The Nation, “district attorneys’ associations are powerful political actors. They do not just “enforce” the law; in fact, they help to make it.” [In Justice Today].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.