In The Know: Initiatives easing drug possession penalties, providing treatment likely will be on Nov. 8 ballot

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

Initiatives easing drug possession classification, providing treatment likely will be on Nov. 8 ballot: Backers of an initiative that would downgrade simple drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor say they have collected more than enough voter signatures to get it on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. Members of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform said boxes they dropped off at the Oklahoma secretary of state’s office Thursday contained petitions with about 110,000 signatures for the proposal, and a like amount for a companion initiative. Each measure needs about 65,000 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot [NewsOK].

President Obama commutes life sentence of man serving in Oklahoma prison: A Texas man who has been serving a life sentence in an Oklahoma prison will soon be a free man. On Friday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 42 people, including 50-year-old Douglas Ray Dunkins, Jr. When he was just 26-years-old, Dunkins was arrested and convicted of conspiracy to manufacture and sell crack cocaine. Even though it was a nonviolent offense, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole [KFOR].

Education legislation creates victories in ‘reform wars’: The 2016 Oklahoma legislative session was awful. The Republican-controlled House, Senate and executive branch ducked their responsibilities, but we can shout for joy about one thing: Oklahoma’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, quietly led us to three great education policy victories. Moreover, in an age of irresponsible governance and venomous rhetoric, she exemplified the way to rebuild our schools [John Thompson / NonDoc].

Failure to fund schools overshadows other legislative successes in 2016: On Jan. 3, the Tulsa World laid out its legislative agenda for 2016, a 14-point program that we asked lawmakers to consider. Now that the session has concluded, we thought we’d take a look back on how well that agenda fared. The biggest disappointment concerns the first item on our agenda: adequate funding of public schools. Early in the session, leaders were promising plans to give teachers a much-needed, state-funded raise, but that hope faded in the face of a $1.3 billion state budget hole and legislative resistance to key tax readjustment proposals [Tulsa World Editorial Board].

Chamber chairman raps Legislature’s ‘nut jobs on the periphery’: The chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber complained Friday that “nut jobs on the periphery” wield too much influence in the Oklahoma Legislature. “We value our relationship with legislators,” Chairman Jeff Dunn said during the chamber’s annual recap of the legislative session. “(But) I would submit we need some counseling.” Dunn, president and CEO of Mill Creek Lumber, was upset by what he called a “disappointing” legislative session, particularly in regard to education and long-term reform of the state’s finances [Tulsa World].

Big budget problems won’t be solved until parties find a way to work together: With a $1.3 billion hole, the budget was always going to be ugly. The final numbers are much better than they could have been, thanks to the hard work of the House and Senate Appropriations Chairmen, Rep. Earl Sears and Sen. Clark Jolley respectively, and their Vice-Chairmen, Rep. Dennis Casey and Sen. Greg Treat. No doubt, what Rep. Sears called a “soft landing” didn’t come easily. Having said that, the results and the way they got there were uglier than they needed to be [OK Policy].

Reasons and Troubles Behind Secretive Crafting of State Budget: When Oklahoma’s $6.8 billion spending plan was unveiled in late May, it was greeted with a mixture of sharp criticism over its cuts and revenue patches and, in some sectors, relief that the reductions were not more severe. From all sides, however, there was one common reaction to the 114-page budget bill: surprise. Nearly four months after the legislative session had opened, no one knew for certain what the final plan would look like until the waning days. As in past years, a secretive budget process had left most Oklahomans in the dark [Oklahoma Watch].

At Tulsa Temp Agency, Client Firms Sought Workers by Race, Sex, Age: Lawsuits in Tulsa County and a national news investigation reveal a pattern of complaints that businesses engaged in race, sex and age discrimination in hiring through temporary employment agencies. In two Tulsa lawsuits, job candidates and a former employee at a temp agency alleged that agency workers used a coding system and notes to accommodate client businesses that requested not to be sent workers of certain races or genders or over a certain age [Oklahoma Watch].

North Tulsa Land Again Considered for Juvenile Center: Tulsa County is again considering property in north Tulsa to locate its new Juvenile Justice Center eight months after a similar effort was shot down following an intense backlash from nearby residents. Possible locations for the new Juvenile Justice Center are scheduled to be discussed during the County Commission’s regular meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday. Some city and state elected officials from the area protested the move, saying locating the facility in the area would hinder other forms of development and help reinforce other Tulsa residents’ stigma about north Tulsa [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma School for the Deaf superintendent fired over apparent lack of certification: The Oklahoma School for the Deaf’s superintendent has been fired due to an apparent lack of certification, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services announced Wednesday. Valerie KaAnn Varner, who was hired in July 2011, was terminated on Tuesday. According to a department spokeswoman, Varner was hired with the expectation she would obtain superintendent certification [Tulsa World].

Energy companies want federal earthquake lawsuit dismissed: Devon Energy Corp. is selling wastewater disposal wells that have come under voluntary directives to reduce volumes amid an increase in triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma, the company disclosed in response to a federal lawsuit. Devon made the disclosure in its response to a federal lawsuit filed in February by Oklahoma Sierra Club members. The lawsuit, filed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, wants Devon, Chesapeake Energy Corp. and New Dominion LLC to immediately reduce production waste that could be contributing to the rise in triggered earthquakes [NewsOK].

Forecast Calls for La Niña, Increased Chance For Drought In Oklahoma: After one of the driest periods on record, 2015 was the wettest year ever in Oklahoma, and the rain still hasn’t let up. But scientists say climate conditions are aligning in a way that could bring drought back to the state. There’s no way to be sure what the situation will be in the months and years ahead, but some signs are giving us hints, and scientists are worried. “It does certainly appear that La Niña is coming,” State Climatologist Gary McManus says. “And with that will be an increased chance of below normal precipitation and possibly above normal temperatures as we go through the next cool season” [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Quote of the Day

“Right now, I don’t know if there is anything I would do differently. I’m all about transparency, and I’m all about getting input, so even though nothing comes to mind now, I’m open to suggestions.”

-House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, speaking about state budget negotiations that were closed to the public, the news media, and Democratic lawmakers until the final week of session (Source).

Number of the Day


Death rate per 100,000 people in Oklahoma in 2014, fifth highest in the US.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Prison phones are a predatory monopoly. One family fought back — and won.: Every Sunday, while he was locked up in prison, Ulandis Forte would call his grandmother, Martha Wright. She would answer her old rotary, relay news from their church, and pass the phone to his sisters or to his nephew. Wright’s glaucoma made it difficult to stay in touch through letters, and apart from the rare in-person visit, the phone became Forte’s primary link to his former life. In his lowest moments, Wright would pray over her grandson through the receiver. Other inmates, Forte remembers, made calls much less frequently. Over time, he identified a trend: the longer they’d been inside, the less likely they’d be to call anyone [The Verge].

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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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