In The Know: Oklahoma can save millions through parole reform; controversial rule dropped from Health Care Authority agenda; teacher raises advance in committee…

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

Gov. Stitt can save Oklahoma millions through parole reform: Gov. Stitt’s State of the State address signaled a serious desire to make criminal justice reform a signature piece of his agenda. He’s made positive comments regarding several bipartisan bills filed this legislative session aimed at stemming Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. However, there are a few reforms which the Governor could enact immediately through executive action. If these executive reforms are made in conjunction with investments from the Legislature, they will produce significant long-term savings. [OK Policy]

Support staff pay raise and restoring cuts is key to improving Oklahoma’s schools: Walk through any school in Oklahoma, and you will likely find the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” hanging over a teacher’s desk or printed on a principal’s mug. Decades of research about the importance of school climate confirm this saying. Education support staff, like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, mechanics, plumbers, security guards, teacher aides, paraprofessionals, secretaries, and other non-certified personnel, are a critical component of schools as villages. [OK Policy]

Prosperity Policy: Not so fine: As the new legislative session begins, criminal justice reform is one of the most promising areas for progress. Part of this reform needs to be easing the burden of fines and fees on those caught up in the criminal justice system and removing the perverse incentive of forcing courts to pay for themselves. [David Blatt / OK Policy]

In The News

Controversial rule dropped from Health Care Authority agenda: A rule that would have allowed Medicaid benefits for children to be cut off if a notification letter were returned as undeliverable has been dropped from the agenda for Thursday’s Oklahoma Health Care Authority meeting. [Tulsa World] We previously discussed why this rule should be rejected entirely

Teacher raises advance in Oklahoma House with unanimous committee vote: A major piece of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s budget proposal advanced through the House Appropriations and Budget Committee late Wednesday on a unanimous vote. House Bill 1780, by Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, provides for a $1,200 increase in each step of the state minimum teacher pay scale. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma college students advocate for more higher education funding: Students from campuses across the state rallied for increased funding for their colleges and universities Tuesday during 2019 Higher Education Day at the Capitol. … Higher education’s state funding has been cut by $274 million in the past decade. [NewsOK]  Restoring higher education funding to ensure a well-educated workforce is one of OK Policy’s 2019 legislative policy priorities.

State owes counties and school districts $99 million: In 1985, it was a good idea. That year, Oklahomans passed State Question 588 – with much fanfare – which, officials said, would be a boon to economic development. The Oklahoma Manufacturer’s Ad Valorem Tax Exemption would help lure business and industry to the Sooner State. Available to both small and large firms that qualified, the exemption would help bring jobs and tax revenue into the state. The exemption would last for five years. And, on paper, the program looked successful. [Journal Record ????]

Oklahoma tax collections up… but: State finance officials say revenue collections to Oklahoma’s main state operating fund continue to outpace the official estimate, but they warn of a slowdown in coming months. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services released figures on Tuesday that show General Revenue Fund collections in January totaled $714 million, which is nearly 9 percent above the monthly estimate. [AP News] We previously discussed challenges and opportunities with Oklahoma’s budget.

It’s time to repeal or modify SQ640: Let us begin by saying; no one wants to pay taxes! However, it has also long been said that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes, and to fund state government correctly, taxes are a “must-have” revenue source. [Howard Barnett and Darryl Schmidt / County Wide NewsRemoving the supermajority requirement of SQ 640 is one of OK Policy’s 2019 legislative policy priorities.

Permitless carry bill passes House: House Republicans advanced a bill Wednesday that allows Oklahoma citizens to carry a gun without training a proposed expansion of gun rights that now heads to the state Senate. Democrats, who voted against House Bill 2597, argued it removed a necessary education and safety component to legally obtaining a firearm. [NewsOK] Governor Kevin Stitt tweeted his approval about the passage of House Bill 2597 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives Wednesday. [KTUL]

Unity bill clears medical marijuana working group: A bicameral Medical Marijuana Working Group finished work on a bill Wednesday to regulate various aspects of the cannabis industry, including packaging, lab testing and employment restrictions. The so-called “unity bill” bill will be submitted to legislative leaders. [NewsOK]

Medical pot sales in Oklahoma top $4.3 million in January: Numbers from the Oklahoma Tax Commission show medical marijuana sales topped $4.3 million in January, a four-fold increase from the previous month. The agency released figures on Tuesday that show the 7 percent tax on medical marijuana sales generated $305,265 in January. [AP News]

Back in time? HB 2367 fuels workers’ compensation fight: Near the end of Tuesday’s House Judiciary meeting, Chairman Chris Kannady (R-OKC) announced the agenda’s biggest bill — 178 pages of workers’ compensation controversy — would be held over. “In light of the fact that apparently some of us file ‘disturbing’ bills, I will have some even better language to add into that bill and will have that for you next week,” Kannady said to the packed committee room. By emphasizing the word “disturbing,” Kannady drew public attention to a flier distributed this week by the State Chamber of Oklahoma. [NonDoc]

House passes bill to fine trains that block traffic in Oklahoma: A bill to prevent trains from blocking major intersections in the Oklahoma House of Representatives Wednesday. Several community leaders showed up at the House of Representatives in support of Speaker of the House Charles McCall’s bill, which passed the house committee and will now go to the senate. [KXII]

Grand River Dam Authority Police to get body, vehicle and boat cameras: The Grand River Dam Authority’s police force will soon be equipped with body cameras as well as cameras for patrol vehicles and boats. The GRDA’s board of directors unanimously approved a $476,295 contract for the devices with body camera manufacturer WatchGuard during the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday in Tulsa. [The Frontier]

Google announces new investment in Oklahoma as part of $13B expansion across the U.S.: Google announced Wednesday it would be investing more than $13 billion this year into data centers and offices across the U.S., including Oklahoma. … The internet giant one year ago revealed plans to spend $600 million at its facilities in Mayes County, bringing the company’s total investment in Oklahoma to more than $2.5 billion. [Tulsa World]

Harding Fine Arts would chart its own course, leader says: Harding Charter Preparatory High School Principal Steven Stefanick told families Wednesday the school is nearing agreement with Oklahoma City Public Schools to occupy soon-to-be shuttered Oklahoma Centennial Mid-High building for the 2019-20 school year. [NewsOK]

Boren under investigation for sexual harassment: The University of Oklahoma is paying one of the largest law firms in the world to investigate former President David Boren, sources have confirmed. Investigators with the Jones Day law firm have asked whether Boren sexually harassed male aides, sources said. [NewsOK]

The employment of a Tulsa County employee with alleged KKK ties? ‘Our hands are tied.’ Days after a story alleging a Tulsa County Court Clerk’s Office employee and her husband have ties to the Ku Klux Klan, county officials said it’s possibly illegal to fire her over the alleged hate group membership. [The Frontier] A Tulsa community activist group, citing ties to white supremacist groups, wants a County Court Clerk employee to resign or be fired. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Aggravated assaults on the rise, OKC police chief says: Serious assaults are on the rise, with little prospect for driving them below 2016 levels, Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said Tuesday. The department’s goal by the end of this year was to reduce aggravated assaults citywide by 5 percent, or 171 incidents, from 2017 levels. [NewsOK]

Informant takes the witness stand in Oklahoma City bomb sting trial: The FBI paid a man more than $23,000 to participate in sting operation against accused bomb maker Jerry Drake Varnell, according to testimony in a federal trial on Wednesday. He was arrested in an elaborate FBI sting operation after he unwittingly built a fake bomb and tried to detonate it at the direction of federal agents. [The Frontier]

Dead mayor’s vision for Edmond could influence general election: After winning more than 50 percent of the ballots cast in Edmond’s mayoral election, Dan O’Neil finds himself in a difficult position heading into a runoff. O’Neil is competing against Charles Lamb, who was the city’s mayor from 2013 until he died at home in December. [Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“Again, no one wants to pay taxes, and especially more taxes, but the evidence has shown that the passage of the state question has hamstrung and stifled the legislative process, and in turn, affected Oklahoma’s citizens and their way of life. Since the approving of SQ 640, funding for services we want and need such as education, roads and bridges, health, mental health, and public safety have all been negatively impacted by this state question.”

-OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett and BanfFirst CEO Darryl Schmidt, writing that it’s time to repeal or modify SQ 640 [Source: Countywide & Sun]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank for the percentage of workers making at or below the federal minimum wage, tied with Pennsylvania and Texas at 3.1 percent.

[Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In rush to revamp Medicaid, Trump officials bend rules that protect patients: None of the eight states that the administration has cleared to implement a Medicaid work requirement has in place a plan to track whether Medicaid enrollees find jobs or improve their health, two goals often touted by administration health officials. [LA Times]

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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.

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