In The Know: Oklahoma’s child abuse rate remains high, but DHS reforms show progress

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 child abuse rate remains high, but DHS reforms show progress: In a mixed report, three out-of-state experts retained to monitor reforms of Oklahoma’s child welfare system found that the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has made “substantial and sustained progress” in 27 of 31 performance areas related to the welfare of children in state care. Casting a gloomy shadow over what otherwise might be viewed as a positive report was a finding that the state continued to perform poorly in what most people would consider the most important category of all — protecting the safety of children in state care [NewsOK].

‘We have criminalized being mentally ill’: Capt. Reese Lane saw an opportunity to do some good in the world. The Payne County jail administrator looked at one inmate’s charges recently and determined, “This is a mental health issue. She is not a criminal. She needs help.” The inmate, a 40-year-old mother of five, had been in and out of the Stillwater jail numerous times. In just one week during the summer of 2007, she called the police and fire department 26 times. Lane was familiar with the woman’s mental health and substance abuse history. He went to the Payne County district attorney and asked to drop the woman’s charges. Next, they filed an emergency order to keep the woman in custody for her own safety, rather than for criminal charges [NewsOK].

Violent Incidents Raise Questions About Officer Training for Dealing with Mentally Ill: For the mentally ill and emotionally troubled, encounters with law enforcement officers and incarceration in jails pose a risk of death. A spike in fatalities in Oklahoma jails this year and several confrontations between police and the mentally ill since 2014 have raised questions about whether officers and jailers are sufficiently trained to deal with people with mental health problems. Training data indicates it is a special concern in rural areas [Oklahoma Watch].

The success of SQ 780 points Oklahoma to a better response to drug addiction: Of the four state questions that passed last Tuesday, the one that will yield the most direct and positive impact on the lives of real people, including many young people, is State Question 780. SQ 780 changes to misdemeanors the penalties for simple possession of controlled substances and low level property crimes. Most misdemeanors are punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail and a fine. All the alternatives such as deferred or suspended sentences, including treatment, restitution and community service, are available with misdemeanor charges [OK Policy].

Oklahoma town sues energy companies over earthquakes: Following a record-strength earthquake in September, residents of Pawnee, Okla., hope legal action will compensate them for injuries and property damage. Weitz & Luxenberg, a New York-based consumer protection firm, is bringing a class action lawsuit on behalf of affected residents. The firm announced on Friday that it will sue more than a dozen energy companies in district court. The plaintiffs plan to argue that the companies’ practice of injecting wastewater from fracking caused the September quake – and more than 50 smaller tremors [Christian Science Monitor].

Pawnee Nation sues U.S. claiming oil, gas well leases on tribal land were improperly approved: Linking recent oil and gas activity to the state’s largest earthquake, the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, asking a judge to void recently approved drilling permits on tribal land and halt the issuance of new ones. The lawsuit, filed Friday in Tulsa federal court, claims numerous drilling permits and leases on tribal-owned lands held in trust have been improperly approved by the Interior Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Bureau of Land Management [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma boosts efforts to reduce earthquakes; but is it doing enough?: On Sept. 3, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma struck about a mile from Linda Haslip’s home. She ran frantically from one end of the house to the other, as vases smashed to the floor, paintings fell from walls, dishes and cups flew out of the cupboards, and the large buffalo head above their fireplace crashed, breaking one of its horns. Haslip and her husband, Mike, built their dream home three years ago in a rural area near Pawnee, about 125 miles miles south of Wichita. During the earthquake, their house rattled back and forth, cracking the foundation of the garage, knocking the ice machine into a wall and dislodging a boulder from a retaining wall outside. Inside, the walls began to tear [The Wichita Eagle].

State jobless rate increase in past year highest in US: The percentage of Oklahomans unemployed in October was 5.2 percent, about the same as it was in September. But over the past year, that percentage grew by about a point, the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. That, a state employment expert says, is because of continued lethargy in Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry. “The year-over-year increase of the unemployment rate is because of this slowdown — that’s probably not strong enough of a term — of oil and gas employment,” said Lynn Gray, director of economic research and analysis at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission [NewsOK].

Oklahoma City’s Economy Could Suffer If Trump Follows Through On Deportation Pledge: Immigration dominated the 2016 presidential election, with promises from President-elect Donald Trump to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and a clampdown on undocumented migrants from both Latin America and the Middle East. Mass deportations could have a significant affect Oklahoma City’s economy, especially south Oklahoma City, where there’s a significant Hispanic population [KGOU].

In The Precinct: A split decision: The presidential race in Precinct 196, in Oklahoma City, had a familiar outcome on Nov. 8: the Republican man won. But it was a very narrow victory, and the precinct gave a more generous winning margin to the Democratic woman running for the state Legislature. If the two parties were battling for the heart and soul of the precinct, they had to split them. Next time, however, if trends continue there, Democrats will claim both. On the recommendation of political experts who have watched the partisan realignment in Oklahoma over the past two decades, The Oklahoman chose the 196th Precinct, in the heart of the capital city, to follow early in this presidential election year [NewsOK].

‘Pass a Plan’ is the new education reform movement: After “Right to Farm,” State Question 779 was the most discussed state question on this months ballot. And like “Right to Farm,” Oklahomans voted against it. So now what? “Oklahomans are not fine with being dead last in the country in teacher pay and number one in cuts to education funding. And they want action,” said Amber England, executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma. Most everyone would agree that Oklahoma needs to do something about education, where some schools have been forced to go to four-day weeks. That’s where “Pass a Plan” comes in. It is a movement to get Oklahoma legislators to pass an education bill to help fix the problem facing the state [Norman Transcript].

Interest in school board service in decline as another school election approaches: Interest in local school board service has declined in recent years even as public education has risen in status as a top issue on Oklahoma voters’ minds. Tulsa World headlines at the end of the last three annual candidate filing periods illustrate the downward trend in Tulsa County. From December 2015: “School board filing period ends with just one contested race.” From December 2014: “School board candidate filings close with no contested races.” And the story in 2013 was similar: “School board candidate filing period ends with few filers.” [Tulsa World]

More jobs will require bachelor’s degrees in the future, study says: In less time than it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree you might need one to get a job in Oklahoma. By 2020, 37 percent of the jobs in Oklahoma will require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or higher, according to a Georgetown University study. “That’s on us. That’s an expectation that is clearly on our back,” said Glen Johnson, the state’s higher education chancellor. “It certainly requires our immediate attention because it’s critically important we prepare and have students in a position where they can graduate to meet the job needs in our state.” At the same time, Oklahoma lags when it comes to the number of adults with a college degree [The Oklahoman].

Appeals court rejects Oklahoma lawsuit against California egg law: Six states lacked the legal right to challenge a California law that prohibits the sale of eggs from chickens that are not raised in accordance with strict space requirements, a federal appeals court said Thursday. The states — Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa — failed to show how the law would affect them and not just individual egg farmers, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. California voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 that set the standard that chickens must spend most of their day with enough space to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs [Muskogee Phoenix].

Legislature looks at costs, benefits of Heartland Flyer: Ardmore is investing more than $2 million worth of projects along the rail at a time when legislators are giving a hard look at the costs and benefits of the Heartland Flyer and whether to continue it after the Fiscal Year 2017 contract with the state of Texas expires. The city of Ardmore’s $500,000 renovation of the train depot, Ardmore Main Street Authority’s $2 million Depot Park and the city’s $4 million streetscape project extending several blocks from the depot are all investments that not only add to the quality of life in Ardmore, but also have one thing in common — they are all within view of a train that transports tens of thousands of people each year. None of those investments would have been made without the inclusion of the Heartland Flyer as a key contributor to the viability of the projects, representatives from the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce told state senators during a recent interim study [The Daily Ardmoreite].

Quote of the Day

“One young man, a junior in his third year at one of our universities, came to me and said, ‘After I’ve done all this work, if they decide not to renew my DACA, I’ll be out of a degree? Those are the types of kids that are living in fear now.”

-Raul Font, president of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, speaking about immigrant students who were brought to the U.S. as children and have been allowed to stay under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is threatened by President-elect Trump (Source).

Number of the Day


Poverty rate among Oklahomans with any disability, compared to a 15.1% poverty rate for Oklahomans with no disability.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Rethinking School Discipline: On a Friday morning in early September, all the middle school students at Hampstead Hill Academy, a pre-K–8 school in Baltimore, filed into the gym. The Ravens were playing on Sunday, which meant that students could take a day off from wearing their navy-blue collared uniforms if they wanted to dress in purple in support of the city’s football team. The roughly 240 students sat on the gym floor, forming a big circle. Each week, all sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders come together for this half-hour event—to formally recognize the good deeds of their peers and teachers, to offer apologies to those they had wronged, and to share upcoming personal announcements. Matthew Cobb, an eighth-grade science teacher, helped facilitate the morning’s community circle. Encouraging students to make eye contact with one another and to project their voices, it was an exercise in public speaking as much as it was in relationship-building [The American Prospect].

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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