In The Know: SQ 780 reversed upward trend of felony charges; increase in uninsured children in Oklahoma; new plan to bring down high rates of child abuse…

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

In its first year, SQ 780 reversed 10 years of growth in felony filings: New data shows that State Question 780 reduced felony filings by over 14,000 across Oklahoma’s District Courts in its first year in a major realignment of how the state deals with low-level offenses. SQ 780, approved by voters by a wide margin in 2016, reclassified simple drug possession and many minor property crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma’s progress on child uninsured rate has stalled: All children should be able to see a doctor or fill a prescription when they need to. After all, access to quality health care in childhood makes it more likely that a person will succeed and thrive throughout their life. But in Oklahoma, children are less likely to have access to health care than their peers in most other states. [OK Policy]

No family should be punished for accepting help when they need it: Bad luck or hard times can hit any of us, and when it happens we should all be able to seek and accept help to meet basic needs while we work to get back on our feet.  But for many Oklahoma families, that assurance of compassion and help may soon disappear. [OK Policy]

(Capitol Update) Transition team begins charting Stitt Administration’s direction: There’s not a lot of legislative activity to report from last week. Most members were catching up on family time and fielding bill requests before the December 7 bill drafting deadline. In the next couple of weeks, members will be deciding on their own personal priorities for next session. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

(Capitol Update) Office of Juvenile Affairs makes improvements, but more work needed: Last week the Office of Juvenile Affairs Board of Directors (OJA) approved a new, higher rate for some group home beds. They will provide intensive services to potentially aggressive or violent youths in OJA custody who need specialized mental health treatment. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

In The News

In one year, SQ 780 drastically reversed a 10-year upward trend of felony charges, according to Open Justice Oklahoma report: Early results are in on State Question 780: Felony charges dropped 28.4 percent statewide in one year, sharply reversing at least a 10-year upward trend that pushed Oklahoma’s prison rate to highest in the nation. [Tulsa World] The number of Oklahoma inmates locked up in state and private prisons and awaiting transfer from county jails dipped below 28,000 last week — the first time that has happened since early 2015. [NewsOK ????]

Two studies with different perspectives on State Question 780’s effects illustrate complicated puzzle of prison reform: Two reports released in November that assess the first-year effects of reforms on simple drug possession and property crimes tell differing stories from opposite ends of the criminal justice system. The latter report determined that State Question 780 is “working as intended,” with a sharp reduction in felony charges filed that reversed an upward trend of at least a decade. [Tulsa World]

The cost of prosecution: DA says defendants pay too much of Oklahoma’s criminal justice tab: Every year, state funding leaves a big hole in District Attorney Jason Hicks’ budget. This year, money appropriated by Oklahoma lawmakers will cover about 40 percent of his office’s roughly $3.2 million budget. Hicks can fill part of the gap with federal grants and other sources, most of the money comes from fees charged to criminal defendants. [StateImpact Oklahoma] An OK Policy report examines how excessive fines and fees lock Oklahomans into the criminal justice system without boosting state revenue.

Increase in uninsured children recorded in Oklahoma and across nation: The country’s rate of uninsured children grew for the first time in about a decade, and Oklahoma was no exception. The Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families released a report in November detailing the drop. About 82,000 Oklahoma children, or 7.7 percent of the state’s minor population, went without coverage in 2017. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma has new plan to bring down high rates of child abuse, neglect: The number of child abuse and neglect cases in Oklahoma doubled from 2010 to 2017, but advocates hope a new prevention plan will start to reduce the toll. The Health Department surveyed people working in child welfare and the general public about what resources they were aware of, and where they see unmet needs, said Beth Martin, director of family support and prevention services. Finding mental health care and affordable child care proved most challenging for parents. [NewsOK ????] You can read the full plan from the Office of Child Abuse Prevention here.

Governor-elect Stitt picks Pruitt ally for top state energy and environment post: Kenneth Wagner, a senior official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with close personal and business ties to ousted EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, will serve as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy and Environment, Governor-elect Kevin Stitt’s transition team said Wednesday. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

State Treasurer Ken Miller to join OGE Energy: Term-limited state Treasurer Ken Miller will join OGE Energy Corp. as its vice president of regulatory and state government affairs effective Jan. 2, the company announced Thursday. Miller, 52, was elected state treasurer in 2010 and re-elected unopposed in 2014. [Journal Record]

New 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern announces staff appointments: New 1st District Congressman Kevin Hern on Wednesday announced the hiring of 10 staff members, including chief of staff Cameron Foster and District Director Robert Aery to head the Tulsa office. Foster worked on Hern’s campaign as an operative for Axiom Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm. [Tulsa World]

Commission vetting Oklahoma’s licensing requirements: A bipartisan group of Oklahoma officials has been working to review the state’s licensing requirements for workers, and that analysis got philosophical on Tuesday. The Department of Labor is overseeing a commission of lawmakers and other officials that plans to examine the state’s hundreds of occupational licenses. [Journal Record]

Legislation would restore tax break on car sales: Oklahoma’s economy is recovering, and some lawmakers want to undo policies they enacted during a more difficult time. Now that Oklahoma is seeing its revenue streams strengthen and the Legislature has passed comprehensive tax increases, top Senate Republicans are contemplating an end to tax increases they passed during 2017’s financial emergency. Namely, the end of the sales tax exemption on motor vehicles. [Journal Record]

Proposed law would criminalize abortion, allowing for life sentences for women who undergo the procedure: bill proposed by a Republican legislator would criminalize abortion in Oklahoma, allow women who undergo the procedure to be sentenced to life in prison and would allow medical or pharmacy employees to deny women an abortion even when the woman would die without one. [The Frontier]

Ousted state epidemiologist had alerted feds to problems last year: The state epidemiologist ousted Tuesday was one of the first to react to reports of misspending at the Oklahoma State Department of Health in summer 2017, according to the state auditor’s report on the department’s financial troubles. [NewsOK ????]

State’s lawsuit against drug companies becoming increasingly bitter: Oklahoma’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers has become increasingly bitter, with attorneys for the state accusing Johnson & Johnson of hiding critical documents and engaging in delay tactics. [NewsOK ????]

State’s voting system praised, but new poll workers needed: While some states experienced controversial recounts, squabbles between county election boards and other election-day controversies, Oklahoma’s voting process appeared to run smoothly, credited in large part to the state’s unified system of voting machines. [NewsOK ????]

Despite letter, ed committee chair says schools will be supported: State Rep. Rhonda Baker, a former teacher and current chair of the House common education committee, said she completely supports the state’s public school system and increasing its funding, despite the feelings of the party chairman from her own county who questioned the state’s involvement in education. [NewsOK]

Virtual charter school’s founders ramp up political contributions: Leaders of the state’s largest virtual charter school contributed at least $145,000 total to the campaigns of dozens of candidates this year, records reveal, a show of increasing political muscle as the school is experiencing dramatic growth. The contributions by David Chaney and Ben Harris, co-founders of Epic Virtual Charter School, as well as Chaney’s wife, Kristin, were made legally and not with school funds, they say. But the amounts far exceed those given by comparable school leaders. [Oklahoma Watch]

More than 3,000 Oklahomans with disabilities moved off service waiting list: More than 3,000 people with disabilities who wanted help getting a job moved off the waiting list this year, but more than 2,000 will continue to wait unless the state finds more money. The Department of Rehabilitation Services reported Wednesday that 3,424 people had received vocational rehabilitation services since January. [NewsOK]

Cannabis industry taking root in Oklahoma: Nearly six months after the initial OK, Oklahoma’s cannabis industry is finding its foothold. Voters passed State Question 788 in June, which legalized medical marijuana. That measure and federal law require dispensaries to sell products that are grown and processed within state lines. [Journal Record] A national convention company moved its event plans for Oklahoma City next year ahead several months because the local cannabis industry is growing much faster than anticipated, officials said. [Journal Record ????]

When six women are sworn in as Tulsa city councilors on Monday, history will be made: Six of Tulsa’s nine city councilors are women, and that number won’t change when a new class of councilors is sworn into office on Monday. But the number’s significance will. Two of the women currently serving were appointed to fill unexpected vacancies. The six females in the new council class were all elected. [Tulsa World]

1921 centennial commission to replace ‘riot’ with ‘massacre’ in official title: The 1921 Race Riot Centennial Commission is changing its name to the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Set up by state Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, to coordinate activities related to the centennial of the violent outbreak that destroyed most of the city’s black Greenwood District, the commission will officially announce the change on Thursday, according to an announcement by Matthews. [Tulsa World]

Climate change will hit state’s farmers, tribes and infrastructure: Oklahoma will experience an increase in extreme weather events, more days above 100 degrees and declining water access that will significantly challenge the state’s agriculture industry, according to a new federal climate change report. Higher temperatures — mostly caused by greenhouse-gas emissions, especially from burning fossil fuels — are depleting infrastructure, such as asphalt roads, and excessive heat is disrupting tribal ceremonial cycles, which rely on access to specific natural materials, according to the National Climate Assessment, a report developed by 13 federal agencies and released last week. [NewsOK ????]

Last of nuclear waste removed from Sequoyah Fuels site near Gore: After decades of legal wrangling, the last of more than 500 truckloads of nuclear waste has been removed from the site of an old uranium processing plant near Gore in Sequoyah County. More than 10,000 tons of radioactive material at the former Sequoyah Fuels Corp. site is gone. The waste – uranium-contaminated sludge – had been left for decades in basins, lagoons and ditches at the Sequoyah plant, which closed in 1993 after two accidents injuring dozens of workers and several environmental violations. [Journal Record ????]

Creek reservation arguments make clear where some Supreme Court justices stand, but others are a mystery: U.S. Supreme Court arguments last week in a Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation case made clear where several justices stand, placed large question marks next to others and left some Indian law experts yearning for the one justice who wasn’t there. [NewsOK] Life, tribal sovereignty at forefront of Oklahoma case before U.S. Supreme Court. [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“It’s very encouraging to see that State Question 780 is working as intended. Oklahoma’s experience shows that we can have both less crime and less punishment if we pursue smart criminal justice reform.”

-Ryan Gentzler, director of Open Justice Oklahoma, which just released a report showing the number of felony cases with simple drug possession charges dropped from nearly 19,000 in FY 2017 to under 5,000 in FY 2018, while the number of felony cases with property crime charges dropped from about 13,000 to about 9,000 [Source: NewsOK]

Number of the Day


Decrease in reports of larceny in Oklahoma from 2016 to 2017.

[Source: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Office of Criminal Justice Statistics]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Voters want criminal justice reform. Are politicians listening? The voters are ahead of politicians when it comes to criminal justice reform. Recent research we conducted for the Pretrial Justice Institute found that solid majorities of voters support major reform of the criminal justice system in the United States (57 percent), including nearly one-in-five voters (19 percent) who support a complete overhaul of the system. This sentiment crosses partisan lines, too, with majorities of Democrats (64 percent) and independents (58 percent) and nearly half of all Republicans (48 percent) backing the call for major reform of the criminal justice system. [The Marshall Project]

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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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