In The Know: As some states curb high fines, Oklahoma’s go even higher

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

As some states curb high fines, Oklahoma’s go even higher: When riots erupted two years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, some of the tension in the black community was blamed on the city’s use of court fines and fees that burdened many low-income people with debts they could not pay. Since then, Missouri has reduced the maximum fines for traffic tickets and other violations and limited the share of city budgets supported by fees. California and other states also adopted reforms, offering amnesty to some indigent offenders with large debts. Oklahoma made changes too, but its lawmakers went the other direction [Associated Press]. Oklahoma went the wrong way on fines and fees during the 2016 legislative session [OK Policy].

Section 8 housing voucher freeze hits Oklahoma City’s poorest residents hardest: Last March, about the time she and her husband were splitting up, Stacy Pece says she walked into the Oklahoma City Housing Authority and filled out an application for housing assistance. Six months later, Pece, 33, is living at the City Rescue Mission, an Oklahoma City homeless shelter, waiting to hear back from the housing authority. She guesses she’s called the agency about 200 times, looking for an update on the status of her application. She hasn’t heard back, she said [NewsOK]. Even though Oklahoma is considered an affordable place to live, housing costs are still unaffordable for many lower wage earners [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Transportation Department to share in returned funds: Flummoxed state transportation officials got the relief they were looking for Tuesday. State finance officials reversed course and said the Transportation Department is entitled to get back $11.35 million, after all. The money will be used to improve roads and bridges. “We’re delighted that everything worked out,” Mike Patterson, the Transportation Department’s executive director, said Tuesday [NewsOK].

Prosperity Policy: Public supports make a difference: Next week, the U.S. Census Bureau will release its annual report on poverty and we will learn that a disturbing number of households, nationally and in Oklahoma, are falling short of making enough money to provide for their basic needs. The report will undoubtedly set off recriminations about the persistence of poverty despite decades of government action to combat it. It will be important to remember that federal and state supports in fact make a huge difference in making sure that hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans of all age can make ends meet [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Despite mayor, governor, Oklahoma lags other states for female leadership: State Rep. Bessie McColgin had nine children. Her youngest son was born a month before she left her home in western Oklahoma to head to Oklahoma City where she served in Legislature from 1920-21, according to Women had won the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920, and a brood of kids wasn’t going to stop McColgin from taking on the responsibility of leadership. With the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women a voice at the polls, it looked like Oklahoma was paying attention [Norman Transcript]. Here’s where women are winning political office in Oklahoma [OK Policy].

School borrowing device in question: Public schools are hundreds of millions of dollars in debt through a risky and possibly unconstitutional financing scheme, school finance experts said Wednesday. Several districts have approved lease revenue bonds to pay for new buildings and equipment, but Clarence G. Oliver told lawmakers there’s no legal authority. Oliver, who is a former Broken Arrow superintendent and retired Oral Roberts University professor, said lease revenue bonds are also being used to circumvent debt limits [Journal Record].

Restoring funding to competitive grant pool a must for education: All across the state, evidence-based programs have been implemented in our schools to help ensure Oklahoma students are college and career ready when they graduate. These programs have supported literacy education; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and professional development for Oklahoma educators, just to name a few. But these programs stopped July 1 when the new fiscal year began [Jennifer Lepard / Tulsa World].

Hofmeister: ‘Low, uncompetitive’ teacher pay should have been addressed by lawmakers, not ballot petitioners: State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister on Wednesday said she “regrets” that lawmakers didn’t tackle the issue of teacher compensation before the matter ended up on a ballot initiative she believes is less than ideal. If State Question 779 fails in a November vote, Hofmeister vowed to continue her fight for a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers, saying Oklahoma’s “low, uncompetitive” teacher pay is to blame for the state’s deepening teacher shortage and desperate measures like four-day school weeks [Tulsa World].

SQ 777 contentious among ag, environmental advocates: In the upcoming Nov. 8 election, voters may be confronted with a couple of state questions with which they are not familiar. But one has been a topic of discussion in Cherokee County for the past year: State Question 777. SQ 777 is the “Right to Farm” measure, which would add language to the state constitution stating the Oklahoma Legislature must meet a higher compelling-interest standard to pass agricultural and ranching regulations. The protections would not apply to easements, rights-of-way, eminent domain, or any regulatory measure passed before Dec. 31, 2014 [Tahlequah Daily Press]. Read about the state questions on the November ballot [OK Policy].

SQ 777 eases the way for puppy mills and dirty water: My passion for the gridiron is well known. What a lot of people don’t know about me is my love of animals. My wife, Becky, and I own several dogs and they are a big part of our life. We have trained working dogs, and we own others that are being trained for search and rescue missions. We’ve also rescued many dogs over the years who were abused or neglected and we do whatever we can to elevate animal welfare, including facilitating adoptions [Barry Switzer / Tulsa World].

Oklahomans Show Support for Native Americans Fighting North Dakota Oil Pipeline: Some Oklahoma Indian tribes are supporting the protest of the Dakota Access oil pipeline that is being built across North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois. The Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma recently sent volunteers as well as donations of food, water and other supplies to the protesters who include a large population of Native Americans who have created an encampment outside one town [OK Energy Today].

Hundreds turn out to hear experts speak, take questions at earthquake forum: The vast majority of people at a public forum on earthquakes Wednesday night raised their hands to show that they felt the record temblor centered near Pawnee on Saturday. Well over 200 people flowed into a conference room in the Student Union at the University of Tulsa to hear a panel of experts discuss Oklahoma’s shaky situation and for a question-and-answer session [Tulsa World].

Magnitudes for Oklahoma earthquakes shift upward, new record: The U.S. Geological Survey is updating the official magnitude of the September 3, 2016 Pawnee, Oklahoma earthquake to MW 5.8 (from 5.6), making it Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake to date. The magnitude revision is based on further in-depth analysis of seismic recordings. Changes in estimated magnitude for an earthquake are common in the hours-to-days following the event, as more data are analyzed in greater detail than is possible in the first minutes after the earthquake occurs [KSWO].

Online library for high school teachers, families launched: The launch of the first-of-its-kind Oklahoma Library of Digital Resources was announced Wednesday morning. The new, online library contains free and low-cost digital resources and technology tools that teachers and families can use to cater to students’ individual academic needs, all in an effort to help schools save on costs and improve student achievement. Timing is critical because Oklahoma schools have larger class sizes and less money to provide classroom resources, Hime said [Tulsa World].

County budget approved on wrong figures leaves $165k hole: The last time the Stephens County Commissioners and Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board got news of a miscalculation on their projected budget for Fiscal Year 2016-2017, they received good news. Instead of having to cut $1 million from the various departments under the county umbrella it was only $300,000. However, after meeting Aug. 25 and approving the budgets, the county received some bad news from budget maker Kerry John Patten, CPA. Jenny Moore, County Clerk, said there had been a mistake after the meeting [Pauls Valley Democrat].

Quote of the Day

“I try not to get overwhelmed by my past, because I know the end result is I go back to prison. And then when you get out, you still owe, but then you owe more.”

-Tim Yarbrough, an Oklahoma City resident who owes more than $5,000 in fines and fees after serving two years in prison for drug possession (Source)

Number of the Day


Estimated number of Oklahoma children lifted above the poverty line by government safety net programs each year, reducing Oklahoma’s child poverty rate from 28.5 percent to 10.2 percent.

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why American Schools Are Even More Unequal Than We Thought: Education is deeply unequal in the United States, with students in poor districts performing at levels several grades below those of children in richer areas. Yet the problem is actually much worse than these statistics show, because schools, districts and even the federal government have been using a crude yardstick for economic hardship. A closer look reveals that the standard measure of economic disadvantage — whether a child is eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in school — masks the magnitude of the learning gap between the richest and poorest children [New York Times].

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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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