In The Know: Lawmakers push social agenda amid budget crisis

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

Correction: Yesterday’s In The Know erroneously referred to SB 1324, a bill that would end universal pre-k in Oklahoma, as HB 1324. We regret the error.

Lawmakers push social agenda amid budget crisis: The difficult task of plugging a $900 million hole in the state budget has not deterred conservative Oklahoma lawmakers from pushing their social agendas on abortion, gun rights and same-sex marriage. Dozens of measures have been filed during this legislative session that support conservative social causes, including the expansion of gun rights and bills that gay rights advocates say unfairly target members of the LGBT community for discrimination [Associated Press].

Prosperity Policy: A smarter approach: As legislators grapple with a crushing budget shortfall, we can expect the new legislative session to overflow with acrimony and apprehension. But there is one area that offers real potential for collaboration and progress: criminal justice reform. Oklahoma’s long-standing “tough-on-crime” approach to criminal justice, including imposing prison sentences on many low-level drug and property offenders, has led to our state having the highest incarceration rate for women in the nation and the second-highest rate overall. The cost has been great – both on the budget and on society as a whole [David Blatt / Journal Record]. OK Policy is part of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition working to put reforms on the ballot this year [KGOU].

Plan would bring state law enforcement agencies under one leader: One of the biggest problems state Sen. Ralph Shortey said he sees as a budget writer for law enforcement is that the agencies fight over limited cash. At the same time that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol wants a pay increase, he said, the state’s drug enforcement agency is angling for a technology upgrade. Consolidating the state’s major law enforcement agencies would help fix that problem, he said [Journal Record]. Steve Lewis wrote about law enforcement consolidation on our blog last fall [OK Policy].

Getting executions right is focus for Oklahoma AG’s office: Five executions are now pending in Oklahoma, after the state Court of Criminal Appeals agreed last week to hold off on setting execution dates for two more death row inmates. The move by the court was proper and not surprising. That’s because the next time Oklahoma executes an inmate, everything about the procedure must be beyond reproach. That didn’t happen in recent examples, leading Attorney General Scott Pruitt to investigate via a multicounty grand jury [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Oklahoma Lawmaker: Small Businesses Back Asset Forfeiture Reform: An Oklahoma state lawmaker has filed a bill that would reform Oklahoma’s civil asset forfeiture law, an effort he says is supported by small businesses in the state. In May 2015, Sen. Kyle D. Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) filed Senate Bill 838, the Personal Asset Protection Act, which he says has been the subject of intense debate during the interim [Insurance Journal]. A group of unlikely allies including the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and OK Policy also support the reforms [OK Policy].

Rural Wagoner County school district looks to deter violence with guns, signs: A rural school district in Wagoner County has taken up arms in an effort to deter school violence. Okay Public Schools erected four signs on campus this week, warning visitors bent on breaking the law that they might want to think otherwise. The signs, reading “Please be aware that certain staff members at Okay Public Schools can be legally armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students,” are a follow-up to a school gun policy approved by the school board in August, McMahan said [Tulsa World].

State must be true to the promises it has made to it retirees: Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” Until recently, the decisions impacting the state pension system provided a clear example of not heeding this sound logic. In the past, as pension finances started to improve, resources would be cut to fill different budget holes and new unfunded benefits would be given [Randy McDaniel / Tulsa World].

Panel looks at effect of cuts on Oklahoma mental health agency: Thousands of Oklahoma children and adults with mental illness and substance use disorders will continue not getting the care they need, as state money for that care continues to shrink, an agency leader said Wednesday. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, like many other agencies, will likely see a budget cut in the coming fiscal year [NewsOK].

SandRidge lays off 172 at OKC headquarters: SandRidge Energy Inc. this week laid off 172 people at its Oklahoma City headquarters, the most recent cuts coming Wednesday morning, spokesman David Kimmel confirmed in an email message to The Journal Record [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“Where we are right now as a state, if we don’t make the right changes in the long term, it will bring about the ultimate demise of the death penalty. I don’t think we’re there yet.”

-Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, discussing problems with executions and the possibility of establishing a compounding pharmacy to produce its own execution drugs (Source)

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s ranking for beef and veal exports in the US in 2014, with $351.4 M in exports.

Source: USDA.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The big paradox of criminal justice in America: In 1970, there were about 4 violent crimes per 1,000 Americans. In 2014, there were 3.75 violent crimes per 1,000 Americans. America is essentially as safe today as when VW Beetles ruled the road and Simon and Garfunkel ruled the radio. Surprised? If you are under 40 years old, you’ve never lived in a safer country than America is today [Washington Post].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.                                                                                           


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.

One thought on “In The Know: Lawmakers push social agenda amid budget crisis

  1. Your “Policy Note” makes a very nice combo with your piece on the proposed criminal justice reform in OK, although a comparison of OK’s violent and overall crime rates with the US’s rates in 1970 and today would go even further demonstrating how the states that overincarcerated in the intervening period can’t claim superiority in crime reduction or public safety. Of all the states, if Crime were to decide to retire, it would consider OK very strongly since it has done so much better here than other states. A great example is North Carolina, which implemented in the mid-1990s the same basic sentencing reforms that OK passed at the time but then rescinded. Not only has NC, a state that poli sci types have shown has a similar political culture to OK, seen a much steeper drop in violent and overall crime than OK, it has also seen a steeper drop in each than the US overall. Think of the crimes and victims prevented there that could have been replicated in OK had OK not listened to the beneficiaries of the less effective programs, the prosecutors and the counties along with the vengeance-driven victims groups that represent less than half of actual crime victims but make many times the noise. “Public safety” is the spoken justification for the investment in DAs’ offices, sheriffs’ jails, and private prisons, but a simple if deeper analysis of the data as described in the Policy Note shows how bogus that always was in OK.

    The importance of the newly proposed criminal justice reforms is not that they will accomplish much. The offenders most affected churn through the prisons quickly, affecting flow far more than stock, and the prosecutors and the counties, given blank checks for their additions to state budget decisions, still will have a lot of leeway, particularly in the use of counts and charges as well as maxing out on far ends of new sentence ranges, to continue their special and inept form of protecting public safety. The history of sentencing reform is pocked with successful efforts to re-game the system so it keeps on working the way the old guard has always run it.

    The important part of the reforms is taking the question away from legislators, away from special “workgroups” and commissions, away from blockages by the special interests benefiting from the poor quality of OK’s public safety, and putting it in the hands of the voting public, as California has successfully if belatedly done in recent years. Some important legal scholars have described how, contrary to customary scare-mongering over turning criminal justice decisions over to the public, the crisis in overincarceration and all its peripheral and collateral damage to the state that you describe in your Journal Record piece came AFTER the system was turned over to the “professionals,” the DAs, judges, and politicized parole boards, misusing plea bargains, mandatory minimums, charging powers, and withheld pardons and paroles to build their political power and constituencies through increases in numbers of felonies charged and longer sentences achieved when charged. OK went in full tilt for all that, and, as noted, has reaped the benefits of less public safety and more fiscal damage compared to states that went other ways, including a state that 20 years ago went the way OK voted to go, then not go because of powers that would be hurt by real change.

    It’s time to take away the powers and expectations that the “stakeholders” usually brought in to decide these issues are provided, to take away the “stakes” they have always wielded over the heart of real reforms to defend their turfs and maintain their offices. The reforms themselves, weak tea compared to the JRI initiative of a few years back which was weak water compared to the mid-1990s reforms, will do a small bit of good if passed, the equivalent of caulking and sealing joints when the “house” has fire in the attic and termites in the basement. Those problems will never be resolved if the power isn’t taken from those who caused and maintained them.

    So the initiative is important for the precedent and message it will send, that public safety is too important to leave in the hands of those who have clearly botched it badly compared to what OK could have had. Too many victims and their families have suffered in the meantime, along with offenders and their families who received punishments and futures that would have been different and better for their states elsewhere. Let’s hope OK takes the right course this time. Keep up the good work showing the way.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.