In The Know: Teacher shortage persists; bipartisan commutation campaign; the incumbents fighting for their political lives…

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.

In The News

No indication pay raises significantly affecting Oklahoma’s chronic teacher shortage yet: Local school leaders say Oklahoma’s chronic teacher shortage shows no signs of easing even as new state-funded teacher raises take effect. Teacher turnover appears to have slackened for some Tulsa-area school districts but ticked up at others, and the state of Oklahoma is on pace to eclipse last year’s record for emergency certified teachers. [Tulsa World]

Coalition leads ‘commutation campaign’ in effort to reduce ‘excessive’ sentences in Oklahoma: A bipartisan coalition is campaigning to reduce the sentences for dozens of people serving time for crimes that no longer carry such severe punishments following criminal justice reform efforts in Oklahoma. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a group of law enforcement, lawmakers and business and community leaders, is assisting with what the group considers to be “excessive and unjust sentences.” [NewsOK ????]  Some state inmates serving 10 years to life in prison for what has been described as “low-level” drug crimes have applied for commutations thanks to the help of advocates and law students. [Tulsa World]

Criminal justice reforms have yet to save the state money, prison chief says: A state agency has no plans to alter a recent report on criminal justice reform cost savings, despite concerns that its findings are not accurate. The Office of Management and Enterprise Services on July 31 issued a report indicating a recent state question on criminal justice reform had saved the state more than $63 million in fiscal year 2018. Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh called the report just another “fiasco” by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. [Tulsa World]

Incumbents suddenly fighting for their political lives in two area GOP runoffs: Perhaps nothing demonstrates the sudden turbulence rocking the Oklahoma Republican Party more than the predicaments in which state Reps. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy, and Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow, find themselves. After years of little to no opposition, both are in Aug. 28 runoff elections they could easily lose [Tulsa World]. Anti-tax Republican incumbents faced especially strong challenges this election season [OKPolicy].

Lots of homework in store for Oklahoma voters: Turns out proponents of a state question to legalize recreational marijuana collected fewer signatures than they claimed they had, which means November’s ballot likely will be a bit less crowded. But only a bit. In addition to making their choices for county, state and federal offices — everything from governor to district judges — voters will decide at least four state questions, continuing the spirit of direct democracy Oklahomans have favored since statehood. [Editorial Board / NewsOK] Oklahoma 2018 State Questions and Elections [OKPolicy].

Stitt ad questions Cornett’s support of Trump: Kevin Stitt’s gubernatorial campaign began running a television ad Saturday portraying GOP rival Mick Cornett as an opponent of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies. The spot shows an MSNBC interview from Oct. 2016 in which Cornett says, “I have not endorsed Donald Trump” and that “normally I have” endorsed the Republican presidential nominee. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma judge stays with May 28 trial date in opioid case: A judge is being asked to have two jury trials over the legal claims made in Oklahoma’s lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman met with attorneys Friday and agreed to consider the request Aug. 30. The judge said he is sticking with his plan to start the trial May 28 despite recent issues. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma attorney general opinion energizes solar enthusiasts: Sustainable energy enthusiasts are energized by an Oklahoma attorney general’s opinion that sheds additional light on regulatory issues involving rooftop solar systems installed on homes and businesses in the state. They believe Oklahomans finally could have an opportunity to join other people across the nation who are able to economically obtain the systems using power purchase agreements that include lease-to-own terms [NewsOK]

At least three towns being considered for relocation of Talihina Veterans Center: Three eastern Oklahoma towns are competing to be the setting for a relocated state veterans center. City officials from Muskogee, Sallisaw and Poteau traveled several hours to tour a veterans center in Lawton on Wednesday, according to a sign-in sheet obtained by The Oklahoman. The goal was to view the sort of facility that may be built in their town. [NewsOK]

State rep: OKC’s shelter shortage needs attention: … His dad has been out of the picture for a long time and his mom’s new boyfriend didn’t want him around. So he’s been hopscotching the United States in search of stability and safety. He came to Oklahoma City because he heard we had jobs. He’s got nobody to lean on, and he’s got very little. He asks me if I know of a place he can stay overnight, and my heart sinks because I know the answer: We don’t have enough beds, enough rooms, in Oklahoma City. We just don’t. [Rep. Forrest Bennett / NewsOK]

Older Oklahomans vulnerable to scams, abuse: As much as 10 percent of Oklahoma’s adults age 60 and older are victims of physical, psychological, sexual or verbal abuse. Also, senior citizens are seriously neglected or victims of financial exploitation, according to a new report co-authored by Lance Robertson, assistant secretary for aging in the Trump administration. Robertson served as Oklahoma’s director of aging services from 2007 to 2017. [NewsOK]

Online threats made against transgender student: LGBTQ advocates are expressing support for a female student in a small southeastern Oklahoma school district following a series of threatening social media posts made by parents and other members of the community. The local superintendent said the social media posts do not represent the school district. In now removed posts on an Achille school district parents group Facebook page, dozens of derogatory statements and threats were made against a female middle school student who is transgender. Other posts appeared to encourage students to use violence to intimidate the student and said the girl was not welcome at the school. [NewsOK]

Group funded by Hamm’s ex-wife helps defeat judge in divorce case: An outside group funded by Sue Ann Arnall, an Oklahoma City philanthropist, spent more than $65,000 to defeat an Oklahoma County district court judge who presided over her 2014 divorce case with billionaire oilman Harold Hamm. The political action committee, the Oklahoma Good Government Fund, was formed in June and had one contribution, $100,000 from Arnall, according to state Ethics Commission reports. [Oklahoma Watch]

Transforming Tulsa, starting with a park: The landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh is a diviner of places, a city whisperer. Though he had never set foot in Tulsa, he was coaxed to a flat, ho-hum stretch of land overlooking the Arkansas River by the billionaire philanthropist George B. Kaiser, who was bent on building a park. … If it succeeds, as its founders and community leaders hope, it can bring families together and help mend a city with a legacy of segregation, where many neighborhoods grapple with poverty, health disparities and the isolating effects of urban renewal. [New York Times]

Tulsa Councilor’s travel request denied, sparking broader debates: Tulsa city councilors denied travel costs for a councilor to attend a conference on civilian oversight of law enforcement, but discussion of the matter spread to bigger issues. The 7–1 vote on the request followed guidance from the ethics commission and city attorney, which said Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper’s marriage to a police officer created a conflict of interest. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Proposal to forgive certain parking tickets comes to Tulsa City Council: A plan is before Tulsa’s city council to forgive certain parking tickets if a person decides to leave their car overnight rather than drive home drunk. While that concept is new, the legal process is not. Councilor Blake Ewing’s proposed ordinance would let people present proof of a ride via bus, taxi or rideshare company for dismissal of an overtime parking citation if they pick up their car before noon the next day. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Construction starts on Choctaw Nation Cultural Center: Construction has started in Durant on the Choctaw Nation Cultural Center. The center will be on Choctaw Road, northwest of the intersection of Choctaw Road and Highway 69/75. Planning for the center has been in the works for years, Chief Gary Batton said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “The reason it has taken so long is that it was important to get it right,” Batton said. [Journal Record ????]

Cherokee Nation agreement creates first tribal conservation area for endangered beetle: There’s a beetle in Oklahoma that can stop entire construction projects. It’s not dangerous — it’s endangered. The American burying beetle has frustrated its share of groups trying improve roads or drill for oil, but now it’s inspired a new approach to its conservation. The Cherokee Nation is not only dealing with the American burying beetle but also trying to help bring up its numbers. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Quote of the Day

“A lot of these are 20-, sometimes 30-year sentences on a crime that if charged now would be a misdemeanor.”

-Corbin Brewster, Tulsa County’s chief public defender, speaking about inmates sentenced before Oklahoma’s SQ 780 criminal justice reforms. Advocates are now fighting to have these sentences commuted [Tulsa World].

Number of the Day


Difference in the average hourly wage for Oklahoma workers ($23.16) compared to the national average ($26.19), June 2018

[Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A disturbing trend of hiding the coverage losses is emerging in Medicaid waivers: For those of us closely watching the action on new Section 1115 Medicaid research and demonstration waivers that the Trump Administration has been inviting and approving this year, the recent court decision putting a hold on Kentucky’s plans was welcome news. The court ruled that the Secretary’s decision in granting the Medicaid waiver was “arbitrary and capricious.” A key point in coming to the court’s conclusion was the impact of taking health insurance away from thousands of Medicaid beneficiaries. The judge wrote: For starters, the Secretary never once mentions the estimated 95,000 people who would lose coverage, which gives the Court little reason to think that he seriously grappled with the bottom- line impact on healthcare. [Georgetown University Center for Children and Families]

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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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