In The Know: As Victims’ Rights Law Makes Ballot, Other States Grapple with Pitfalls

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.

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Today In The News

As Victims’ Rights Law Makes Ballot, Other States Grapple with Pitfalls: Oklahoma House members’ unanimous vote Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment expanding crime-victims’ rights on the 2018 ballot suggests the need for it is obvious and indisputable. “Marsy’s Law,” as it is called, would amend the constitution to both reinforce and extend the rights of all crime victims to certain treatment, information and restitution by the criminal justice system. Proponents say such laws are necessary to equalize the rights of victims with those of suspects and perpetrators. But the issue may not be as simple as it seems. In some states where a version of Marsy’s Law has passed, defense lawyers, prosecutors and even members of victims’ rights organizations have pointed to unintended negative consequences, such as delays in trials, longer case backlogs and increased costs [Oklahoma Watch]. Marsy’s Law is almost entirely the brainchild of Henry T. Nicholas, the billionaire founder of Broadcom, a company that makes semiconductors for the communications industry [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma elections: Sheriff primary, OKCPS board votes roll in: Oklahomans took to the polls Tuesday to vote in several special elections. Oklahoma County voters began the task of replacing former Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel, who recently resigned amid an investigation into his office. On the GOP ballot were interim sheriff P.D. Taylor, Darrell Sorrels, Brett Macy and Mike Christian. P.D. Taylor moved on to the general election with 34% of the vote. The Democratic ballot featured Mike Hanson and Virgil Green. Mike Hanson took the election with 53% of the vote [KOKH]. Here are unofficial results from elections across the state, including Oklahoma County Sheriff primaries, town council members, and others [NewsOK].

Funding Obligations Threaten Already Tapped State’s Rainy Day Account: Just last week, state lawmakers were surprised to find out the Rainy Day Fund is tapped. Now, another surprise; that a secret deal cut last year will cost millions this year. “Ninety percent of the Senate learned that there had been a deal from last year to only fund part of DHS for 10 months,” said Sen. John Sparks, Minority Leader. So now, they’re scrambling to find the cash to fund DHS for the last two months of the fiscal year. They’re doing that by borrowing more money from the now empty rainy day fund and the heavily tapped unclaimed property fund [News9].

Trump’s budget would hit rural towns especially hard — but they’re willing to trust him: At the Boys and Girls Club in this rural city in southern Oklahoma, the director is unsure how he will stay open if President Trump’s proposed budget goes through, eliminating money for several staff positions. Similar conversations are happening at the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival’s after-school arts program, which relies on National Endowment for the Arts grants that Trump wants to eliminate. And at the county senior center, which already lost its state funding and could lose all or most of its federal funding, too. And at the Farm Service Center, which supports 1,200 local producers and is staffed with employees whose positions were targeted in the budget [Washington Post].

In Trump Country, Shock at Trump Budget Cuts, but Still Loyalty: Rhonda McCracken is a kindergarten teacher and a Republican who voted for President Trump. Now she’s wrestling with the consequences. McCracken’s deep-rooted conservatism is matched by a passion to support Tulsa Domestic Violence Intervention Services, a nonprofit that helped her flee an ex- who she says beat and choked her, once until unconsciousness. She became teary as she described how staff members at the organization helped her and her son escape that relationship. “They saved my life, and my son’s,” she said, her eyes liquid. So she is aghast that one of Trump’s first proposals is to cut federal funds that sustain the organization [Nicholas Kristof / New York Times].

After Two Months of Growth, Gross Receipts to the Treasury Notch Downward in March: Gross Receipts to the Treasury in March fell below collections from March of last year following two months in which receipts showed marginal growth, State Treasurer Ken Miller announced today during a news conference at the State Capitol. March collections of $915 million were down by $25.5 million, or 2.7 percent, compared to March 2016 receipts. In January and February, collections grew by a combined total of $6.1 million, or 0.4 percent. Prior to January, monthly receipts had been less than the same month of the prior year for 20 consecutive months [Guymon Daily Herald].

State’s failure to fund higher education is draining the Oklahoma economy of its future: I grew up in a rural Oklahoma banking family. I learned building a successful future requires sacrifice, long-term focus, and careful attention to the bottom line. These lessons apply to our state government as well. While legislators struggle with difficult budget challenges, it is critical they take into consideration a major negative impact on Oklahoma’s bottom line: We are not producing enough college graduates to fill today’s jobs, much less Oklahoma’s future workforce needs [Bruce Benbrook / Tulsa World]. Here’s why higher education cuts are a huge threat to Oklahoma’s economy [OK Policy].

Gov. Mary Fallin says criminal justice reform important for children’s future: Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday it’s important to consider the impact that incarceration has on the children of offenders as the Legislature works through various reform bills. Last year, Fallin formed a task force to study and develop proposals to increase public safety and reduce incarceration rates. State lawmakers are considering 12 bills on those issues this year, she said. The governor held a press conference Tuesday to discuss criminal justice reform. She was joined by children from the Little Light Christian School, a tuition-free private school for children of incarcerated parents [Tulsa World].

75 undocumented immigrants arrested in Oklahoma, north Texas: Federal authorities arrested 75 undocumented immigrants during a three-day operation across north Texas and Oklahoma, seven of which occurred in Tulsa. The operation, conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, began Saturday and continued through Monday, according to a news release. The 75 immigrants arrested had prior convictions, and 52 reportedly had been convicted of more serious offenses, including DUI, child abuse, assault and numerous drug-related felonies [Tulsa World].

Mental health, substance abuse, law enforcement officials come together at drug-overdose forum: Increased access to affordable treatment and more funding for prevention would go a long way in combating near-record numbers of drug overdoses across the state, local officials say. Mental health, substance abuse and law enforcement officials discussed those and other possible solutions at a Monday night forum sponsored by Oklahoma Watch at the Central Center at Centennial Park. “We’ve been at the war on drugs for quite a while. We’ve poured billions and billions of dollars into it. How’s that working out for us?” asked Mike Brose, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma. In 2015, 862 fatal drug overdoses occurred in Oklahoma, slightly below the record 870 recorded in 2014 [Tulsa World].

School support group takes root: A group of concerned Bartlesville-area residents have started a grassroots effort on the current state of Oklahoma’s public education funding crisis. Public Education Advocates for Kids — or PEAK — started in January with a core group of seven Bartlesville residents who wanted to improve public education, retain quality teachers and encourage Oklahoma legislators to properly funded schools [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Program inspires students to consider careers in medicine: Oklahoma suffers from poor health, ranking 46th in the nation in overall health according to the United Health Foundation. Oklahoma’s poor health status can be attributed to the shortage of primary care physicians. Rural Oklahoma is disproportionately affected by this physician shortage, a news release states. In an effort to relieve the shortfall, OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa created Operation Orange, a summer traveling medical camp aimed at finding future doctors for rural Oklahoma. The idea is to inspire high school students to consider a career in medicine [Muskogee Phoenix].

Grant program aims to boost business in rural Oklahoma: Gov. Mary Fallin, i2E Inc. and seven state partners have begun a program designed to boost and diversify the state’s rural economies, the groups announced Monday. Backed by a $200,000 federal matching grant, GrowOK will begin this spring with a curriculum designed for rural communities and Native American entrepreneurs [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“It’s very easy to look at a laundry list of things that exist and say, ‘Cut, cut, cut, cut,’ and say, ‘Well, this is wasteful spending’ without really understanding the true impact. The bottom line is a lot of our citizens depend on those programs.”

-Durant City Manager Tim Rundel, warning of the consequences of deep cuts to federal programs proposed by the Trump administration (Source)

Number of the Day


Breast cancer deaths per 100,000 women in Oklahoma in 2014, down from 23.4 in 2012

Source: Commonwealth Fund

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Maternal Health Care Is Disappearing in Rural America: By the time the pregnant woman arrived at the nearest hospital with a maternity ward—90 minutes after leaving her home in Winfield, Ala.—she was ready to deliver her baby. She made it just in time, recalls Dan Avery, an obstetrician–gynecologist who tended to patients in rural Alabama and elsewhere until his recent retirement. Too often, he says, patients are not so lucky. Some have ended up delivering on the side of the road. Winfield, located in the northwestern part of the state, does have its own hospital—but, like many rural hospitals, it no longer offers obstetrical services, Avery says, so women in labor must travel about 60 miles to Tuscaloosa. When hospital budgets get tight, Avery explains, obstetrical wards are often one of the first things to go [Scientific American].

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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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