In The Know: Oklahoma's parole backlog is gone

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that the Governor has cleared backlogged parole requests and plans to act on all future cases within 30 days of receiving them. NewsOK responded to Oklahoma district attorneys who have made alarmist statements about the release of inmates due to corrections reforms passed last year. OK Policy previously explained how the reforms will work and how many offenders they are expected to affect. Fighting at a private prison in Sayre resulted in numerous injuries among inmates, and five were taken to area hospitals.

Challenger Bill John Baker is in the lead according to unofficial Cherokee Principal Chief election returns, but a Cherokee Supreme Court ruling rejecting an agreement to reinstate Cherokee freedmen descendants may put the result in jeopardy. Urban Tulsa Weekly examined the debate over Oklahoma’s income tax. The OK Policy Blog points out the state leaders can’t rely on growth revenue to fund their priorities if they continue to cut taxes. A House company has admitted to negligently violating the Clean Water Act while working on a natural gas well in Atoka County.

A legislative panel is considering allowing adoptees’ to access their original birth certificates after they reach adulthood. Rep. Jason Murphey is seeking to end higher education’s exemption from a law that consolidates purchasing by state agencies. The Norman Transcript celebrates the jobs created by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to locate a regional climate center in Norman.

The Number of the Day is the minimum salary and fringe benefits earned by a first-year Oklahoma public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg reports on how municipalities and state agencies, including the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance bond issues and save money.

In The News

Oklahoma’s parole caseload backlog is gone

The parole process is speeding up under Gov. Mary Fallin’s tenure. All backlogged cases from the previous administration have been cleared, and the governor is now acting on all cases within 30 days, spokesman Alex Weintz said. Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board examined ways to streamline its process and trim its lengthy meeting schedule at the start of its three-day monthly meeting this week. Board members regularly sit through marathon three- and four-day monthly meetings to review hundreds of cases of criminals seeking parole. Although their meeting schedule has lengthened, board members expressed few concerns regarding a criminal justice reform law, aimed at speeding up the state’s parole backlog, that was deemed unconstitutional last month in an opinion by Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

NewsOK: Law aimed at easing prison crowding needs chance to work

Some Oklahoma district attorneys are expressing their concern about a new law that, when it takes effect Nov. 1, could result in 250 or more inmates being released from prison before their terms expire. Where were these concerns when the bill was making its way through the Legislature? House Bill 2131 by Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, wasn’t one of those pieces of legislation that suddenly appears in the hectic final weeks of the session and gets approved without members having the proper time to look it over. Steele filed the bill in late January, and made sure everyone knew about it — it was one of his priorities during his first year as speaker. The DOC originally found about 1,100 inmates who would be eligible for the benefits of the new law. That’s been pared to about 400 and will likely get cut to 250 or 300, DOC Director Justin Jones says. If 250 inmates are released Nov. 1, that would represent less than 1 percent of Oklahoma’s total inmate population, which stands at about 26,000. Of course it’s always possible someone released from prison early will re-offend. The same is true for inmates who serve their full term.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: What’s been done and what still needs doing on corrections reform from the OK Policy Blog

Violence erupts at private prison in Sayre

Law enforcement agencies on Tuesday responded to a disturbance at the North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre after fights broke out. The private prison is run by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America and houses offenders from California. Prison personnel responded to multiple inmate fights in various areas of the prison at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, according to Steve Owen, CCA’s senior director of public affairs. The fighting ceased in the afternoon, and staff members were working their way through the lockup to secure inmates and identify the injured, he said. Many inmates were being treated at the prison for injuries; five were taken to area hospitals for further treatment, Owen said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Baker unofficially wins Cherokee election, but Supreme Court ruling on freedmen may change result

According to unofficial election returns, Cherokee Nation Tribal Council member Bill John Baker apparently will be the tribe’s next chief, but the results of the Sept. 24 vote may be in jeopardy because of a tribal Supreme Court ruling Tuesday. The unofficial tally had Baker leading former Chief Chad Smith by 1,534 votes – 10,633 to 9,099 – as of 10 p.m. Tuesday. The tribe’s Election Commission was still reviewing and counting about 150 challenge ballots – those given to someone whose name is not on a voter registration list at a precinct. But at noon Tuesday, the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court issued an order saying it would not recognize an agreement brokered in federal district court last month that reinstated the tribal citizenship of 2,800 freedmen descendants. About 1,200 descendants of Cherokee freedmen – former slaves of the tribe’s members – are registered to vote in Cherokee elections, but it is not known how many did cast ballots in the Sept. 24 election.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

To income tax or not to income tax?

Five months before his death, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his friend and admirer, French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy. In fluent French, Franklin asks Leroy if he survived the revolution and updates him on the state of America. “Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes,” he wrote in the Nov. 13, 1789 letter. Historians have argued that America was founded by tax rebels, who splashily — as in Boston Tea Party splashily — protested taxes imposed by their British rulers. Today, the Constitution appears as durable as ever, and taxes — for good or bad — well, they’re still around too. The Oklahoma tax code has evolved into a unique cultural document, as well as a tangled web of credits and loopholes that two new task forces have been charged with ferreting through, smoothing out and studying.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly at

Good times don’t last forever

Last week, Gov. Fallin announced a plan to fix the state’s decaying bridges by 2019. The proposal involves putting more money in the ROADS fund, which receives a portion of income tax revenues that would otherwise go to the state’s General Revenue Fund. OK Policy released a statement on the Governor’s plan that was mentioned by both The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World: We welcome Governor Fallin’s focus on fixing Oklahoma’s crumbling bridges. However, we must note that her proposal would be paid for entirely by diverting more income tax revenues from an already cash-strapped state budget. At the same time, Governor Fallin and other state leaders are promoting further cuts or outright abolition of the income tax. This should remind us that the income tax remains vital for funding Oklahoma’s needs and that we cannot meet our obligations to pay our bills while undermining our revenue base.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Houston company admits to violating Clean Water Act in Oklahoma

A Houston company on Tuesday admitted to negligently violating the Clean Water Act while working on a natural gas well in Atoka County in 2007. Integrated Production Services LLC agreed to pay a $140,000 criminal fine and pay $22,000 to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for ecological studies and remediation of Boggy Creek, if the company’s plea deal is approved by a federal judge in Muskogee. Integrated Production Services, which will be on probation for two years, also will be required to spend $38,000 to implement an environmental compliance program and train employees in proper hazardous waste handling and spill response procedures. The Houston company ran afoul of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when a supervisor working on an Antero Resources Corp. well in Atoka County drove a pickup into a berm at the well site on May 24, 2007, after a tank leaked hydrochloric acid, according to federal authorities. The actions of supervisor Gabriel Henson allowed an estimated 400 to 700 gallons of acid to flow into Dry Creek, a tributary of Boggy Creek.

Read more from NewsOK at

Legislative panel considers unsealing adoptees’ birth certificates

Energized by being told a grandfather had been willing to adopt her, an Oklahoma woman told a legislative panel Tuesday she overcame feelings of being rejected and spent 30 years trying to find her birth parents. Rhonda Noonan, 55, said she overcame various obstacles to getting her birth certificate and finally obtained information that allowed her to find her birth mother in 2008. Her mother didn’t deny that the grandfather who had shown an interest in her as an infant was Winston Churchill. Rep. Purcy Walker asked Noonan to speak as part of his interim study on whether to change state law so that adults who were adopted as children would have access to original birth certificates and medical records for their biological parents. Michael Nomura, co-director of Heritage Family Services Inc., an adoption agency in Tulsa, warned committee members not to open all adoption records. Nomura served on a legislative task force in 1995 that came up with a 1997 law that established the confidential intermediary program to help adoptees find members of a birth family while still protecting the privacy of others who don’t want to be contacted. “Our system in Oklahoma works hard to carefully balance the privacy rights of all concerned,” Nomura said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Legislator seeks to end higher education purchasing exemptions

A legislator said Tuesday during an interim study meeting that the time is right to end higher education exemptions from publicly reporting budgets and central purchasing laws. State Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, told a legislative panel that the state spends $40 million a year more than comparable states in large part because of higher education exemptions from laws including the Oklahoma Central Purchasing Act, which enables public organizations to consolidate their purchases. Oklahoma Chancellor Glen Johnson spoke in favor of the exemptions, which help universities save money, he said. About $40 million was saved this year on purchases made by universities through higher education discounts they receive through their own purchases, he said. The University of Oklahoma alone will save about $26 million next year based on education discounts the university receives but that the state would not, he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Norman Transcript: Climate Center location good news for Norman

The decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior to locate one of eight regional climate centers at the University of Oklahoma brings yet another federal agency presence to Norman. Norman won out over several cities. The announcement came late last week. A site team had visited the city this past summer. At least 15 federal employees will be here within a year, and up to 90 are expected within three years. The final decision to locate in Norman says volumes about the quality and quantity of the research already under way here. It also is a testament to the vision for the research campus put forth by OU President David L. Boren more than a dozen years ago when the South Base campus was not much more than abandoned, temporary naval base buildings and deteriorated streets. OU officials say the interior department’s location here has the potential to develop private sector communities, just as the weather industry has developed around the NOAA presence in Norman.

Read more from The Norman Transcript at

Quote of the Day

As it turns out, a number of people have concluded that income tax is the worst tax except for all the others.
Oklahoma Policy Institute Director David Blatt, speaking to Urban Tulsa Weekly

Number of the Day


Minimum amount in salary and fringe benefits earned by a first-year Oklahoma public school teacher with a bachelor’s degree, 2011-2012

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

States improving revenue seize gift unseen since Clinton era: Muni credit

Like homeowners refinancing their mortgages at the lowest interest rates since 1971, U.S. states and municipalities are slashing debt-service costs by selling new securities to replace costlier borrowings from past years. Interest rates on 30-year top-rated tax-exempt bonds last week were close to the lowest level since 1991 at 3.88 percent, according to Bloomberg Fair Value index data. In an effort to capture the lower borrowing costs, Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, the second-biggest U.S. highway agency by miles, plans to refund $521.8 million Oct. 5 for an estimated $20 million of savings, Wendy Smith, the authority’s chief financial officer, said in a telephone interview from Oklahoma City. The projected savings are twice what the authority spent on turnpike maintenance in the first six months of 2011, according to bond documents.

Read more from Bloomberg at

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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