In The Know: Departing lawmakers launch conservative think tank

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

Departing Lawmakers Launch Conservative Think Tank: Three veteran state lawmakers whose government service careers are about to end are launching a new think tank that promotes conservative fiscal policies. The Oklahoma Opportunity Project, a Tulsa-based nonprofit, is headed by state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa, who is leaving the Legislature in January because he has reached the statutory limit of 12 years of legislative service. At least two other departing legislators will serve on the board: Sen. Jim Halligan, a former Oklahoma State University president who currently chairs the Senate Appropriations education subcommittee, and Sen. John Ford, a retired ConocoPhillips executive who chairs the Senate Education Committee [Oklahoma Watch].

State budget crisis hurts well-plugging program: Kevin Stonecipher received about $2.5 million worth of contracts from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission in 2015 to safely close old oil and gas wells. The state’s budget crisis brought that work to a grinding halt at the end of the year, but he says he’s happy to work with the agency and its hardworking, dedicated employees. Plugging an old oil well isn’t easy. Contractors pour cement into wellbores that are about 4,000 feet deep to ensure no petroleum products, toxic wastewater or flammable gas escapes to the surface. Oklahoma Corporation Commission employees estimate there have been about 500,000 wells drilled since 1907. The state has records for about 350,000 that have been plugged [Journal Record].

State budget crisis forces DEQ to delay cleanup projects: The state’s budget crisis has forced the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to delay some cleanup projects across the state. According to department officials, the state cut the DEQ’s general fund by $3 million and the department’s revolving fund was cut by an additional $4 million. Jimmy Givens, deputy director of the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, said several projects will be delayed as a result of the recent budget cuts: Pink tire dump cleanup, Catoosa tire dump cleanup, Hugo Water Treatment Plant improvements, Wagoner County road project, Oklahoma State’s University’s research on wastewater plants and septic assistance grants [KOCO].

Legislators join Oklahoma’s annual New York visit with bond advisers: Top Oklahoma state officials got a dose of fiscal reality during a trip to New York. Gov. Mary Fallin, state bond adviser Jim Joseph, Treasurer Ken Miller, Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, Sen. Greg Treat and Rep. Charles McCall, the House speaker designate, met with representatives of the nation’s three largest bond rating agencies during the visit late last month to the Big Apple. Oklahoma has a good bond rating, but the agencies have also given the state a negative outlook because of budget holes, tax cuts, higher education funding cuts and use of nonrecurring revenue to fund ongoing public services [NewsOK].

Newcastle Public Schools To Charge Students For Extracurricular Activities: At just 13 Tameka Talley already has big dreams of being in the WNBA. She’s been playing basketball for four years and according to her mom Jill Talley, she’s a natural. But while her mom thinks she has a good shot, other parents at Newcastle Public Schools say the district has dropped the ball. Superintendent Tony O’Brien announced this week students will now have to pay a fee to take part in extracurricular activities. That includes music, agriculture education, robotics and yes athletics. Additionally, Newcastle schools will operate on a 4-day-a-week school schedule and increase the amount of money charged at sporting events [News9].

Reading the tea leaves on Oklahoma incumbents who lost in the primary: Two House members and one senator were defeated in the June 28 primary: Rep. Ken Walker (R-Tulsa); Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Duncan) and Sen. Corey Brooks (R-Washington.) Two other legislators, Rep. Donnie Condit (D-McAlester) and Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus), had very close races but pulled out narrow victories. If I had to pick three incumbents who would lose in their primaries this year, I doubt these would have topped the list. This may be a shift to a bit more moderate governing philosophy [OK Policy].

Beer, farming, religion, education among load of state questions likely on November ballot: Although only two state questions have officially been put on the ballot, prospects are nearly certain that several more will await voters at the polls on Nov. 8. Officially on the ballot by order of the governor are state questions 777 and 776. Both were put on the ballot by lawmakers. State Question 777 is called the Right to Farm by supporters and Right to Harm by critics. It would enshrine the rights of farmers in the Oklahoma Constitution, making it more difficult to put regulations on the industry. State Question 776 would proclaim that all death penalty laws are in effect and that methods of execution can be changed. It states that the death penalty is not cruel or unusual punishment [Tulsa World].

Tulsa public defenders champion free bonds for indigent nonviolent offenders: Many people charged with nonviolent offenses in Tulsa County are in jail not because of the risk they may pose to public safety but because they don’t have enough money to post bond. That realization led public defenders, who are appointed to defendants who can’t afford attorneys, to initiate a program at the end of April to allow more of their clients charged with minor crimes to be released from jail for free while they await their next court date. Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh says the program is meant to level a disparity between nonviolent offenders who have money to afford posting bond and those who don’t [Tulsa World].

Past and current legislators look to change the way we treat, think of addiction: In 2011, Oklahoma faced a budget shortfall of nearly $400 million dollars. As a result, legislators began looking for ways to “cut the fat” from spending at the statehouse. Through the process, they were also exposed to a new way of thinking, a new method to end the madness. In that same year, a procession of state leaders, including Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore and Kris Steele, R-Shawnee traveled to Austin, Texas to observe some of the “radical” changes Texas was making to its criminal justice system [The Daily Ardmoreite].

Lawmakers lay groundwork for debate on forfeiture practice: Three members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives have filed requests for interim studies of forfeiture laws, which empower law enforcement authorities to seize property without a criminal conviction when they suspect a tie to illegal drug markets. House leadership will determine by Tuesday whether to pursue a study, multiple studies or none on the matter. Both skeptics and proponents of the practice are requesting further study in committee [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma County DA says task force will keep using card readers despite controversy: A crime-fighting task force operating out of a secret location in Oklahoma City is using the same kind of card readers that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped using because of widespread criticism. But Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater has no intentions of telling his Central Oklahoma Metro Interdiction Team to stop, too. Gov. Mary Fallin on June 17 ordered the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to delay use of the devices, which read magnetic strips on credit, debit and gift cards [NewsOK].

Black Lives Matter and allies hold Oklahoma Rally: In wake of recent fatal shootings of black Americans, Black Lives Matter Oklahoma, OKC Artists for Justice, NAACP OKC, the MLK Coalition, and the ACLU of Oklahoma held a peaceful protest and memorial vigil in “solidarity with the impacted families and communities” [CapitolBeatOK]. About 5:15 p.m., hundreds of people marched from the old Calvary Baptist Church in Deep Deuce — where Martin Luther King, Jr., famously preached and applied to be a pastor — to the Bricktown pavilion in front of Harkins Theater. Marchers carried signs disseminating messages of equality, strength, pain, anger and the need for justice regarding police brutality across America [NonDoc].

Fallin says she isn’t being vetted for Trump VP: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin says she isn’t being vetted to be Donald Trump’s running mate — raising the question of whether any women are being considered to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s No. 2. “I have not been asked for specific documentation and have not had a specific conversation with any of his staff about being vice president,” Fallin told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired Sunday on “State of the Union.” [CNN] Fallin also told CNN that she thinks Trump is “trying to campaign as a racial healer.” [Politico]

Quote of the Day

“The vast majority of the people in jail at any given time aren’t there because of what they did, they’re there because they’re too poor to bond out.”

-Tulsa County Assistant Public Defender Jill Webb. The public defenders’ office is starting a program to allow more of their clients charged with minor crimes to be released from jail for free while they await their next court date (Source).

Number of the Day

23 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma adults who say they avoid smiling due to the condition of their mouth and teeth.

Source: American Dental Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Devastating Process of Dying in America Without Insurance: Some 28 million people in the United States do not have health insurance, and for the dying and their families, lack of insurance is devastating. Though the care needs that arise with terminal illness are simple, they are often prohibitively difficult to meet without insurance. The uninsured and their families are left to navigate public and charity end-of-life care options that vary widely across the country, if they are available at all.  There are no data on how or where the uninsured access this care, and the scope of unmet need is virtually unknown. What is known is that, at the end of their lives, many uninsured people quite literally cannot afford to die with dignity [The Nation].

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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