In The Know: Oklahoma’s first black state senator dies

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 first black state senator dies: E. Melvin Porter, Oklahoma’s first black state senator, died Tuesday. He was 86. Porter’s cause of death was not immediately known. Born in Okmulgee in 1930, Porter was a member of the first class including blacks at Vanderbilt University Law School. He went on to become president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1961 [NewsOK].

Lawmakers again will push equal pay for women: A bill to reduce the wage gap between women and men who do the same jobs is expected to return next legislative session, supporters said Tuesday. Currently, Oklahoma women who work full time, year-round earn 80 cents for every $1 earned by their male counterparts, according to a 2015 paper by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank on women’s economic issues [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma women can’t afford wage discrimination [OK Policy].

New stabilization fund will help with future Oklahoma budgeting: Legislators creating the 2028 budget see that they’ll have far less to spend than they did in 2027. However, no parent calls their child’s principal to ask if their teacher will be laid off. Instead, state budget makers turn to the Revenue Stabilization Fund and the Rainy Day Fund, where, cumulatively, over a billion dollars has been waiting for just such a day. As legislators serving during the budget crisis of 2016, when a dramatic drop in energy prices caused a $1.3 billion shortfall, we wished the fantasy above could have been our reality [David Holt and John Michael Montgomery / NewsOK].

Thanks, Oklahoma, for working to reverse the state’s opioid epidemic: In 2013 and 2014, drug overdose claimed the lives of nearly 1,600 Oklahomans, and prescription opioids and heroin caused most of them. The opioid problem is not unique to Oklahoma – the entire country is experiencing a full-blown epidemic. Across America, an opioid overdose happens every 19 minutes, and quick solutions are hard to come by. Thanks to the efforts of the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) and other state leaders, Oklahoma has seen the second largest decrease among states in opioid prescriptions from 2013-2015 – down nearly 18 percent [Dr. Sherri Baker and Dr. Patrice A. Harris / Tulsa World].

With Rising Incarceration Rates, Children Of Inmates Seek Respite In Camp: Kristen Harlin speeds a golf cart through the grassy fields overlooking Lake Texoma in Kingston. It’s muggy and hot and the sun is relentless. Harlin is the executive director of New Day Camp, a summer camp for children with incarcerated parents. “All the campers here have the same, common thing going on in their life (sic). So if you get that stigma gone right away, they don’t feel like they’re the different person in the cabin,” Harlin says. Leaders address incarceration as soon as kids step off the bus. Then it’s onto normal camp activities [KGOU]. Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country [OK Policy].

Meth, Strippers & a Missing Teen: FBI Investigates Oklahoma Sheriff: Molly Miller was only 17 when she vanished in a police chase down a rural Oklahoma road. She was riding in a car driven by a local meth-head, James Conn Nipp, and he gunned it at 120 mph to leave cops in the dust. Nipp was allegedly the last person to see Miller alive that summer night in 2013. Her family never heard from her again. And they say the sheriff of Love County, where Miller went missing, never fully investigated the girl’s disappearance—perhaps because he is Nipp’s own cousin [Daily Beast]. The Sheriff pled not guilty to the charges against him [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma court stays execution for man in woman’s death: An Oklahoma appeals court has stayed the execution of a man convicted of killing a 24-year-old woman while a mandatory appeal of his conviction and sentence are pending. The court on Tuesday issued the appeal for 49-year-old Albert Johnson. District Judge Donald Deason set a Sept. 19 execution, but noted it will likely be years before Johnson is put to death [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Health Departments Prepare For Zika Research, Concerns: The CDC gave to Oklahoma $302,000 on Thursday to help fight Zika. The funds come from about $60 million being divided up and given to states across the country. This comes on the heels of the first possible Zika case contracted here in the U.S. The health department in Tulsa County tests for diseases in mosquitoes and is preparing for the possibility of Zika [News9].

S&P Drops Kansas Credit Rating, Citing Ongoing Budget Issues: A major rating agency on Tuesday downgraded Kansas’ credit rating for the second time in two years because of the state’s budget problems. S&P Global Ratings dropped its rating for Kansas to AA-, from AA, three months after putting the state on a negative credit watch. S&P also dropped the state’s credit rating in August 2014. Forty-one states now have a higher rating from S&P, and only three — Illinois, New Jersey and Kentucky — have worse ratings. The ratings agency cited the state’s lack of cash reserves, even after multiple rounds of budget adjustments over the past year [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“If we are going to be a state that attracts the brightest and most capable women in the country to work in industry and business, we need to make sure as a state we are showing that we value a woman’s work. The least we can do in that regard is to make sure we have equal pay for equal work in Oklahoma.”

-Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City), who plans to reintroduce a bill to reduce the wage gap between men and women (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of grocery stores and produce vendors per 10,000 people in Oklahoma. The national rate is 2.2.

Source: Opportunity Index

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What an Affordable Housing Moonshot Would Look Like: America has never really tried to ensure that all its residents have access to decent and affordable housing. The closest we ever came was in 1949, when Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which he said would establish “as a national objective the achievement…of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.” Today, that objective is as remote as it has ever been. The consequences have been tragic for many poor families, all the more so because of the invisibility of their suffering [Slate].

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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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