In The Know: Oklahoma’s brand-new drug law on chopping block

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’s brand-new drug law on chopping block: Oklahoma lawmakers could reverse the choice voters made three months ago to soften anti-drug laws. Legislators filed seven bills that would significantly change the language adopted by voters in State Questions 780 and 781. As a result of the vote, most drug possession crimes were reclassified as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Voters reduced the sentences that could be given to people convicted of drug possession and also supported funding county rehabilitation programs. State Sen. Ralph Shortey said people didn’t understand what they were voting for because the ballot’s summary paragraph, or gist, was only 200 words [NewsOK]. Oklahoma Policy Institute formally endorsed State Questions 780 and 781 in January, joining a wide and politically diverse coalition focused on reducing incarceration rates and addressing the root causes of crime [OK Policy].

Speaker Charles McCall puts Real ID, teacher pay at top of priority list for state House: Implementing Real ID and passing a teacher pay raise are priorities for House Speaker Charles McCall in the upcoming session that starts Feb. 6. McCall, R-Atoka, is serving his first session as leader of the lower chamber. On Tuesday, McCall said he is optimistic lawmakers can pass a phased-in teacher pay raise and come up with the funding for the first year, despite an $868 million budget hole [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Issues Record-Breaking Number Of Emergency Teaching Certificates: The teaching shortage in Oklahoma is breaking new records. In a meeting last week, the state board of education granted 43 more emergency teaching certificates to schools across the state. That’s the largest number of emergency teaching certificates issued at one time. Most schools already have at least one certified emergency teacher but a new grant adds more, specifically in Jenks, Broken Arrow and throughout Muskogee and Tulsa Counties [NewsOn6].

Important upcoming elections in OKC not likely to draw many voters: On Valentine’s Day this year, Oklahoma City voters will decide who they want to lead the Oklahoma City school board, and choose two other individual members of that board along with the representatives of four city council wards. More accurately, a small sliver of voters is likely to make these important choices. Unfortunately, turnout is generally quite low for municipal and school board elections, despite candidates’ efforts to get people to vote [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman].

Group gives tips for talking with legislators: Voting is the best-known and most basic way to be politically active in the United States, but it isn’t the only way. Together Oklahoma encourages Oklahomans to talk with their state legislators about causes that matter to voters. Bailey Perkins, the outreach and legislative liaison at OK Policy, talked to Norman residents about how to do just that during a Legislative 101 forum sponsored by Together Oklahoma [Norman Transcript].

Oklahoma City Is Not A Sanctuary City, Says Police Chief: Oklahoma City’s police department is making no changes to its immigration policy following President Trump’s executive order against sanctuary cities. Police Chief Bill Citty says while Oklahoma City isn’t a sanctuary city, his officers are also not proactive in enforcing immigration laws because it can erode trust in a community [KGOU].

Lawmaker to propose bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses: A newly elected Oklahoma lawmaker is pushing through one of his first bills this legislative session, but it’s likely to get some pushback from the majority Republican House. Advertisement Rep. Monroe Nichols, of Tulsa, is the author of House Bill 1258, which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses without fear of being turned over to federal authorities [KOCO].

‘It’s turning us into second-class citizens.’ Tulsa Muslim leader outraged by Trump order: President Donald Trump says his temporary suspension of travel from seven Middle Eastern nations is about keeping Americans safe and not about religion, but Oklahoma Muslims are not buying it. A Trump executive order banned entry of refugees to the U.S. for 120 days, banned Syrian refugees indefinitely, and halted travel to the U.S. for 90 days from Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran [Tulsa World]. Nearly a dozen community leaders representing an array of religious and advocacy groups gathered Tuesday to speak out against President Donald Trump’s suspension of travel from seven Muslim-majority countries [Tulsa World]. Catholic Charities, the only agency in eastern Oklahoma approved by the U.S. State Department to resettle refugees, had counted on 27 refugee arrivals in February, all of which have now  been cancelled [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Native Americans Concerned About Future Of Indian Healthcare: Tuesday was the last day to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and it could be the last day ever as President Trump has promised to repeal it, but Native Americans say a full repeal could be devastating for their healthcare. Approximately 2.2 million people across the country benefit from the Indian Health Service, but it’s underfunded [NewsOn6]. Affordable Care Act repeal plans threaten chaos for Oklahomans’ health care [OK Policy].

Rural nursing shortages persist: There’s a persistent nursing shortage in some parts of Oklahoma, and pay stubs might provide a solution for hospitals and nursing schools. Paying competitive wages and offering incentives can help recruit nurses. Creating a culture where employees feel valued can retain them. David Camp said monetary incentives and mentoring is part of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center’s strategy to get and keep nurses at the Enid hospital [Journal Record].

State public health lab would lose accreditation, close without legislative action, leaders say: Without legislative action, Oklahoma’s public health laboratory will lose accreditation and close, leaving the state without access to a vital resource, a state health leader told lawmakers Tuesday. State Health Commissioner Terry Cline told a group of lawmakers at a budget hearing that his agency needs the Legislature to approve a 20-year bond for $58.5 million, along with $632,000 to pay the interest of the bond [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Sheriff Seeking Body Cameras After 2015 Fatal Shoot: An Oklahoma sheriff’s agency where an ex-reserve deputy fatally shot an unarmed black man in 2015 is applying for federal money to outfit 50 of its deputies with body-worn cameras, the sheriff said Tuesday. If the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office is approved for its 50 percent match grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the county would have to come up with roughly $50,000 of the equipment cost [ABC News]. The Oklahoma City police say their body camera program is already paying off [KFOR].

OK Energy Producers Believe Pruitt Can Bring Balance As EPA Head: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry moved a step closer to confirmation as Energy Secretary Tuesday. But Oklahoma Energy producers are more interested in the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The first vote on Pruitt is Wednesday, though Democrats are asking for a delay [NewsOn6].

KIDS COUNT Report Shows Improvement in Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy releases the 2016 KIDS COUNT data book last week showing areas of progress and slippage for kids. This publication, found at provides statistical analysis of 16 key factors relating to children’s well-being in our state and the nation. The good news is Oklahoma moved up two spots to 37th in the nation compared to our last review from the 2014 publication [KWGS]. The 2016 Oklahoma KIDS COUNT data book is available here.

Oklahoma teen marriage rate among highest in nation: Outside a northwest Oklahoma City chapel on a warm December morning, Presten McCalip chats with a friend until his grandmother hurries over and gently tells him something few 17-year-olds hear. “You’re wife-to-be just drove up,” Judy Walker says. “You’re not supposed to be here. Go inside.” Dressed for his wedding in black slacks and a matching vest, with a blue shirt and white tie, McCalip and best man Torree Coone quickly slip through the chapel doors [NewsOK].

Fallin pitches Oklahoma for investment at event in Italy: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin is touting the state’s technology and energy industries at an event in Italy. Fallin spoke Monday at the annual meeting of GE’s Oil and Gas Division in Florence, Italy. Fallin praised GE’s new global center in Oklahoma City and said researchers are working to find new technologies that will “create an abundance of oil and gas in a more efficient and less costly manner.” The governor also pitched Oklahoma as a low-tax, stable place for investment [Norman Transcript].

Quote of the Day

“The ink is barely even dry on the votes that Oklahomans cast in November. I think it would be indefensible for the Legislature to usurp the voters and go against the work that Oklahomans have done.”

– Former state House Speaker Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry, on legislation filed to significantly alter language in SQs 780 and 781, which reclassified some drug crimes and reinvested savings from doing so in prevention and were approved by Oklahoma voters in November (Source). OK Policy supported both measures. 

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children living in high-poverty areas (2010-2014), up from 11% (2006-2010)


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Will States Stop Cities From Combating Climate Change? If there is one word to describe Arizona’s 2016 legislative session, that word is “preemption.” Last year, state lawmakers stripped cities and counties of the authority to regulate everything from backyard chickens and dog breeders to Airbnb and other home-sharing services. Collectively, legislators introduced more than a dozen bills preempting local control. In March, the state passed the mother of all local preemption bills, a law that withholds shared revenue if a town, city or county passes a regulation that “violates state law or the constitution of Arizona.” So it wasn’t a surprise to many when Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton expressed frustration with state lawmakers [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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