In The Know: Oklahoma, EPA Shutter 32 Wells in New Earthquake-Prone Area

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

Oklahoma, EPA Shutter 32 Wells in New Earthquake-Prone Area: State and federal regulators say 32 disposal wells in northeastern Oklahoma must shut down because they are too near a newly discovered fault line that produced the state’s strongest earthquake on record. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said Monday that 27 wells under its jurisdiction would cease operations, along with five wells in Osage County, which is covered by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules [Associated Press].

Your guide to this year’s Oklahoma state questions: Today we published a series of fact sheets on each of the state questions on Oklahoma ballots this year. In addition to state and national races, voters will decide seven state questions on topics including the death penalty, regulation of agriculture, a sales tax for education, criminal justice reform, the use of public resources for religious purposes, and alcohol law reform. Each fact sheet includes a brief summary of the state question, background information, what supporters and opponents are saying, and the language that will be on Oklahoma ballots [OK Policy]. The fact sheets are available here.

Gov. Fallin To Pitch Ideas To New Legislators If Teacher Raise Vote Fails: If a ballot initiative to raise the sales tax to fund teacher raises fails, the governor said she’ll pitch her same ideas to new legislators. On Nov. 8, voters will be asked to vote on State Question 779, which would increase the sales tax by 1 percent to raise an estimated $615 million for education. Of that, $378 million would be used to fund teacher raises; $125 million would be used for higher education; $50 million for grants; another $50 million for early childhood programs and $20 million for vocation and technology education [News9].

“It’s flagrantly unconstitutional,” legal experts fear slew of lawsuits if state question passes: There’s a war over a Ten Commandments monument that used to sit outside the state capitol. If one lawmaker has his way, it’ll sit there again after you vote in November. But some legal experts are warning that a vote for moving the monument back could mean a costly legal battle. State Question 790 would change the wording of our state constitution to allow the monument on capitol grounds. But there’s still one roadblock: the U.S. Constitution [KFOR]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 790, which would allow the use of public resources for religious purposes.

Oklahoma SQ 790 arose from Ten Commandments monument removal: Though the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution addresses it in its “Establishment Clause,” the degree to which religion and government can each trespass on the lawn of the other is a long-standing argument among Americans. On Nov. 8, the argument will be put to Oklahomans again as one of a bevy of state questions. State Question 790 is a measure on the November ballot asking Oklahomans to remove language from the state constitution forbidding use of public funds for religious or sectarian purposes [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Tulsa plea deal reflects challenges of death penalty: In a Tulsa courtroom last week, Bever, 19, told a judge that he and his 17-year-old brother, Michael, acted together and were responsible for the killings, and that they intended to kill one of their sisters who survived (another, younger sister was unharmed). Yet Robert Bever won’t face the death penalty. As part of a plea agreement, he will be sentenced instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His brother, who had a not-guilty plea entered on his behalf, isn’t eligible for the death penalty because he was 16 at the time of the killings [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]. Read our fact sheet on SQ 776, which would affirm the death penalty in the Oklahoma constitution.

Gov Fallin launches OK Connect and Learn Initiative: Governor Mary Fallin launched the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative, a coordinated effort to bring high-speed broadband and digital learning opportunities to schools across the state. As part of the initiative, Oklahoma is partnering with interested school districts and telecommunications service providers to increase the number of schools with fiber optic connections, improve the capacity and affordability of those connections and ensure Oklahoma classrooms have Wi-Fi access to better facilitate digital learning [KSWO].

Interim study to consider tension between architects and designers: The longtime dispute between architects and building designers is set for a new round of discussion. Lawmakers meet for an interim study Tuesday that will review the kinds of structures that don’t require use of a licensed architect. In Oklahoma, the law requires an architect for buildings like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, assembly halls, theaters, arenas, dormitories and sports venues. The law, however, exempts several types of buildings from the architect requirement [Journal Record].

Hunting guide licenses subject of interim study: The subject of requiring a special license for hunting guides is coming up again in the Oklahoma Legislature, but so far they just want people familiar with the topic to talk about it. Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City and chairman of the wildlife committee, has set an interim study from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 to look at the subject of licensing guides [Tulsa World].

16 Oklahoma tribes get HUD grants: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday awarded 16 Indian tribes in Oklahoma grants totaling $12.6 million for housing and community development projects. The grants awarded to the tribes in Oklahoma were among grants totaling $56.5 million awarded to 77 Native American communities nationwide as part of HUD’s Indian Community Development Block Grant Program, which supports community development and affordable housing activities [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“We’re going to be paying lawyers instead of teachers… It’s real good politics, it plays well with folks back home, and it gets you votes whether it’s a good idea or not.”

-David Smith, an attorney arguing that the state will face enormous costs to defend against lawsuits if SQ 790 passes (Source) Read our fact sheet on SQ 790.

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s average temperature in degrees Fahrenheit, 2015

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The teacher pay gap is wider than ever: The teacher pay penalty is bigger than ever. In 2015, public school teachers’ weekly wages were 17.0 percent lower than those of comparable workers—compared with just 1.8 percent lower in 1994. This erosion of relative teacher wages has fallen more heavily on experienced teachers than on entry-level teachers. Importantly, collective bargaining can help to abate this teacher wage penalty. Some of the increase in the teacher wage penalty may be attributed to a trade-off between wages and benefits. Even so, teachers’ compensation (wages plus benefits) was 11.1 percent lower than that of comparable workers in 2015 [Economic Policy Institute].

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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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