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.
In The News
‘She Was a True Leader’: Rep. Claudia Griffith Has Died: Rep. Claudia Griffith (D-Norman) has died. She was 67 years old. First elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2014, Griffith represented east Norman, with House District 45 stretching to Lake Thunderbird from 12th Avenue. A former PTA president, Griffith held a masters in public health from the University of Oklahoma and was well-known in Norman as the former director of Health for Friends. “It is completely unexpected and shocking,” Rep. Collin Walke (D-OKC) said. “She was a wonderful mentor to incoming freshmen about the legislative process.” [NonDoc]
Kimble: Court Ruling Could Halt Oklahoma Medicaid Work Requirements: Oklahoma should reconsider changes to Medicaid requirements. A recent federal court ruled that requiring work or community engagement to be eligible for the Kentucky HEALTH program, Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion, was not appropriately reviewed by the federal government and cannot move forward. Oklahoma is among many states pursuing work requirements, but the court’s decision is reason for pause [Carter Kimble / Journal Record]. Advocacy Alert: Protect SoonerCare for Oklahoma Families [OKPolicy]
Uncertainty Remains on Medical Marijuana Implementation: Two weeks after Oklahoma voters agreed to legalize medical marijuana, numerous questions remain over how it will be implemented, and patient access could still be several months away as legal challenges have already been made and some voters worry the state government is chipping away at a system that hasn’t even begun [NewsOK]. Medical marijuana Q-and-A: How would newly added rules affect patients? [Tulsa World].
(Podcast) Pot Rules: Breaking down the Board of Health’s Marijuana Action: At its July 10 meeting, the Oklahoma Board of Health failed in an attempt to approve its own minutes from a previous meeting. The administrative goof hardly affected the health of Oklahomans, but it set the stage for a strange day that befuddled onlookers and left many voters feeling their government was undermining the medical marijuana statutes they had passed only two weeks earlier [NonDoc].
Recreational Marijuana Petition Nears Signature Goal to Get Constitutional Question on November Ballot: While officials work on enacting State Question 788, activist group Green The Vote says it has received a significant boost in signatures following the Board of Health’s approval of controversial emergency rules on Tuesday. Group leader Isaac Caviness of Tulsa said the organization has had more than 1,400 volunteers promote state questions 796 and 797, which would enshrine the right to medical and recreational marijuana, respectively, in the Oklahoma Constitution [Tulsa World].
GOP Candidates for Governor Would Sign Bills Restricting Abortion: Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt, the two candidates vying for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, say they would sign legislation banning or restricting abortion, even if it would violate abortion rights granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in two major decisions. Cornett said at a Republican forum in May that he would sign legislation banning all abortions except in the cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Stitt says he would sign every piece of anti-abortion legislation that came to him [NewsOK].
Candidates Withdraw: Two runoffs end, one Rep. elected: Since the June 26 primary, four candidates have withdrawn from their respective Oklahoma legislative races, giving two candidates a spot on the general election ballot and leaving one candidate unchallenged in November. “You know, I can’t give you an explanation on that,” said Bryan Dean about the candidate withdrawals. Dean is the public information officer for the Oklahoma State Election Board [NonDoc].
10 Oklahoma Lawmakers Face Runoff Challengers: How Vulnerable Are They? State Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, is trying to do something this summer that no incumbent Oklahoma lawmaker has done since at least 1994. Finish second in a party primary, and then rally to win the runoff. Of the 10 legislative incumbents — all Republicans, all House members — in runoff elections on Aug. 28, Ritze is the only one who finished second in a June 26 primary [Tulsa World].
Justice Demands That Oklahoma Find a Merciful Option for People Convicted of Small-Time Drug Felonies That Voters Have Said Should Be Misdemeanors: Thanks to Oklahoma voters, a lot of things that used to be felonies aren’t any more — especially things involving possession of small amounts of drugs. That doesn’t do anything for the people already in prison or otherwise still dealing with other results of those same crimes. These are people who were convicted of crimes that if they were committed today would result in sanctions equivalent to a bad traffic ticket [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].
As Oklahoma Grapples with Prison Overcrowding, State’s Oldest Inmates Say It’s Time for Release: When Donald Vaughan went to prison for murder, he was 19 years old. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Marilyn Monroe was a star and this newspaper cost five cents. Fifty-eight years later, Vaughan is still there. He has the lowest inmate number in Oklahoma, along with a growing litany of ailments that could cost taxpayers untold thousands of dollars [NewsOK].
Justice and Mercy: Young Adults Tour Oklahoma County Jail: Their faces remained impassive throughout a recent tour of one of the state’s most maligned institutions. However, a group of young adults had definite thoughts about what they saw at the Oklahoma County jail on Monday. The overcrowding was evidenced by a visit to a cell that often houses three inmates at a time though it was designed for one. Food was being chilled in a refrigerated truck outside the building as a result of a kitchen that no longer functions effectively [NewsOK].
AG Wants Oklahoma City to Reconsider Filing Own Opioid Lawsuit: The Oklahoma City Council will be taking a major gamble if it decides to opt out of the state’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and file a lawsuit of its own, warns Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. Because of legal powers the state has but cities do not, the city could be greatly limiting any damages it might receive, Hunter and his legal team said. However, an attorney for the city says sticking with the state’s lawsuit also would be a gamble [NewsOK].
Despite Improved Economy, State Government Freeze on Hiring Remains: Despite the state’s improved economy in recent months, a hiring freeze ordered by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin seven years ago will continue until a new governor takes office. State law dictates that executive orders remain in effect for three months after a governor’s term begins, unless they are explicitly terminated. The cost-cutting measures also extend to restrictions on salary hikes and travel Fallin implemented after Oklahoma faced a $611 million budget shortfall [NewsOK].
‘We Have Learned a Lot Given the Teacher Shortage’: TPS Using Teaching Institute to Help Prepare Emergency Certified Teachers: In its first year, the Tulsa Teacher Corps program is designed to give about 75 novice teachers more support than some who came before them, building on the lessons the district has learned amid a statewide teacher shortage and high turnover. “We have learned a lot given the teacher shortage,” said Quentin Liggins, director of talent initiatives at Tulsa Public Schools [Tulsa World].
Editorial: State Needs to Adequately Fund Higher Education: While Oklahoma has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to appropriating revenue, a priority for the legislators should be state institutions of higher learning. As with other sectors of public education, higher education has been the victim of repeated state cuts over the past decade. Thirty years ago, more than 50 percent of OU’s budget came from the state. Today, it’s in the low teens. That’s simply unsustainable, and it forces OU to rely on private donors and tuition increases [Editorial Board / Norman Transcript].
State Website for Individuals with Disabilities Is Back Online: The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services website is working again, Jody Harlan, the state agency’s communications director, said Friday. In the past, private sector servers have been used to host the Department of Rehabilitation Services website www.okdrs.gov. The website was moved to state servers operated by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services this week after outages occurred. The website contains a disability resource guide and is a major source of information for people with disabilities [NewsOK].
Mike Strain: We Changed How We Refer to the ‘Tulsa Race Riot.’ Here’s Why: The reader was angry, and part of that frustration was over the choice of a single word. It wasn’t a surprise. Editors in our newsroom had debated this question just a few weeks earlier: Should we call it the Tulsa Race Riot or the Tulsa Race Massacre? That question, over one word, can lead to uncomfortable conversations in our city, the kind you see associated with changing the name of Lee Elementary [Tulsa World].
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma Hosting Food Drive to Stock the Shelves at School Pantries: The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma needs your help! Through September 30, food donations are needed to stock the shelves of school pantries in preparation for the new school year. The School Pantry Program provides chronically hungry middle and high school students with food to sustain them after school and over the weekends. Last year, 5,770 chronically hungry students attending 167 schools received weekly groceries [KFOR].
School, Hospital Sales Tax Collections Delayed: City of McAlester sales tax collections passed by voters in February to benefit McAlester Public Schools and the McAlester Regional Health Center did not go into effect on July 1 as expected — because the city did not notify the Oklahoma Tax Commission in time for the new taxes to be implemented. The two eighth-cent sales tax collection measures are now expected to go into effect on October 1, 2018, which is the next available time for the OTC to add the new taxes [McAlester News-Capital].
Quote of the Day
“Even if work requirements are accepted by the courts as beneficial for one’s health, when the statutory language is paired with Congress’ intent for the Medicaid program, such a prerequisite to receive medical assistance benefits runs directly counter to the congressional intent of providing affordable access to care for the poor. I would be hard-pressed to believe that work requirements for Oklahomans on SoonerCare have much of a future, especially as long as Oklahoma refuses to expand Medicaid.”
-Carter Kimble, director of health policy for the Oklahoma State University/A&M Colleges Board of Regents [Journal Record]
Number of the Day
Number of children in immigrant families in Oklahoma, 13% of all kids in the state.
More Women Than Men: State Legislatures Could Shift for the First Time: Nationally, for women to be at least equally represented as men in all state legislatures, voters in November would need to elect 1,816 more women, nearly doubling the current count of female legislators in state office. Women now make up a quarter of all state legislature seats in the United States. In Oklahoma, women hold 14 percent of seats in the state legislature. This is the second lowest percentage in the country. Voters would need to elect 54 more female lawmakers for at least half of their state legislature to be women. “It makes a difference to have women in office,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women bring different policy priorities to the table,” she said [New York Times].
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.