In The Know: Gov. Mary Fallin applauds House Committee for passing criminal justice reform bills

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

Gov. Mary Fallin applauds House Committee for passing criminal justice reform bills: Governor Mary Fallin today commended the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee for approving four bills related to reforms spotlighted in her State of the State address earlier this month. “Keeping our public safe from dangerous people will always be a priority, however with our state prisons filled to well over capacity, it is vital that we make some changes to our criminal justice system,” said Fallin. Two of the bills were passed today, while the committee approved the other two earlier this month [Norman Transcript].

These Oklahoma bills could help put a stop to debtors’ prisons: Since the approval of State Question 640 made tax increases much more difficult to enact, the number of fees charged on criminal defendants has almost tripled, from 23 in 1992 to 63 in 2014. In effect, we have transferred the cost of providing public safety from taxpayers as a whole to the mostly low-income Oklahomans who become wrapped up the criminal justice system (an estimated 60 to 90 percent of all criminal defendants are indigent). However, Oklahoma may have finally reached a tipping point as lawmakers realize that these fees can work against the goal of protecting public safety [OK Policy].

Oklahoma lawmaker, advocacy group announce lawsuit over ‘Right to Farm and Ranch Amendment’: An Oklahoma lawmaker joined an environmental advocacy group and two others Tuesday to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state question that is to be put to a public vote in November. Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, sued the Oklahoma State Election Board and Attorney General Scott Pruitt over State Question 777, also known as the “Right to Farm and Ranch Amendment” [Tulsa World].

Inside the Push to Make It Harder for Government to ‘Steal’ Property, Cash in America’s Heartland: Oklahoma state Sen. Kyle Loveless is not backing down. The Republican has been called a liar and a socialist, in the pocket of organized crime, and al-Qaeda’s and ISIS’ best friend by officers of the law who protect and serve. But in a year when Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, is up for re-election to the state legislature—a time when most lawmakers would choose not to stir the pot—the state senator has decided to challenge Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture laws, which some consider a “cash cow” for police and prosecutors because of their ability to seize cash and property without charging the owner with a crime [Daily Signal]. Oklahoma can stop civil asset forfeiture abuse [OK Policy].

Fix this! DOC running out of money: Historically, the Legislature plays a lot of games with appropriations. A particular favorite is one called “Make or Break.” Here are the rules: Put too many offenders in prison, appropriate too few dollars to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and then sit back and watch how long it takes for DOC to run out of money each year. Eventually, lawmakers always allocate a supplemental appropriation to help DOC get through until the fiscal year ends June 30. No pressure here, only 28,000 people behind bars — an all-time high — who DOC must house and feed, and several thousand staffers [Tulsa World Editorial Board].

House approves bill that would adjust requirements for alternative teaching certification: The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday that would adjust the alternative teaching certification process. House Bill 3025, authored by state Rep. John Paul Jordan, would remove the requirement for candidates to have a college GPA of at least 2.5 to be allowed to begin pursuit of an alternative certification degree [KOCO].

Proposing more OKC charters a ‘high-stakes gamble’: When a new mass charterization plan was presented to the Oklahoma City Public School System Board of Education last week, “tempers flared … and a standing room-only crowd cheered and jeered,” according to NewsOK’s Tim Willert. The “Quality Seats Program,” as it has been branded, is a risky effort to expand OKC charters, and it is doubly disappointing. First, it doesn’t resemble an actionable education plan [NonDoc].

State House approves anti-abortion school curriculum bill: A bill requiring public high schools to incorporate an anti-abortion message into their curricula passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 64-12 on Tuesday, with one-fourth of the members skipping the vote. House Bill 2797, by Rep. Ann Coody, creates a special revolving fund that can be used only to promote the “humanity of the unborn” and oppose abortion [Tulsa World].

On Super Tuesday, state lawmakers voted to add an anti-abortion class to schools: House Bill 2797 by Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, passed by a vote of 64-12 with 25 elected officials not casting a vote. The bill is called the Humanity of the Unborn Child bill and would require schools to teach an anti-abortion curriculum to students. The bill’s language stresses students will learn that life begins at conception. Coody has made it clear she believes abortion to be murder [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

Oil company sues nine counties, schools could be out thousands: A Denver-based oil and gas company has filed numerous lawsuits against counties in Oklahoma over the value of its property taxes in 2015. DCP Midstream has filed lawsuits against Grady, Woodward, Canadian, Ellis, Beaver, Kingfisher, Major, Texas and Stephens counties, claiming the tax assessors charged them the wrong amount in property taxes. In Grady County, tax assessor Bari Firestone billed the company $156,628,170. But in the lawsuit filed in July 2015, DCP Midstream claimed it should have only been billed $89,193,037 or less [KOCO].

Oklahoma takes action on fracking-related earthquakes — but too late, critics say: They feel them in the little city of Cushing, where a web of pipelines and giant oil storage tanks makes the area a crucial international hub — and vulnerable. They feel them in the time-capsule town of Guthrie, where plaster is cracking in storefronts built in the 19th century. And they feel them in rural Fairview, where cows get loud when pastures move beneath them [LA Times].

Lawmakers shouldn’t try to undo big pension gains: In the past, pension funding would be cut to fill different budget holes and new benefits would be given with limited regard to the long-term consequences. The combination of too many promises and not enough money led to growing financial instability. By 2010, Oklahoma’s pension system ranked nationally near the bottom. The unfunded liability was over $16 billion, while the funding deficit was more than $500 million per year. It was time for less talk and more action [Rep. Randy McDaniel / NewsOK].

Uncertain thoughts: Mental health agency not sure how it can cut budget: Gov. Mary Fallin’s rejection last month of a $1.2 million cut in mental health spending sent the agency that proposed it looking for a replacement. Fallin disapproved proposed rules that would have eliminated Medicaid funding for independent behavioral health counselors. It would have allowed clients on Medicaid, also known as SoonerCare, to only receive counseling through an approved agency instead of private-practice counselors. The cut would have been part of $9.8 million the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needed to eliminate by the end of the fiscal year, thanks to the state budget’s revenue failure [Journal Record].

Pittman leads Democrats, GOP in tight race in Oklahoma County court clerk primaries: Anastasia Pittman appeared headed for victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for Oklahoma County Court Clerk. On the Republican side, Linda Amick Dodson and Rick Warren Jr. were in a tight race for the nomination. The top vote-getter in each primary advances to the general election April 5 [NewsOK].

Cruz, Sanders win in Oklahoma primaries: Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Bernie Sanders scored important presidential primary victories in Oklahoma on Tuesday as a record number of state voters broke with those in most of the Super Tuesday contests. Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, drubbed national frontrunner Hillary Clinton, garnering 52 percent of the vote statewide. Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, won a more narrow race over Donald Trump, who claimed the majority of the Super Tuesday states, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Senate OKs ballot measure to change alcohol laws: The Oklahoma Senate has approved a ballot measure that would expand beer and wine sales in the state. The Senate voted 28-16 for the measure Tuesday and sent it to the House for debate and a vote. The measure by Republican Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond calls for a statewide vote on proposed constitutional changes that are necessary to allow the sale of wine and strong beer in grocery stores [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“In a perfect example of how local politics has the most impact, the Oklahoma House passed a bill requiring public schools teach that abortion is killing a human being. No one probably noticed because most voters were focused on the presidential race. Now, pay attention to what’s happening at the Capitol.”

-Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of infant deaths before age 1 per 1,000 live births in Oklahoma, 10th highest in the nation.

Source: United Health Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

While Homeless Veterans Get Housing, Rest Are Left in the Cold: A week before Christmas, Georgia Alexander found herself staring at her first apartment lease in six years. For the past few months, she had been living out of her car while her 6-year-old son, Jaylin, stayed with relatives. When she was pregnant with Jaylin in 2009, her doctor recommended that she leave her job at Target, where she unloaded trucks and stocked the store. She had been unemployed and frequently homeless ever since [GOVERNING].

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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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