In The Know: For thousands of Oklahomans, civil justice is out of reach

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

For Thousands of Oklahomans, Civil Justice Is Out of Reach: Attorney Janet Roloff pauses as she tries to estimate what it would cost David and Minnie Harris if she had billed them for the hours she’s worked representing them in their mobile-home foreclosure case. “For three years of litigation against major corporations?” she asks, seated behind a cluttered desk in the McAlester field office for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “You know, I’d have to say least a hundred thousand dollars.” That is well beyond the reach of the Harrises, a Fort Towson couple whose only income is Social Security disability payments. Still, Roloff is unsure her pro bono work will pay off [Oklahoma Watch].

Suicide care crisis follows years of underfunding: Francie Moss hit roadblocks as she tried to help her adult daughter get treatment for suicidal thoughts. She said she was frustrated in part because of the stigma associated with brain illnesses, and those diseases are treated differently than other illnesses. But it’s complicated and expensive to treat patients with mental health and substance abuse issues, said Mary Holloway Richard, health care attorney at Phillips Murrah. And Oklahoma’s agency that provides services for people who can’t pay for private services has been underfunded for decades. Hospital medical treatment for suicidal behavior is woefully inadequate, in some cases, Moss said. She said many hospitals will keep a suicidal patient for only three to five days [Journal Record].

Innocence Project exonerees recall 22 years behind bars: For most of us, an incredible number of life events took place between 1994 and 2016. Marriages, babies, vacations, job changes. For De’Marchoe Carpenter and Malcolm Scott, those 22 years included days that mostly looked the same — exercising, watching TV, writing letters, praying — all while incarcerated for a crime neither man committed. Carpenter and Scott have been back out in the free world since May 9, a date that will forever be etched in their minds. That was the day Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes announced the two men — accused and convicted of killing 19-year-old single mom Karen Summers — were to be freed after 22 years in prison [NonDoc].

Oklahoma should develop execution protocol for nitrogen gas, AG Scott Pruitt says: Pruitt said states across the nation, including Oklahoma, have found it difficult to obtain drugs to administer lethal injections because manufacturers put restrictions on the use of the drugs. “It will be a continuing problem,” he said. As a result, the state should develop a protocol for the use of nitrogen gas, Pruitt said. No state has ever used nitrogen gas in an execution, but some researchers have suggested a protocol that would use a clinical plastic face mask connected by tubing to a canister of nitrogen gas rather than a gas chamber [Tulsa World].

Mumps returns amid vaccination reluctance: Child care workers are on the front lines of battling communicable diseases. That’s why child care center owners must make sure the children and workers are vaccinated. Immunizations can save billions by keeping people well, avoiding lost productivity when children are sick, according to a 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Thomas Kuhls with Norman Pediatric Associates said state laws are the most effective tool in ensuring people get vaccines. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sept. 14 confirmed four mumps cases in Garfield County after two Enid Public Schools students showed symptoms. There have been 14 cases confirmed since the initial outbreak, including one in Kay County, said Health Department spokesman Corey Robertson [Journal Record].

Oklahoma saw one of biggest unemployment increases over the year: Oklahoma has had one of the largest unemployment rates increases in the nation over the past year, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Labor. Oklahoma was tied with Pennsylvania for the second highest unemployment rate increase for the 12 months ending in August. Both states saw a 0.8 point increase in unemployment since August 2015. Wyoming had the largest unemployment rate increase over the year at 1.2 percentage points [NewsOK].

Oklahoma joins legal challenge to federal overtime rule: Oklahoma joined 20 other states Tuesday in a legal challenge to a federal rule making millions more white- collar workers eligible for overtime pay. The states claim the rule, set to go into effect Dec. 1, will raise their payroll costs to the point that state services will have to be reduced. Employers generally don’t have to pay overtime to salaried white-collar workers making more than $23,660 a year. But that threshold will nearly double under the new rule, and workers making up to $47,476 a year will be eligible for overtime after 40 hours of work in a week [NewsOK]. In Oklahoma, an estimated 70,000 workers, or 4.4 percent of the total workforce, would benefit, which is the highest share of total employed of any state [OK Policy].

OU fraternity under review for protester confrontation: The national chapter of a University of Oklahoma fraternity is looking into the way its members treated Native American protesters gathered at a rally Saturday. There was a confrontation between Phi Delta Theta members and participants in an anti-Donald Trump protest at the corner of Chautauqua Avenue and Timberdell Road. Fraternity members told a group of protesters, many of whom were of Native American descent, that they had to move out from the shade of a tree that was on Phi Delta Theta property. The fraternity house sits next to the sidewalk area where protesters were gathered [Norman Transcript].

Police say PCP found in vehicle occupied by Terence Crutcher: The attorney for the Tulsa police officer who fatally shot Crutcher had said Monday that the officer, Betty Shelby, thought he was acting like he might be under the influence of that drug. Homicide Sgt. Dave Walker, who confirmed that a vial of PCP was found, declined to say where in the vehicle investigators recovered it, nor did he say whether officers determined that Crutcher, 40, had used it Friday evening [Tulsa World]. Attorneys for Terence Crutcher’s family held a news conference Tuesday to address what they called misinformation reported by Tulsa police initially after he was fatally shot by a police officer. Attorney Benjamin Crump said he wanted to draw the public’s attention to the notion initially suggested by police that Crutcher had reached into his vehicle shortly before he was shot [Tulsa World].

Study: Oklahoma ranks 4th in rate of women killed by men: A new study says Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation in the rate of women killed by men. The study released Tuesday by the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Violence Policy Center says women were killed by men at a rate of 1.94 per 100,000 in 2014, the most recent year information is available. The study says 38 women were killed by men in Oklahoma in 2014. It was the fourth year in a row that Oklahoma was among the top 10 states for women killed by men [Associated Press].

Oklahoma Gasoline Prices Continue to Fall, Reaching $2.03 a gallon average: Gasoline prices have dropped back down to a new statewide average of $2.03 a gallon in Oklahoma according to AAA Oklahoma. That’s 12 cents lower than the $2.15 range reported over the past few months. It’s also 4 cents a gallon cheaper than the price recorded just four weeks ago. Nationally, the average is $2.21 a gallon, 3 cents higher than last week and 8 cents more expensive than last month. The cheapest gasoline is in Lawton and Muskogee where motorists are finding $1.90 a gallon prices [OK Energy Today].

Are Teachers Unhappier in Oklahoma?: The narrative of teachers leaving Oklahoma for higher pay in surrounding states may not be the whole story. According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute, Oklahoma teachers actually report higher than average levels of job satisfaction in the areas of classroom autonomy and administrative support despite their relatively low salaries. While teacher pay in Oklahoma was among the lowest across the states, the researchers found that teachers here rate their job satisfaction higher than some surrounding states such as Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada [Oklahoma Watch]. For the period from 2006-2014, about 35 percent of Oklahoma first-year teachers left their school and 17 percent left the public school system altogether; Oklahoma’s 17 percent attrition rate for first-year teachers compares to just 11 percent in Texas [OK Policy].

OSSBA director: SQ 779 is a chance to invest in Oklahoma schoolchildren: Inspiration and affirmation can originate anywhere — even social media. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” When I came across this quote from author Simon Sinek while browsing Twitter, I immediately thought about the daunting challenges facing the leaders of our state, the leaders of our schools and the leaders in our classrooms. Nothing makes the challenges clearer than the results of the teacher shortage survey the Oklahoma State School Boards Association conducted in August [Shawn Hime / NewsOK].

Oklahoma, Arkansas get share of $28.4 million in US education grants: The Advanced Placement grants announced on Tuesday were issued to 41 states as well as Washington, D.C., and will help defray the cost of taking advanced placement tests for students from low-income families. The Oklahoma State Department of Education will receive $315,375 in grant money. Federal officials say subsidizing test fees encourages all students to take advanced placement tests and obtain college credit for high school courses, reducing the time and cost required to complete a postsecondary degree [KOCO].

‘Washington Monthly’ names USAO best bang for the buck: Recently recognized by Washington Monthly, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma once again demonstrates the cost-effective value of its undergraduate education to the state, students and their families. Washington Monthly, an independent, nonprofit magazine based in Washington, D.C., ranked USAO 11th on its 2017 list of the 100 Best Bang for the Buck colleges and universities among southern states and in the top 25 percent of all schools nationally. USAO is the highest ranked in Oklahoma. The Best Bang for the Buck ranking is based on the extent to which an institution provides low and moderate income students a reasonable price for a quality education and retains them through graduation while they earn a degree that will advance them in their careers [Edmond Sun].

Earthquake with 4.3 magnitude strikes northern Oklahoma: The U.S. Geological Survey says a 4.3-magnitude earthquake struck extreme northern Oklahoma late Monday and was widely felt throughout parts of Kansas. No injuries or damage were reported. The earthquake was centered near the town of Wakita, which is right on the state’s border with Kansas and is about 100 miles north of Oklahoma City. The USGS says the quake was felt in Wichita and other parts of Kansas. Scientists have linked Oklahoma’s sharp increase in earthquakes to the underground injection of wastewater by oil and gas companies [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“Equal justice under law is a phrase etched on the façade of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. That is a promise we have not kept. But we can do better, and we will do better.”

-David Riggs, an attorney and former legislator who chairs the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, which found that the lack of civil representation for low-income Oklahomans is a crisis that is “shocking in its depth and breadth” (Source).

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s ranking for the percentage of funding of PreK-12 public schools that comes from the federal government (11.4%).

Source: US Census

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Underestimation of America’s Preschool Teachers: Existing brain science backs up what educators could only theorize in the 1970s: The first five years of a child’s life are key to their overall brain development. What children learn before age 5—both academic skills like critical thinking and social skills like taking turns—sets the stage for the rest of their lives. The single most important element in capitalizing on that crucial window is who provides education in those years, said Marcy Whitebook, the director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. “People don’t tend to think teaching young children [is] as complex work as teaching older children, but in fact, it is,” Whitebook said. “It’s hard for people to see that because of the nature of young children and because we have a historical approach that anybody can do it.” [The Atlantic]

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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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