In The Know: Oklahoma Lawmaker Accused of Sexual Harassment Won’t Testify

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.

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Today In The News

Oklahoma Lawmaker Accused of Sexual Harassment Won’t Testify: A Tulsa Republican legislator accused of sexual harassment by two former legislative assistants said Monday he won’t cooperate with a special closed-door state House committee looking into the allegations and the use of government funds to settle with one of his accusers. Rep. Dan Kirby said in a statement he has serious concerns about the secretive nature of the panel, which met again on Monday to investigate allegations of sexual harassment against him and a second lawmaker. The committee also is looking into whether the former House speaker had the legal authority to settle the claim using House funds [Associated Press].

Federal prosecutors name EMSA, Williamson in kickback scheme tied to ambulance contract: Federal prosecutors filed a civil complaint Monday naming EMSA and its director, Stephen Williamson, in an alleged kickback scheme regarding a lucrative ambulance services provider contract. The complaint, filed in federal court in the eastern district of Texas, claims that a Texas hospital and ambulance provider, Paramedics Plus LLC, entered into a kickback scheme to obtain and retain a lucrative public ambulance services contract awarded by Williamson and the Emergency Medical Services Authority, a public trust that administers the ambulance service in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas [Tulsa World].

Criminal justice numbers show why change is needed in Oklahoma: Data compiled by an affiliate of the Pew Charitable Trusts makes plain why Oklahoma cannot continue on its present course regarding criminal justice, and why a governor’s task force spent six months studying the problem. Unfortunately, the task force’s report is in limbo. The panel originally planned to release its recommendations in December. That was pushed back to mid-January, then delayed again due to weather concerns. The new expected release date, last Wednesday, came and went without a word. We know the recommendations in the report didn’t have unanimous support of the 21 members [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]. Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster [OK Policy].

Telling the DOC story: Joe Allbaugh wants a lot of money. Allbaugh, who became the head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections last year, proposed a $1.65 billion DOC allocation for the 2018 fiscal year, which starts July 1. That’s more than triple the agency’s current budget; the fiscal 2017 allocation was $483.4 million. “I’ve had several legislators ask me if I’m serious. I’m deadly serious about this,” Allbaugh told the Associated Press in November. “Corrections is a core function of state government. Our No. 1 priority is public safety, and public safety at our facilities is currently at risk.” He might be serious about the need, but the prisons chief surely doesn’t expect the legislators to grant his wish, especially in the face of the state’s third consecutive budget shortfall [Editorial Board / Journal Record].

Northeast Task Force takes aim at Oklahoma City’s low-performing schools: A committee assigned to find ways to improve education outcomes for mostly black children on Oklahoma City’s northeast side will explore the possibility of shuttering some schools in order to fund change. Northeast Task Force members meeting for the first time Thursday night were told they will spend the next six weeks studying low-performing schools and come up with recommendations for needed academic supports and wraparound services like counseling [NewsOK].

Vaccines are growing topic for legislation — and advocacy — at the Capitol: State Sen. Ervin Yen has no plans of backing down. Last year, the Oklahoma City lawmaker pushed, unsuccessfully, for legislation that would remove non-medical exemptions as an option for parents to give for not vaccinating their children. “If I fail this session, I’ll keep doing it until we get it passed, and we will get it passed — but I hope it doesn’t take a big outbreak where lots of kids die,” Yen said [NewsOK].

Students protest at Oklahoma State University after second ‘blackface’ incident in a week: Two separate incidents of Oklahoma State University students donning “blackface” during the semester that just started sparked a protest Monday and have drawn apologies from the offenders. Students protested peacefully outside OSU President Burns Hargis’ office, and Hargis came out to shake hands and meet with the protesters. A statement from the president says he met with African-American student leaders to discuss “racially insensitive posts” on social media that drew attention to the blackface incidents [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Capitol restoration work uncovers mysteries in hidden spaces: Restoration specialists at the Oklahoma State Capitol are scratching their heads over unusual discoveries made inside the walls and in other hidden spaces of the 100-year-old building. Amid a $245 million renovation project, workers wonder why metal-framed windows and screens were once installed in a cavernous basement, then painted over with thick beige paint before being covered up. And what was the purpose of a large green door surrounded by glass panels, also walled up? [Tulsa World]

Legislator would cut $800,000 from building code commission: A state legislator wants to fold an independent state building code commission back into its parent agency to cut down on overhead and pass some savings to builders. Builders called the move puzzling. State Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, introduced House Bill 1168, which aims to cut about $800,000 from the Oklahoma Uniform Building Code Commission’s budget, get rid of some employees, and move the group back under the Construction Industries Board. The commission updates the state’s requirements on building, electrical, and plumbing codes. It takes a $4 portion from cities’ code fees [Journal Record].

Heartbeat abortion ban filed in Oklahoma Senate: Abortions would be banned after a fetus’ heartbeat becomes audible, according to a bill filed in the Oklahoma Senate. If adopted, the measure limits the time a woman could get an abortion by about three and a half months. A heartbeat can be heard sometime around the sixth week of pregnancy. The bill’s author said Oklahoma’s abortion laws are based on old technology and science [NewsOK].

Tennessee, Oklahoma led nation in wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation: Tennessee and Oklahoma legislatures led the nation last year in a national “wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation” after the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, according to a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Oklahoma ranked No. 1 with 30 such bills, while Tennessee was No. 2 with 17 measures. The Human Rights Campaign, a national group advocating on LGBTQ issues, says such legislation is “meant to restrict the rights of LGBTQ individuals and their families.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press].

Quote of the Day

“I’ve had several legislators ask me if I’m serious. I’m deadly serious about this. Corrections is a core function of state government. Our No. 1 priority is public safety, and public safety at our facilities is currently at risk.”

-Oklahoma Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh, explaining why his agency requested $1.65 billion for FY 2018 – more than triple their current budget (Source)

Number of the Day

64 minutes

Average time Oklahoma emergency room patients waited after being admitted to be taken to their room, 6th lowest in the US

Source: ProPublica

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Budget cuts are taking the heaviest toll on colleges that serve the neediest students: When a state budget impasse drained money from public universities and colleges in Illinois beginning in 2015, some were forced to lay off hundreds of employees, shorten their semesters, even warn they might shut down. Enrollment plummeted. Credit ratings fell to junk status. Chicago State University, for instance, which has a student body that is mainly black and Hispanic and drawn from its neighborhood on the city’s South Side, cut 300 workers from its payroll and — its very future in limbo — managed to attract fewer than 100 new freshmen in the fall [Hechinger Report].

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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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