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.
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In The News
Sen. Nathan Dahm, Others Push for Third Special Session: Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) and a handful of other conservative Oklahoma legislators are circulating a petition among their peers to call a third special session of the 56th Legislature. Frustrated by a series of vetoes from Gov. Mary Fallin, Dahm and others are seeking the support of 68 House members and 36 senators to trigger a special session call authorized under Article 5, Section 27A of the Oklahoma Constitution. He said multiple political events could trigger the need for a third special session called by Fallin, but the Legislature calling itself back in would allow lawmakers to set the parameters of the “extraordinary” session [NonDoc].
State Government Revenues Continue to Rebound: The financial outlook for Oklahoma state government continues to improve, with April’s General Revenue Fund collections up nearly 25 percent over the same month a year ago. “After some tough years I’m encouraged to see our economy showing some real resilience,” said Denise Northrup, director of the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “If we continue to see positive returns, I’m hopeful we can replenish the Rainy Day Fund and restore some of the cuts agencies have experienced the past few years” [NewsOK].
Parole Board Changes Saved at Last Minute: After a slew of political battles only tangentially related to the measure, Oklahoma adopted a policy that requires mental health and substance abuse professionals on its parole board. The idea was introduced in legislation last year, but that stalled. The provision was in another bill this year that sailed through the committee process. But a floor amendment added a separate policy to the bill that would have adjusted sentencing procedures for minors convicted of homicide. That proved to be immensely controversial. On the last day of the legislative session, the mental health policy survived in the form of Senate Bill 185 [Journal Record].
$31 Million in Highway Repairs Approved by ODOT: Despite a tigher state budget and the loss of some transportation money, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission has voted to approve $31 million in highway and bridge improvement projects. A total of 31 projects in 22 counties won approval in a recent meeting. Two were in Okfuskee County. One is a $4 million project to replace the SH-84 bridge over the North Canadian River neaer Dustin [OK Energy Today].
Abuse Prevention Still Among OSDH Casualties: State contracts with child abuse prevention providers and community health centers were the canaries in the coal mine, indicating the first problems at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. More than six months later, those providers are still hoping state funding will return to the programs that ultimately save more money than they cost. Child abuse prevention providers and community health center administrators said they had hoped the Legislature would also pass budget limit items requiring the state Department of Health to reinstate their contracts, but that didn’t happen [Journal Record].
Many Felons Can’t Vote, but They Can Lobby at the Capitol: As a convicted felon on a suspended sentence, former state Rep. Gus Blackwell can’t vote. But he can still lobby his former colleagues in the Legislature. Blackwell, who left office in 2014 and became a registered lobbyist, was convicted in 2017 of “double-dipping” on his per diem and travel claims when he was a legislator. He remained a lobbyist and still can be seen in the Capitol corridors pressing the interests of his client [Oklahoma Watch].
Teen’s Death in Juvenile Detention Center Result of Neglect, Indifference, Lawsuit Claims: Muskogee County Council of Youth Services — which operated the regional juvenile detention center at the time — four of its employees, the Muskogee County Board of County Commissioners, and the state’s Office of Juvenile Affairs allegedly failed to ensure youth were safe and the facility had proper staffing and training [The Frontier].
Tulsa Has Better Options Than Punitive Responses to Truancy and Homelessness: In recent weeks, the Tulsa City Council has considered ordinances that seek to address the city’s problems with truancy and homelessness. Unfortunately, rather than basing those responses on what works – investing in social services and programs – they instead double down on punitive responses through the criminal justice system. Local governments across the state should do what they can to address problems like these, but we must ensure that they do so in ways that work [OKPolicy].
Partners Mark Three Years of Stepping up Initiative Work in Tulsa County: The Tulsa County Sheriff and more than 40 partners have had a successful three years under the Stepping Up Initiative. Tulsa County signed on to the national effort to put fewer people with mental illness in jail in 2015. Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Mike Brose said they need treatment but are disproportionately represented behind bars [Public Radio Tulsa].
Mental Health Advocate: Time to Cure This Stigma for Good: We have certainly come a long way and are more accepting about mental illness, but we have a lot of work to do. Thus, the theme for Mental Health Month as designated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is “Cure Stigma” [Prakash Masand, M.D./NewsOK].
Homeless as youth, senior pays it forward: David Berry carries a message of hope every time he volunteers at Positive Tomorrows, a school for homeless children in Oklahoma City. Berry, 18, a senior at Classen School of Advanced Studies, was once homeless just like the kids he mentors twice a week. He was 10 when his parents got evicted and the family lived in a homeless shelter. During that time, his mother gave birth to a sister and his father committed a crime and was sent to prison [NewsOK].
When’s the Last Day of School? It Depends on Whether Your District Shut down for the Teacher Walkout. Unless We’re Talking About Sperry: For some Oklahoma districts, school’s out. For others, seniors might have already walked across the stage, moved their tassels from right to left and still have to go to school the next day — and for two weeks after. That odd circumstance is just one way the Oklahoma teacher walkout’s impact is still reverberating across the state. Districts that closed school for the walkout have had to extend the school year, some into early June. [Tulsa World].
These Republican Teachers Are Running Against Their Own Party to Reverse Years of Education Cuts: When Melanie Spoon, a middle-school librarian in Oklahoma City, showed up outside Republican state Rep. Mike Osburn’s office during the teacher strike last month, she planned to tell him how her budget for new books had been cut by more than half and how she hadn’t gotten a pay raise in 10 years. But, she said, Osburn wouldn’t meet with her, so Spoon — a Republican who voted for Osburn two years ago — decided to run against him [Time].
The real cost of Kansas and Oklahoma’s new anti-LGBTQ adoption laws: On May 3, the Oklahoma Legislature became the first to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation this year, followed closely by Kansas. Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, a Republican, signed that state’s license to discriminate bill into law late on a Friday afternoon, May 11. Kansas’ Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer is expected to sign their bill into law any day. Both bills were hurriedly pushed through at the end of the session in response to threats from certain child-placing agencies that they might leave the state if their “religious liberty” wasn’t protected. These bills, however, distort the meaning of our individual right to free exercise of religion without interference from the government [Slate].
O-Negative Blood Needed: Due to an increased number of trauma patients in local hospitals, there is an immediate need for O-negative blood. Kenda Burnham, Donor Recruitment Director for the Oklahoma Blood Institute in Tulsa, says they’re down to less than a one day supply. There’s also a higher need this time of year because of travel, vacations, and storms [Public Radio Tulsa].
Quote of the Day
“Instead of saying, ‘Why not?’ which is where we’re at, people that have to be with us to approve them say, ‘Why? Why change it if it’s not broken?’ Well, it is broken.”
-Michelle Robinette, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Mental Health Coordinator, who said the challenge for having better responses to mental illness is selling everyone in the criminal justice system [Source].
Number of the Day
Share of Oklahomans in working households eligible for SNAP who received food assistance from the program in 2015.
A Loophole in Federal Law Allows Companies to Pay Disabled Workers $1 an Hour: Giving employers permission to pay workers less seems to justify treating them differently in other ways. The workers at Self Help and their guardians knew they were allowed to receive less than the minimum wage, but they may not have realized that getting paid in gift cards is against the law. There are about 153,030 workers with disabilities in the US who can be paid less than minimum wage under federal law, according to data from the Department of Labor. Some workers earn as little as 4 cents an hour [Vox].
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