In The Know: Emergency funding approved for Oklahoma schools, prisons

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

Emergency funding approved for Oklahoma schools, prisons: The Oklahoma House has given final legislative approval to tap about $78 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to boost funding for public schools and the prison system for rest of the current fiscal year. The House voted Monday on two separate measures — one to appropriate $51 million to the Department of Education and another to direct $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections. Some Democrats opposed the supplemental funding bill for the prisons, arguing that about $17 million is being earmarked for contract beds with private prisons [Associated Press].

Oklahoma lawmakers one step closer to approving new academic standards: Oklahoma lawmakers are one step closer to adopting the new Oklahoma Academic Standards. Changes were made to State Joint Resolution 75 on Monday, which looks to approve or disapprove the standards. It also gives the State Board of Education power to revise the standards and declare an emergency. The bill had a first reading on the House floor Monday. Professor Larry Gray with the University of Minnesota was on the list of reviewers in the standards given to lawmakers. But Gray said he was not given enough time to review the finished product before his name was listed on the documents [KOCO].

Oklahoma DHS to offer more buyouts, reduce some services: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is offering more buyouts to its employees and cutting services to deal with budget cuts that so far total $43.5 million this fiscal year. Officials announced the budget cuts Monday and warned things could get worse. The services reduction means no new clients will be added — at least through the end of June — to a cash benefit program for low-income families with disabled children [NewsOK].

More holes in the safety net: Oklahoma ends Uncompensated Care Fund: The state’s already-ragged health care safety net has frayed a little further. To cope with mid-year budget cuts, the state Department of Health announced that it had eliminated the Uncompensated Care Fund, which covered some of the health care costs for low-income, uninsured Oklahomans at the state’s federally-qualified community health centers. Federally-qualified health centers, or FQHCs, are an integral part of Oklahoma’s health care safety net [OK Policy].

A Look Ahead At The Remainder Of Oklahoma’s Legislative Session: The Oklahoma House and Senate are back in session Monday, after a largely inactive week. The legislature has already passed one big deadline this session – bills that have not made it through their chamber of origin are now dead. eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley said the legislature has considered few bills that address structural issues that lead to budget crises like the current $1.3 billion shortfall Oklahoma will face in Fiscal Year 2017. He said measures that would have scaled back tax credits or rolled back the individual income tax cuts never made it to the full chamber for consideration [KGOU].

Oklahoma e-commerce bill another effort to produce fairness: One solution to the problem of not getting state sales taxes on Internet purchases is for Amazon to open a store in Oklahoma. Don’t laugh. It’s happening around the country. Web-only retailers such as Amazon are opening physical stores. Here, consumers can avoid (technically, if not legally) paying a state sales tax on items bought through e-commerce. Only retailers that have a physical presence in the state are required to remit sales taxes [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Tribal Gaming Interests Waking Up On Fantasy Sports: Oklahoma Coalition Quashes Bill: Fantasy sports legislation is being introduced and considered at a breakneck pace in states across the U.S. But tribal gaming concerns have stopped the progress of at least two fantasy sports bills, the latest example coming in Oklahoma. A pair of bills regulating daily fantasy sports had been introduced in the House and Senate in Oklahoma in February. The legislation had passed committee votes in both chambers, but progress had stalled. The reason for that became clear this week, as tribal gaming interests claimed credit for stopping the bill [Legal Sports Report]. Fantasy sports bills like this one could put state gaming revenues at risk [OK Policy].

From Group Home to Foster Care Community, Oklahoma Agency Adapts to Trends: In 1952, the Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch (OLBR) opened as a family-style group home to serve young men in trouble. The ranch evolved to serve boys who could not be maintained in a foster home because of their behavior. Two ranch homes housed six boys each, with a married couple serving as houseparents in each home. Many boys grew up in this setting until they graduated from high school. Everything changed when the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) laid out its Pinnacle Plan as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit [Chronicle of Social Change].

Facing the Facts, and Seeking Reform, in State’s Juvenile Justice System: When they gathered at the State Capitol last week, criminal justice experts seemingly had reason to celebrate: From 2001 to 2013, the number of Oklahoma juvenile offenders ordered by courts into the state’s secure detention centers dropped by 56 percent, slightly more than the national rate. But no one at Tuesday’s meeting of juvenile justice officials, judges, prosecutors and legislators was trumpeting progress [Oklahoma Watch].

Steele Back Working For Justice Reform: When Kris Steele left the Legislature in 2012, he was looking forward to helping implement his prize piece of legislation — the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. In interview during his final weeks as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Steele told The Countywide & Sun that “the only commitment I’ve made at this point is to serve as co-chairman of the working group to oversee the implementation of Phase II of the Justice Reinvestment Act … We want to make sure it works as it’s intended” [Countywide & Sun].

Supreme Court denies Oklahoma and Nebraska challenge to Colorado pot: The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Nebraska and Oklahoma’s proposed lawsuit against Colorado’s legal marijuana laws. The 6-2 vote means the nation’s highest court will not rule on the interstate dispute, and Colorado’s legal cannabis market is safe — for now. The Supreme Court ruling was the latest in a string of losses in court for those challenging Colorado’s first-of-its-kind cannabis laws [Denver Post].

City of Yukon facing financial crisis: Members of the Yukon City Council have discovered major financial improprieties that leave the city without enough money to pay its bills for the rest of the fiscal year, according to a news release issued Monday. The news release also states that purchases in excess of $25,000 are required to go out for competitive bid, but city employees were directed to go against city ordinances and recommend purchases without any competitive bids [NewsOK].

Oklahoma town’s audit reveals possible misappropriation of utility revenues: A state investigative audit of utility revenues for the Hughes County town of Dustin has revealed possible misappropriation of public funds. State auditors identified a number of accounting irregularities totaling more than $43,000 that occurred during Evelyn Rachel Smith’s tenure as Dustin’s clerk-treasurer [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“For this second revenue failure, we have strategically targeted reductions to program budgets which will minimize the impact on our most vulnerable clients. If there is another revenue failure before the end of the year, however, the direct impact on our clients will undoubtedly be much more significant.”

-DHS Director Ed Lake, whose agency is dealing with $43.5 million in mid-year cuts (Source)

Number of the Day


Percent of Oklahomans who say they pray daily, 8th in the US

Source: Pew Research Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Crucial Element of Criminal Justice Reform That Nobody Is Talking About: Public defenders—who represent more than 80 percent of those accused of crimes—are dramatically under-resourced and overwhelmed. As a result, despite their devotion to their work, they are unable to live up to their critical role in a system that consistently tramples on society’s most marginalized members. Now we have an opportunity to do something about it [Talk Poverty].

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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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