In The Know: Legislature Mulls $34 Million Funding Infusion For DHS

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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including Advocacy Alerts, the Legislative Primer, the What’s That? Glossary, and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Legislature Mulls $34 Million Funding Infusion For DHS: The Oklahoma Legislature is considering a bill to immediately provide $34 million in funding to the Department of Human Services to prevent worker furloughs and provider rate cuts. A bill is scheduled for a hearing Monday that would tap about $30 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund and another $4 million from the Rainy Day Fund. The money would be used to fund programs for the elderly and developmentally disabled. Amid budget shortfalls in recent years, Oklahoma lawmakers have increasingly looked at one-time funding sources, like the Unclaimed Property Fund and Rainy Day Fund, to help fill the gaps [Associated Press]. The agency is about to run out of money to pay for care of vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities [OK Policy].

Special elections set to fill two seats in the Oklahoma Legislature: Governor Mary Fallin has set special election dates for open seats in the Senate and House. The governor ordered special elections for Senate District 44 and House District 46. Both districts will host a primary election July 11 and a general election Sept. 12. The filing period for both elections has been set for May 1 through 3. Shortey resigned last week, effective immediately, after being charged in connection to a child prostitution investigation. SD 44 covers a large portion of southwest Oklahoma City. Two candidates have announced their intention to run for the seat [KOKH].

Bill seeks to reduce low-access food areas: Some legislators are pushing to help grocery stores help their customers. The Healthy Food Financing Act would create a mechanism to help grocers and small retailers such as convenience stores stock more nutritious, perishable items. Senate Bill 506 would establish a revolving fund that the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry would oversee. That money would have a long list of possible projects to fund, which would include helping business owners build new locations, expand existing stores or buy new equipment. It could also pay for communities to bring in mobile farmers markets or establish community gardens [Journal Record].

Oklahoma’s emergency fund technically empty: Oklahoma budget officials have borrowed more than $240 million from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for month-to-month expenses of state government, leaving the emergency fund temporarily empty. The money has to be paid back with tax revenue before July 1. The Rainy Day Fund, which is also called the Constitutional Reserve Fund, is designed to give lawmakers a stash of money to use during emergencies, but it’s usually tapped through the House and Senate appropriations process. State law, however, lets Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger move money between any state fund so Oklahoma doesn’t fall behind on its bills [NewsOK].

‘Good Samaritan’ overdose bill doesn’t advance in Oklahoma Legislature: When someone overdosed in Peggy McWilliams’ Oklahoma City home, she didn’t pause to consider the consequences. She called the police. McWilliams, 58, knows that mindset ended up getting her arrested. “I remember the firemen being in my living room and picking up baggies of meth that were on the table and stuff,” McWilliams said. “I didn’t care — if someone was dying in my house I’m calling 911, whether I go to jail or not.” [NewsOK]

Closing schools could be hard sell for Oklahoma City school district: Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Aurora Lora is seeking public input on a controversial proposal to cut costs by closing five elementary schools and modifying another. She’s getting plenty of it. Parents, teachers and students pushed back against the plan during community meetings at Johnson Elementary School and Northeast Academy for Health Sciences and Engineering Enterprise on Thursday night [NewsOK].

Tulsa schools face ‘difficult and heinous options’ because of pending state budget cuts: If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll be familiar with the “On This Day” feature that highlights posts from prior years. This week, my “On This Day” feature was a post from March 2016 asking Tulsans to complete a survey giving feedback on their 2016-2017 funding priorities. Roughly one year to the day later, Tulsa Public Schools is again bracing for substantial budget cuts for the coming year and again asking for community input through a budget survey. I wonder what my “On This Day” feature will display next year [Deborah Gist / Tulsa World].

Cuts to higher education ‘go against what Oklahoma voters want,’ group says: Three-quarters of Oklahoma voters surveyed said spending state dollars on higher education is a good investment, despite some lawmakers’ claims that it’s not a funding priority for constituents. Oklahoma Tomorrow — a new statewide nonprofit advocating “proper funding” for higher education — released data Tuesday from a poll of 500 registered voters conducted in December by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates. “We wanted to know for ourselves where people stood,” said Oklahoma Tomorrow CEO Devery Youngblood. “They get it. They understand the importance of it.” [NewsOK]

Oklahoma criminal justice reform on the right track at Legislature: Data from two national groups that focus on criminal justice make clear why it’s so important the Legislature approve bills stemming from Gov. Mary Fallin’s task force on justice reform. If no changes are made to Oklahoma’s system, say the Crime and Justice Institute and Pew Charitable Trusts, then the inmate population in 2026 will be roughly 35,800 (compared with about 28,600 today). This continued growth will eventually necessitate construction of three more prisons at a cost of nearly $2 billion, they say. On the other hand, if the Legislature were to approve all 12 task force-related bills submitted this session, the prison population would decline by about 5,600 by 2026 [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]. The Justice Reform Task Force recommendations could be the solution Oklahoma desperately needs [OK Policy].

The Legislators Working to Thwart the Will of Voters: When Kris Steele joined the Oklahoma house of representatives in 2001, he noticed that whenever a matter of criminal justice came up, legislators felt it was necessary to appear “tough on crime.” As a result, the state kept enacting harsher sentences and making more crimes punishable by jail. In 2016, after leaving government, he spearheaded two ballot measures to reverse that trend. Both passed. But 2017 has seen legislators in states around the countries moving to try to reverse ballot initiatives passed by voters in Novembers election, seeking to roll back minimum-wage increases, tax increases, and other matters [The Atlantic].

Organization Aims To Help Oklahomans Connect With Lawmakers About State Budget: People fearful of the direction Oklahoma’s education system is heading gathered to learn why lawmakers are telling schools they can expect a major drop in state aid. “The budget crisis is hurting everyone,” said Kara Joy McKee of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “It’s hurting our children and our families.” Jenks librarian Deanna Tirrell said it even hurts those who don’t have a kid in school. “I think a lot of times they don’t understand how that ripples out into the community,” said Tirrell [NewsOn6]. Learn more about how you can get involved with Together Oklahoma.

Supreme Court rejects former Oklahoma attorney general’s pot ballot rewrite: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has rejected a proposed rewrite of a ballot question on medical marijuana that was submitted by the state Attorney General’s office. In a 7-1 ruling on Monday, the state’s highest court rejected the proposed rewrite that supporters of the medical marijuana initiative had argued was intentionally misleading and could confuse people into thinking they were voting to fully legalize marijuana. Under the ruling, the original ballot language drafted by the marijuana supporters will appear on the ballot [Associated Press].

Did state Senate stub toe on medical malpractice bill? Oklahoma lawmakers are scrambling to determine whether a bill passed by the state Senate with the intent of limiting exposure of doctors to medical malpractice lawsuits could have the opposite result for many. Senate Bill 762 was written to help physicians, Senate author Anthony Sykes, R-Oklahoma City, told his colleagues Tuesday during floor discussions of the bill. “I think what happened was there were two versions of the bill … and the one that got passed was the wrong one,” said Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, who is both a state senator and cardiac anesthesiologist [NewsOK].

Oklahoma City Forum: Where Health Care Is Headed: Oklahoma Watch will host a public forum on Tuesday, April 11, in Oklahoma City to discuss the state of health care in Oklahoma and the scenarios going forward after failure of an Obamacare replacement bill in Congress. The “Oklahoma Watch-Out” forum, titled “Where Health Care is Headed,” will feature Julie Cox-Kain, deputy secretary of health and human services and senior deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health; Craig Jones, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, and Lou Carmichael, chief executive officer of Variety Care, which serves many low-income patients [Oklahoma Watch].

Broken Arrow seeks to build ‘Innovation District’ for educational and job opportunities: The city and collaborators want to merge high-tech manufacturing, housing and education in an initiative called the “Innovation District,” which planners say will eventually attract thousands of high-paying jobs to the area. Area educational partners, the Broken Arrow Chamber, Broken Arrow Economic Development Corp. and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology are working with the city to plan the campus at an undetermined location in southeast Broken Arrow [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“If Facebook had existed in 1988, my ‘On This Day’ feature would probably include a post about my first teaching position in Fort Worth — a position I accepted because my beloved home state, Oklahoma, was not adequately funding education. On this day in 2017, nearly 30 years later, it seems that not much has changed.”

-Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist, urging lawmakers to fund schools in order to avoid the “heinous” consequences of further cuts to education (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children living in households where 30% or more of monthly pre-tax income is spent on housing


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Proposed Cuts to AmeriCorps Would Be Devastating for Education Reform: Nationally, somewhere between one-quarter and half of Americans volunteer every year. This spirit of volunteerism is one of the ways Americans are unique when compared with citizens of other nations. Perhaps this is why the idea of service opportunities for young people has been popular in the United States at least since former President John F. Kennedy called on his fellow Americans to “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Those words, spoken during Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, inspired a generation to consider public and community service. It is perplexing then that the country’s main domestic national service programs are perpetually targeted by conservatives for cuts or even complete elimination [Center for American Progress].

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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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