In The Know: Oklahoma governor appoints Wyrick to state Supreme Court

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 governor appoints Wyrick to state Supreme Court: Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday named Patrick Wyrick of the Oklahoma attorney general’s office to serve as a justice on the state Supreme Court. Wyrick, 35, will fill the opening left by the retirement of Steven Taylor, who was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry. Since 2011, Wyrick has served as solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, representing the state before the U.S. and Oklahoma supreme courts, as well as other federal and state courts [NewsOK].

Gov. Mary Fallin submits $1.3B worth of transportation projects: A control tower project at Tulsa International Airport, major highway reconstruction in west Tulsa and waterway rehabilitation in eastern Oklahoma are among nearly $1.4 billion worth of transportation projects that Gov. Mary Fallin submitted this week to the Trump administration for consideration as part of a national infrastructure improvement plan. Fallin’s office released a list on Thursday of seven “shovel-ready” projects in Oklahoma that have been submitted to President Donald Trump’s office and the White House National Trade Council via the National Governor’s Association [Tulsa World].

Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session: At OK Policy, our core mission is to encourage state policy changes that ensure responsible funding of public services and expanded opportunity for all Oklahomans. To that end, we’ve identified a number of policies as top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session. Together these measures would go a long way towards balancing the state budget with enough revenues to do the job that Oklahomans expect, and they would make the state economy work better for all Oklahomans [OK Policy].

Experts weigh in on Fallin tax proposal: Gov. Mary Fallin called on legislators to make Oklahoma the third state in the country to operate without a corporate income tax or an equivalent. State finance officials backed Fallin on her claim that the tax’s revenue is so volatile it’s hard to properly predict how much it will generate, which can have a negative effect on budget planning [Journal Record]. Gov. Mary Fallin’s second try to raise taxes on cigarettes could keep minors from picking up a pack, which experts say could prevent a lifetime of smoking, but critics say the measure puts an undue burden on poor Oklahomans [Journal Record]. If you think the sales tax is too high now, you could pay even more for basic needs for your family. It is all part of the plan for Governor Mary Fallin who hopes to eliminate sales tax on groceries [KTUL]. The Oklahoma Bar Association has not taken a position on Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to tax legal services, but telephone calls to the association from member attorneys have been overwhelmingly against it, Oklahoma Bar Association President Linda S. Thomas said Thursday [NewsOK]. A proposal to expand state sales taxes by Gov. Mary Fallin would draw its largest share of new revenue from Oklahoma’s residential electric and natural gas customers. Fallin’s plan would end an exemption of the state’s share of sales taxes on utility services for residential customers [NewsOK] Our statement on the Governor’s proposals is available here

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s bond proposals make sense: Gov. Mary Fallin’s tax overhaul, which combines an array of tax increases and new taxes with the elimination of other taxes, is getting the most attention in the aftermath of her State of the State speech. Less notice is being given to her support for using bond financing to address pressing infrastructure needs. Hopefully, this means that particular portion of her plan is no longer considered controversial, because it does address significant state problems in a financially responsible way [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Legislature puts Oklahomans with disabilities and seniors at risk: The Oklahoma Legislature has an opportunity to step up for the state’s most vulnerable citizens by fully funding the Department of Human Services supplemental budget request to cover their current fiscal year shortfall in the amount of $34 million for services to people with developmental disabilities and to seniors. Failure by the Legislature to appropriate supplemental funds to DHS soon would mean these services could cease April 1, 2017. This is an economic and social issue affecting not only the people receiving the services but also all of those people who are paid to provide the services [Pam Richardson / Tulsa World]. DHS’s FY 2017 brought bad news for Oklahoma children, seniors, and people with disabilities [OK Policy]. 

Four-day school week paying off for local districts; lawmakers want a change: Following a $1.3 billion budget crisis, many school districts took drastic measures to save money. Last year, schools across the state were told their budgets would be slashed because of the shortfall. In response, several districts across Oklahoma decided to cut the school week short. In fact, almost one fifth of our state’s school districts have gone to four-day school weeks. Gov. Mary Fallin targeted those 97 school districts in her ‘State of the State’ address on Monday, saying kids need to be in school five days a week [KFOR]. Four-day school weeks leave food-insecure students at risk of hunger [OK Policy].

New Bill Would Give Oklahomans Choice Of REAL ID License: Oklahomans may soon have a choice of two new licenses as a Senate bill is one step closer to a potential vote. The REAL ID licenses are key to allowing you to board airplanes or go onto military bases, Legislation cleared committee Wednesday and is expected to be heard on the floor next week. This bill would give people the option to either get a new driver’s license that is REAL ID compliant or keep their current one which is not [NewsOn6].

House committee advances bill that would allow Ten Commandments in schools, public buildings: Thou shalt not give up isn’t one of the Ten Commandments, but it is being rigorously observed by lawmakers intent on getting them into schools and other public buildings. On Thursday, a committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives recommended passage of a bill authorizing the installation of “statues, monuments, memorials, tablets or any other display” of “historically significant documents,” including the Ten Commandments, in publicly owned buildings such as schools, courthouses, city halls and, presumably, the state Capitol [Tulsa World].

Bills would allow homeowners to do their own repairs: State Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa, has spent the last few years hearing from people who want to make their own home repairs. He said he heard from a woman who took out the proper permits to repair her bathtub, but the city inspector wouldn’t give her approval because it was not done by a licensed professional. She had to hire a plumber to do the work so an inspector would approve it. Another person – a retired electrician – couldn’t even get the inspector to say if his home’s new electrical work was done properly. The homeowner wasn’t a licensed professional [Journal Record].

Panelists: State economy needs more industrial diversity: Diversify or shrivel on the vine. Oklahoma must continue to expand its industries beyond the traditional energy sector, said Oklahoma Department of Commerce Secretary Deby Snodgrass. That was the message Thursday at the Norman Economic Development Coalition’s annual outlook meeting. Snodgrass said the budget will suffer as long as it remains dependent on gross production taxes from oil and gas. The state is facing a projected $865 million revenue shortfall, due largely to the energy downturn [Journal Record].

What to do with radioactive waste in rural Oklahoma town? A court fight is on: Fighting together in court to stop the permanent disposal of radioactive waste near the Arkansas and Illinois rivers, the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma obtained a restraining order Thursday against a long-out-of-business uranium plant. The Sequoyah Fuels facility, located in the town of Gore about 3 miles north of where the Arkansas and Illinois meet, opened in 1970 to convert yellowcake uranium into fuel for nuclear reactors. When it closed in 1993, the plant left behind approximately 11,000 tons of “uranium-contaminated sludge” in various “basins, lagoons and ditches at the site,” according to statements from the Cherokee Nation [Tulsa World].

Embezzlement Investigation in Oklahoma Adds to Questions About Oversight of Federal Beef Promotion Program: Federal authorities are investigating the alleged embezzlement of $2.6 million dollars from an obscure Oklahoma board that promotes the beef industry. The investigation and related lawsuits add to questions about oversight of a national program funded by fees charged to ordinary farmers and ranchers. On a brisk and busy January morning at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, cattle arrive for auction in trailers pulled by pickup trucks — and leave in double-decker cars towed by semis [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Ruling Against Travel Ban Executive Order Brings Relief To OK’s Catholic Charities: A Federal appeals court ruled not to reinstate President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on people traveling from some countries. Twenty Russian and Burmese refugees who want to resettle in Tulsa had been in limbo while one local group is doing what they can to help them relocate to Tulsa. Because of the ruling the trip can proceed, bringing relief to Oklahoma’s Catholic Charities. Oklahoma’s Catholic Charities operates the only refugee resettlement program in the state [NewsOn6].

Mayor G.T. Bynum tells TEDx listeners in D.C. how politicians can succeed: Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum encouraged politicians during a TEDx talk in Washington, D.C., to stop throwing “red meat to their base” and to bring measurable goals for voters to evaluate. Bynum’s speech, “Why Partisan Rhetoric is for Losers,” included references to his campaign battle last year with incumbent Mayor Dewey Bartlett, in which Bynum was frequently cast as the “Democrat” in Tulsa’s nonpartisan race. “Never mind that, like my opponent, I’m a Republican,” Bynum said. “On election day, I — G.T. Bynum, a guy whose name reminds people of a circus promoter, a guy with the raw animal magnetism of a young Orville Redenbacher — I won with the support of both Republicans and Democrats, and I won the election by 17 points.” [Tulsa World]

Reaching out: Gloria Torres looked around the small, wood-floored auditorium inside an old school in south Oklahoma City, shook her head and then texted an angry-face emoji to a friend, an expression of her frustration that a bilingual forum for school board candidates hadn’t drawn a larger crowd, especially among the city’s Hispanic community. In a district where more than half of the student population is Hispanic, Torres — the lone Hispanic member of the Oklahoma City School Board — said it remains a challenge to inspire political engagement in the community [NewsOK].

Undocumented in a red state and asking, “What now?” Last Wednesday morning, Fatima Linares, a twenty-two-year-old community-college student in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was in her bedroom getting ready for work, when her little brother burst in to her room with an urgent question. “Where are we going to go?” he asked. Her brother is ten years old and a U.S. citizen. But his parents and older sisters, including Fatima, are undocumented, and so, on election night, he’d stayed up late watching news clips on YouTube, trying to figure out his family’s fate if Donald Trump pulled off an upset. Waking up to find Trump the new President-elect, the boy believed that he’d see his family swiftly deported. “What’s going to happen to us?” he asked his sister [The New Yorker].

Quote of the Day

“We realize there are many compelling voices and requests for state funding this year. If there is a core function of state government and a basic value in Oklahoma, it is to care for those who are least able to care for themselves.”

– Pam Richardson of Volunteers for America, urging the Legislature to provide the supplemental funding the state Department of Human Services needs to continue home- and community-based services for seniors and people with disabilities. With its current budget, DHS will be unable to pay providers after March (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma children adopted out of foster care in Oklahoma in FY2016, the highest number since 1998

Source: Oklahoma Department of Human Services

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Don’t Like the Ballot Measure Voters Approved? Just Ignore It, Some Lawmakers Say: State lawmakers have always been skeptical about letting voters decide public policy. Lately, some have been downright hostile. South Dakota GOP legislators are poised to repeal a ballot measure that passed just this past November. It calls for a range of ethics changes, including public financing of campaigns, limits on campaign donations, the creation of an independent ethics commission and a ban on gifts from lobbyists. …Legislators are preparing to kill the law on an “emergency” basis, meaning that voters can’t overturn their work through a subsequent referendum. The situation in South Dakota has drawn considerable media attention, but lawmakers are also seeking to block ballot initiatives elsewhere [Governing].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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