In The Know: U.S. Supreme Court to Take up Oklahoma Death Penalty Case, Question of Creek Nation Reservation

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

U.S. Supreme Court to Take up Oklahoma Death Penalty Case, Question of Creek Nation Reservation: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted the state of Oklahoma’s request that the court take up a death penalty case that some argue could give American Indian tribes in the state greater jurisdiction and regulatory authority. Though there is no exact timeline yet for how the case will proceed, briefs will likely be submitted to the high court through the summer, with oral arguments to occur in autumn, and a decision by the court being issued by June 2019, a spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office said Monday morning [The Frontier]. 

Amid Legal Challenges, Districts Struggling with Teacher Compensation: Amid the ongoing legal and ballot challenges to the state’s recent tax hikes, Oklahoma districts are struggling to figure out how much compensation to offer teachers next year. As districts hash out upcoming budgets and offer teaching contracts, questions are surfacing if it’s fiscally prudent to incorporate the Legislature’s recent average $6,100 raise given the ongoing uncertainty, said Joy Hofmeister, the state’s superintendent of public instruction [Enid News & Eagle]. Letter: Do Not Sign State Question 799 Petition [William Blair/NonDoc].

Teachers Are Organizing. But What About Teachers’ Unions?: This blossoming spring of teacher uprisings—marching on state capitols, winning hefty pay raises—cheers any citizen who knows that robust societies depend on vibrant schools. But arid summers may await the nation’s educators, as the Trump-tweaked U.S. Supreme Court seems ready to eviscerate these same teacher associations who battle each day for better schools. Still, it’s the wildcat strikes moving across the nation—ignited mostly by young and passionate teachers—that may reshape the future of labor unions [Education Week].

Extent of Health Department Ills Still Murky: Policy analysts said it is going to take some more time to see how the financial situation within the Oklahoma State Department of Health will affect policy, and that it will likely be clearer after November. Investigators released a report on fiscal mismanagement within the agency that revealed that a $30 million bailout and about 200 layoffs, each implemented last year, were never necessary [Journal Record]. Lawmakers divided on root of OSDH problems [Journal Record].

Would problems at Health Department have come to light sooner if Oklahoma whistleblower law was stronger? (Capitol Update): The multi-county grand jury issued a scathing report this week on the Oklahoma State Health Department (OSHD) showing mismanagement over a period of several years. Upon reading the news accounts of the grand jury report, I had to believe the grand jury had gotten it wrong. I’ve known former Commissioner Cline for many years and just couldn’t see this happening on his watch. But I’ve read the full report, and it is thorough and well documented [OK Policy].

Lack of lawyers in Oklahoma Senate raises concerns: Combine former Sen. David Holt’s swearing in as Oklahoma City mayor with Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman) and Sen. Anthony Sykes (R-Moore) terming out of the Legislature this year, and the Oklahoma State Senate could contain as few as three lawyers next session. With six lawyers running for only four other Senate seats, the 48-member body could contain a maximum of seven attorneys in 2019. According to John M. Williams, executive director of the Oklahoma Bar Association, the relatively low number of lawyers in the Senate is cause for some concern [NonDoc].

Langston board holds off reinstating suspended staff: The Langston Hughes Academy for Arts and Technology board of directors, a governing body that has three members suing another, did not reinstate its suspended superintendent and three other staff members on Monday. The board was poised to consider a motion to reinstate those staff members, who have been suspended with pay because of grade-tampering allegations, before its attorney, Bill Hickman, cautioned against doing so [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma public colleges produce fewer graduates: Thousands of college graduates are poised to enter the workforce this spring armed with credentials they earned at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education estimates nearly 34,000 students in the state system have earned degrees and college-level certificates during the 2017-18 academic year. The preliminary figure is based on a survey of the 25 public higher education institutions. Official data will be available later. The number is down about 1,740 graduates from last spring [NewsOK].

Appeals Court Upholds Dismissal of Oklahoma DEQ Attorney Accused of Conspiring with Lawmaker: The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has upheld the 2014 firing of a state Department of Environmental Quality attorney who was accused of trying to torpedo the agency. DEQ administrators fired Mista Burgess from her job as a supervising attorney in May 2014, accusing her of conspiring with DEQ colleague Wendy Caperton and then-state Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, to cut the agency’s budget [NewsOK].

Man Who Died Saturday Is Tulsa Jail’s First In-Custody Death of 2018: A Tulsa man charged with murder for the shotgun death of a woman outside an eastside QuikTrip earlier this year died over the weekend in the Tulsa Jail. Ty Austin Rutledge, 23, had been in the jail since his arrest on Jan. 15. According to a “Jail Incident Report,” Rutledge was found by a detention officer lying “face down on the floor with blood on the floor.” The report twice lists the wrong date Rutledge was found, first saying May 15, then saying May 18. Jail officials confirmed Rutledge was found unresponsive about 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 19 [The Frontier].

Aging Boomers Put Stress on Services: The Areawide Agency on Aging serves Oklahoma, Logan, Lincoln and Canadian counties. During 2017’s budget woes, about the time that the Legislature’s cigarette fee bill failed its constitutional challenge, the agency was facing a $300,000 cut. That meant decreasing the number of meals available for those already receiving them. More than 200 people were on the waiting list. The now-retired executive director, Don Hudman, said lawmakers should have to come down to his sites to choose which seniors would not get meals anymore [Journal Record].

Payne County sheriff tells Congress bigger, heavier trucks a danger on roads: Tractor-trailer rigs with larger, heavier loads would endanger Oklahoma roads and drivers, Payne County Sheriff R.B. Hauf told members of Congress last week. The issue has popped up as the U.S. House prepares the federal spending bill. Members of the House Committee on Appropriations will go through the bill on Wednesday, considering amendments in a process known as markup. Hauf is just one of hundreds of local officials who are fighting against the proposal [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“Darn near every program we have has a waiting list. It’s a forgotten issue. We kind of have to stand on a table waving our hands.”

-Blair Schoeb, Executive Director of the Areawide Agency on Aging serving Oklahoma, Logan, Lincoln and Canadian counties, speaking about how demand for senior services is skyrocketing as more baby boomers enter their mid-60s [Journal Record].

Number of the Day

$788 million

How much Oklahoma FY 2019 budget is below the state’s FY 2009 budget when adjusted for inflation, a 9.4 percent decrease.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New Evidence Shows That Our Anti-Poverty Programs, Especially Social Security, Work Well: Few U.S. government efforts are consistently more vilified than anti-poverty programs. They’re dismissed as ineffective and ridiculed as giveaways to undeserving recipients. A new paper puts the lie to these assertions by showing that the nation’s most important anti-poverty efforts all succeed in serving their goals — in the case of Social Security, spectacularly. The authors, Bruce D. Meyer and Derek Wu of the University of Chicago, used administrative statistics from six major programs to demonstrate that five of the six “sharply reduce deep poverty” (that is, income below 50% of the federal poverty line) and the sixth has a “pronounced” impact among the working poor [Los Angeles Times].

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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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