In The Know: Muskogee County to refund $50,000 raised for Asian orphans, students that was seized in traffic stop

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

Muskogee County to refund $50,000 raised for Asian orphans, students that was seized in traffic stop: The Muskogee County District Attorney on Monday said he dismissed criminal charges and a civil asset forfeiture case in which law enforcement seized $53,000 from a man during a Feb. 27 traffic stop. Eh Wah, who lives in Dallas and is originally from Myanmar, told authorities the money was for a Thai orphanage and a nonprofit Christian school in Myanmar [Tulsa World]. The Washington Post reported the story of the seizure on Monday. We’ve written about why civil asset forfeiture, the legal tool used by the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department to seize the money, should be stopped in Oklahoma.

New budget plans would go after low-income parents to fix state’s revenue problems: Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall means that lawmakers face stark choices this year. They can choose devastating cuts to Oklahoma public schools, health care, and other essential services. Or they can shore up the state’s finances and invest in a stronger economy and brighter future for Oklahoma. The second course is the most reasonable, but to save our most important public investments, the money will have to come from somewhere [OK Policy].

One in 10 Oklahoma kids have parent in jail or prison during childhood: One in 10 Oklahoma children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their childhood, according to statistics released Monday by The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Oklahoma is one of eight states with 10 percent or more of children who fit into this category, a statistic that takes in 5.1 million young people across the nation. Former House Speaker Kris Steele and other advocates for children gathered Monday at the state Capitol to discuss the problem of parental incarceration, to urge a continuation of criminal justice reforms and to encourage efforts to aid young people [NewsOK].

Oklahoma inmate deaths jump 71 percent in five years, records show: The number of prisoners who died last year while in the custody of the Oklahoma Corrections Department grew by roughly 70 percent compared with figures for 2010, a trend officials say is likely to continue as inmates grow older behind bars and prison ranks continue to swell past record levels. In 2010, the Corrections Department reported 63 inmates died while in the agency’s custody. Last year, 108 prisoners died while serving time, an increase of 71 percent [NewsOK].

With court ruling, sodomy law doesn’t apply to cases with unconscious victims: Tulsa prosecutors say they are angry over a ruling by Oklahoma’s highest criminal court that the state’s forcible sodomy law doesn’t apply when the victim is intoxicated or unconscious. The decision by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals contrasts with a national push to step up enforcement of sexual assault laws and toughen rules of sexual consent [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma law to close drunken driving loophole: A bill signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday closes a loophole that allows some repeat drunken drivers to avoid the full consequences of their actions. Under present law, most municipalities do not have courts of records and only handle misdemeanors. That means somebody could have multiple impaired driving charges in cities and towns throughout the state, but records would not be kept on the outcome of these cases and the charges would not escalate into felonies [NewsOK].

Oklahoma’s Unabashed Attack on Abortion: Give Oklahoma lawmakers points, at least, for honesty. They wanted to ban abortion, so they voted effectively to do just that — without offering any pretense of trying to protect women’s health, as supporters of other virulent anti-choice laws in states like Texas have done. Last Thursday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to bar doctors from performing abortions in all cases except to save the woman’s life. A doctor who violates the law would be committing a felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and the loss of his or her medical license [New York Times Editorial Board].

Oklahoma and other States Move Ahead in Challenge to New EPA Ozone Standards: The legal battle is underway between Oklahoma and other states that filed a legal challenge months ago to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed new ozone standard, one that was released last fall. More filings were made late last week in federal court with Oklahoma and other critics contending the 70 parts per bill is too low and impossible for some cities to achieve [OK Energy Today].

Lots of gray in debate over wind tax credits: On the one hand, incentives have attracted wind companies to the state and helped to make Oklahoma the nation’s No. 4 producer of wind energy, in just over a decade. Eighteen percent of the state’s energy is produced by wind. Representatives of the wind industry note that they agreed last year to end some of the incentives they once received, and are willing to phase out others over time. But they also say to drastically alter existing agreements wouldn’t be right, and would hurt Oklahoma’s ability to attract future industry [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Plans for 7-mile turnpike in Oklahoma City to be discussed: Plans for a 7-mile turnpike in southwest Oklahoma City connecting Will Rogers World Airport with Interstate 40 are to be unveiled at a public meeting in Yukon. Oklahoma Turnpike Authority engineers will present the design alignment Tuesday evening at the Mustang North Middle School gym. Dubbed the Southwest Kilpatrick Extension, the $190 million project is part of a series of planned turnpike construction projects, mostly in Oklahoma City and Tulsa [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“I was shocked and scared the first time I learned I had a warrant on me. My parents, they were terrified. We never thought any time in our lives we’d see something like this. We didn’t do anything that would be close to this kind of thing, the drug thing.”

-Eh Wah, a Burmese musician who had $53,000 in cash donations seized by Muskogee County Sheriff’s Department in a civil asset forfeiture action that was reversed on Monday (Source)

Number of the Day

23 weeks

The length of time a minimum-wage worker would need to work full time to pay for child care for one infant for a year

Source: Economic Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Top medical experts say we should decriminalize all drugs and maybe go even further: A group of 22 medical experts convened by Johns Hopkins University and The Lancet have called today for the decriminalization of all nonviolent drug use and possession. Citing a growing scientific consensus on the failures of the global war on drugs, the experts further encourage countries and U.S. states to “move gradually toward regulated drug markets and apply the scientific method to their assessment.” Their report comes ahead of a special UN General Assembly Session on drugs to be held next month, where the world’s countries will re-evaluate the past half-century of drug policy and, in the hope of many experts, chart a more public health-centered approach going forward [Washington Post].

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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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