In The Know: Companies Can’t Set Own Rules For Injured Workers, Okla. Court Says

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.

Today In The News

Companies Can’t Set Own Rules For Injured Workers, Okla. Court Says: A national campaign to rewrite state laws and allow businesses to decide how to care for their injured workers suffered a significant setback Tuesday when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma’s version of the law is unconstitutional. The 2013 legislation gave Oklahoma employers the ability to “opt out” of the state workers’ compensation system and write their own plans, setting the terms for what injuries were covered, which doctors workers could see, how workers were compensated and how disputes were handled [ProPublica].

Director Joe Allbaugh wants 5 percent across-the-board raises for DOC staff: Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said Tuesday he wants to make securing a 5 percent raise for all DOC staff a top priority during the next legislative session. He said he will seek the raise for all employees across the board, calling it “unacceptable” that nearly 40 percent of DOC employees haven’t received a raise in 10 years. Starting wages for correctional officers are typically about $2,200 per month before taxes [Tulsa World]. Since 2000, the inmate population in Oklahoma public prisons has grown by over 26 percent, while the correctional officer workforce has declined by 25 percent [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Still Mulling Execution Protocols, Ensuring Delays: Oklahoma, a state with one of the busiest death chambers in the country over the last three decades, will have at least a two-year delay in lethal injections after the governing board of its prison system declined to consider new execution procedures on Tuesday. At its regular meeting in Taft, the Board of Corrections did not take up new execution protocols that Attorney General Scott Pruitt wants in place before executions can resume [Associated Press]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 776, which would affirm the death penalty in the Oklahoma constitution.

Oklahoma is still locking up too many women, but Tulsa County is showing it need not be that way: Oklahoma’s nation-leading habit of incarcerating women got worse last year, but Tulsa County is leading the way in demonstrating that there is a better way. Statewide, the number of women in state prisons rose by 9.5 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to reporting by Oklahoma Watch. The number of men declined by 1 percent, and the overall number was essentially stable [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Why Oklahoma activists are bringing criminal justice reforms directly to voters: Oklahomans will vote in November on two proposals that could significantly reduce the number of people sent to prison in one of the most incarcerating states in the country. The measures, State Questions 780 and 781, would reclassify simple drug possession and property crimes under $1,000 from felonies to misdemeanors. Instead of prison time, people convicted of those crimes would receive drug treatment, mental health treatment, and rehabilitation programs that would be paid for by the savings from not locking them up [Fusion]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 780 and 781.

What to expect in the next round of criminal justice reforms: In June, Governor Fallin announced the formation of the Oklahoma Justice Task Force, a group that will bring together a wide range of stakeholders to study the criminal justice system and propose legislation aimed at reducing Oklahoma’s high and growing incarceration rate and all of the problems that come with it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because last summer, she established the Justice Reform Steering Committee, a one-year effort with similar stakeholders and nearly identical goals [OK Policy].

State Question 779: Teacher pay raises aren’t the issue; how to fund them is: If nothing else, State Question 779 has a lot of people, including some who haven’t always been that gung ho in the past, going on record in support of teacher pay raises. SQ 779’s proposed 1 percent education sales tax has shifted the debate, or at least the rhetoric, from whether teachers should be paid more to how to do it. So it was Tuesday night at an Oklahoma Watch forum on the ballot measure at Tulsa’s Centennial Park [Tulsa World]. A similar forum was held in Oklahoma City [NewsOK]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 779.

OKC City Council Opposes Right To Farm Measure: After asking Oklahoma City residents to learn more about the State Question 777 in its last meeting, the City Council formally opposed the measure known as Right to Farm in Tuesday morning’s meeting. The decision was a controversial one. In the previous meeting, council members went back and forth with the city attorney, Kenneth Jordan, over whether it was legal for the council to take a stand. In the end, it’s not illegal [News9]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 777.

SQ 792 would allow wine, cold high-point beer in stores: These days, Oklahomans must be in their late-80s to have much recollection of the Prohibition era. But plenty of younger people, old enough to buy alcohol, believe Oklahoma’s liquor laws retain some Prohibition spirit. The state had a long history with being “dry.” Prohibition was written into the Oklahoma Constitution in 1907 with the intent of making repeal virtually impossible. The legalization of “3.2” beer as a “non-intoxicating beverage” was intended to allow drinkers a source of booze and reduce illegal production and sale of liquor, to little effect [Tahlequah Daily Press]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 792.

‘Anomalies’ boost general revenue; state agencies divide $152.1 million left from FY 2016 cuts: On the same day $152.1 million that had been cut from state agencies’ budgets last fiscal year was returned, deposits to the state’s general revenue fund for the current fiscal year took an unexpected upward tick in August, officials said Tuesday. State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger cautioned that the general fund surge was the result of “anomalies” in personal income tax collections, however, and noted that the general fund’s other primary revenue source, sales tax collections, continued to decline last month [Tulsa World]. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said that the funds help, but won’t solve all of the problems with public education [KOCO].

Oklahoma is poised to see charter school enrollment continue recent growth: Oklahoma charter schools can be found in impoverished neighborhoods where parents seek alternatives to low-performing schools, in the heart of downtown as condo developers hope to entice affluent families back into the urban core, and on the grounds of a juvenile detention center where teenage inmates use education as a ticket out of a life of crime. Eighteen years since charter schools were first allowed in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the state has changed its laws to give charter schools the ability to open in any community [NewsOK].

Task force seeks to improve Oklahoma’s veteran health care system: Gov. Mary Fallin announced Tuesday afternoon the beginning of the Oklahoma Veterans Pilot Program. The program is a private/public initiative that will be geared toward developing a comprehensive health care access and delivery system for the state’s veterans. The governor said that a bipartisan team of lawmakers, health care professionals, education professionals and business leaders will look at barriers within the Oklahoma veteran health care system and work to fix the issues [KOCO].

Cherokees OK $934 million budget, largest in tribe’s history: The Cherokee Nation’s 2017 budget is set and on track to be the largest in the tribe’s history. On Monday night, the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council approved a $934.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year. With funding from a combination of grants, compacts, contracts, dividends, taxes and revenue from the tribe’s gaming and nongaming businesses, that figure represents a $170 million increase from 2016 [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City reports surplus in MAPS tax collections: City leaders said they have taken in more sales tax money than they expected, resulting in a surplus that could potentially be put toward the MAPS 3 Program. Initial estimates show Oklahoma City has raised an extra $40-42 million through a one-cent sales tax to put toward public works projects. It’s money the city said it can invest to add on to current MAPS projects [KFOR].

Quote of the Day

“In the public safety arena, we’re at the bottom of the barrel in Oklahoma. The biggest insult the agency has to endure is … anyone making less than $23,800 a year automatically qualifies for food stamps.”

-Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh, advocating for a 5 percent raise for his agency’s staff. The typical starting salary for correctional officers is $2,200 per month before taxes (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans aged 12–17 with a major depressive episode who did not receive treatment for depression (2010-2014)

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Bad Prosecutors Cause Bad Policing: What responsibility do district attorneys have for fixing broken policing practices that lead to tragic and infuriating deaths like those of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling? “Prosecute bad cops,” goes the refrain. But top prosecutors bear far more responsibility for police misconduct than prosecuting officers who abuse, injure, or kill community members. The decision to indict is only the final step in a prosecutorial process that tilts in cops’ favor in many little ways that are largely beyond public view [Slate].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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