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
New economic rankings show Oklahoma falling further behind: There are quite a few reasons to be optimistic about Oklahoma this year. Unemployment is low and the state expects to have a budget surplus this year, the first in quite some time. But despite this good news, too many Oklahomans are still struggling to make ends meet and build a better future for themselves and their families. For the third straight year, Oklahoma has dropped in the Prosperity Now Scorecard rankings. This year, we rank 43rd in the financial health and overall well-being of our residents – that’s down from 34th in 2016. [OK Policy]
Prosperity Policy: New Legislature, new look: When the 57th Oklahoma Legislature convenes next week, it will arrive with a fresh new look. Never before have so many newcomers been swept into office. In the House, 46 of 101 members were newly elected in 2018, along with 10 freshmen senators. The freshman class joins a large number of lawmakers – 45 – first elected in 2016. By comparison, just 14 members of the House and Senate have more than six years of legislative experience. In addition, six statewide officeholders, including the governor, are newly elected. [David Blatt / Journal Record]
In The News
Stitt wants more funding for parole board, diversion programs: Gov. Kevin Stitt wants nearly $12 million in additional funding this year for prison diversion programs and to expedite pardon and parole requests for some Oklahoma inmates. Stitt said he also wants to move away from funding district attorney offices through fines, fees and court costs. [NewsOK] Our 2019 policy priorities include reforming cash bail and court fines and fees and funding public defenders and courts to reduce reliance on fines and fees.
Oklahoma lawmakers could agree on SQ640 change, but action may be up to voters: Oklahoma House Democrats say cutting taxes is too easy and raising taxes is too hard for the legislature. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin says they’d like to see the thresholds set a two-thirds or 60 percent majority — lower than the three-fourths required for tax increases and higher than the simple majority needed for cuts. [Public Radio Tulsa] Our 2019 policy priorities include removing the supermajority requirement of SQ 640.
Howard Barnett and Darryl Schmidt: Change State Question 640: 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 / Tulsa World]
State leaders more receptive to Medicaid expansion: State leadership opposition to expanding Medicaid in some form or fashion appears to be thawing. Former Gov. Mary Fallin in her first term rejected Medicaid expansion after legislative uproar. Fallin then said the state could not afford the expansion. But the changing landscape of the Legislature and a new governor, coupled with the possibility of an initiative petition to get it to a vote of the people, have given Medicaid expansion a breath of life. [Tulsa World] Our 2019 policy priorities include expanding Medicaid.
Not just teachers: Lawmakers want to consider education policy, too: There may well be more money for common education by adjournment in May. It may not be the $400 million for pay raises and school operations or the 8 percent cost of living increase for retirees the Oklahoma Education Association says it wants, but lawmakers seem to think it’ll be something. [Tulsa World] The head of the state’s largest education union said Wednesday that her group hasn’t ruled out another walkout during session if legislators don’t adequately increase teacher pay and classroom funding. [CHNI] Our 2019 policy priorities include increasing preK-12 state aid funding to restore school staffing and programs.
Confusion over opioid prescribing rules remains as Legislature returns: Since Senate Bill 1446 took effect in November, chronic pain patients have reported their doctors dropped them from their practices, cut back their doses or switched them to other medications —even though the bill doesn’t apply to them. [NewsOK 🔒]
Lawmakers want vaping products treated the same as tobacco: Oklahoma’s state government has fought smoking for decades. Now it’s taking on a new nicotine addiction, one to which education and health officials fear young people are particularly susceptible. [Tulsa World]
Opposition to changing the name of Lake Hudson: A legislative plan to change the name of Lake Hudson is not popular on the shores of the Mayes County reservoir. It’s the economic engine of Salina, and people don’t like the idea of change. Republican State Senator Michael Bergstrom of Adair has authored a bill to make the switch. [FOX25]
GOP firsts, bold moves: The tenure of Gov. Mary Fallin: Incoming Gov. Kevin Stitt followed the state’s first female governor down the Capitol steps, which provided a final procession for a woman who never lost an election, who oversaw a series of state firsts and controversial reforms, and who departs with an approval rating barely able to get in the bar: 23.4 percent, according to SoonerPoll.com. [NonDoc]
Dems critical of expanded powers for governor: Democrats in the state Legislature plan to oppose Gov. Kevin Stitt’s attempt to increase his power over agency directors, even though wide support from the Republican majority would be enough to advance the proposal. [NewsOK 🔒]
Stitt announces secretary of Native American affairs: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday named Lisa J. Billy, a Chickasaw Nation legislator and former state House representative, as secretary of Native American Affairs. Senate confirmation is required for Billy’s appointment to the cabinet position. [NewsOK]
IT security chief will direct Oklahoma’s emergency management: Gov. Kevin Stitt has tapped the state’s chief cybersecurity expert to serve as emergency management director. Mark Gower leads Oklahoma CyberCommand, which acts as a security resource for much of the state’s digital presence and assets. [NewsOK]
DHS’s budget request hopes to help children affected by food insecurity: During a presentation Tuesday, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services unveiled its budget for fiscal year 2019, with part of the money going to help feed children. It’s just one of the many issues affecting Oklahoma children. [KOCO] The head of the giant Department of Human Services goes before state lawmakers to discuss the department’s mission and goals. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Lobbyists, others adapt communications strategies: Several industries have had to adjust to social media and other technological revolutions that have made communication more accessible, and lobbying firms are no exception. The trend toward using state questions to make massive policy changes has called for more work in public opinion. [Journal Record 🔒]
NW Classen site of final closure meeting: About 30 minutes before the start of what promised to be another emotional community meeting, two educators hugged. “At least you guys have a 33 percent chance,” one said. “Ours is zero.” Supporters of schools facing closure, relocation and reconfiguration took to the microphone Wednesday night to weigh in on Oklahoma City Public Schools’ proposed realignment project. [NewsOK 🔒]
Tulsa-area lawmakers tackle questions at student-led forum: Students from nine Tulsa-area high schools got some answers to their pressing concerns from a panel of state lawmakers at a special event Wednesday. The intended focus was public education, but the teens had everything from criminal justice reform and diversifying Oklahoma’s economy to a recent case of blackface at the University of Oklahoma on their minds. [Tulsa World]
Tulsa City Councilors approve assessment amounts for Tourism Improvement District: City councilors on Wednesday approved a 3 percent tax on room stays at Tulsa’s largest hotels. The assessment program, known as a Tourism Improvement District, applies only to hotels of 110 rooms or more. Hotels with fewer than 110 rooms can opt into the assessment district. [Tulsa World]
Streetlight vandals outpace repairs: Vandals and thieves are winning the battle over light and dark in Oklahoma City. Not that residents frustrated with inoperable streetlights don’t already know it. “There are lights out throughout the entire city,” Public Works Director Eric Wenger told the city council Tuesday. [NewsOK]
Cheat sheet: Norman’s Ward 1 incumbent faces political newcomer: Shon Williamson-Jennings is new to politics but has served in the health sector for 16 years. She brings this experience with her as she runs for Norman’s Ward 1 City Council seat against incumbent Kate Bierman. [NonDoc]
OU regents close ranks in support of President James Gallogly following racist video, criticism: University of Oklahoma regents closed ranks around President James Gallogly on Wednesday while promising to address diversity and racism issues at the school. Meeting at the OU Health Sciences Center, four of the five regents present took turns speaking in support of Gallogly and addressing concerns vented by students and faculty members on the Norman campus after a video of two sophomore women, one in blackface, surfaced on the internet. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma City businessman Clayton I. Bennett, 59, resigned Wednesday from the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents. The resignation, which is effective immediately, was due to health reasons, said Leslie J. Rainbolt-Forbes, the board’s acting chair. [NewsOK]
Quote of the Day
“A job interruption of any type, many times, that’s the person that we end up serving, and so it literally can be anyone. You can almost look in the mirror because our SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) clients almost look like everyone else.”
-Oklahoma DHS Adult and Family Services Director Patrick Klein [Source: KOCO]
Number of the Day
4-year cohort graduate rate for economically disadvantaged Oklahoma students in school year 2016-17, compared to an 82.6% graduate rate for all Oklahoma students.
[Source: National Center for Education Statistics]
10 years later, goal of getting more Americans through college is way behind schedule: There was the supposition that as the economy recovered, states would reinvest in higher education. And for the most part, that has not happened. In many states it’s going in the wrong direction. [The Hechinger Report]
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