Based on feedback from residents statewide, the Oklahoma Policy Institute has developed legislative policy priorities for the upcoming 2022 legislative session that can help Oklahomans live healthier, raise thriving families, and ensure the safety of their communities.
Following the conclusion of the last legislative session in May, staff from OK Policy and its Together Oklahoma grassroots advocacy program held virtual and in-person sessions statewide to learn what our friends and neighbors have identified as the most pressing issues to their lives and livelihoods. The policy priorities were based on feedback from those sessions.
“The results of our listening sessions this summer were clear: There is far more that Oklahoma’s elected officials and policymakers can be doing to help remove the obstacles keeping Oklahomans from living well and reaching their full potential,” said OK Policy Board Chair Dr. Joe Siano. “By making better policy choices, our state can strengthen state revenue, better support public services, level the playing field along racial and economic lines, and make meaningful investments in our state’s future success.”
OK Policy Executive Director Ahniwake Rose said the policy issues — and the proposed solutions to address them — will be familiar to longtime state policy watchers because they have remained unaddressed in recent years.
“Year after year, we are hearing directly from Oklahomans about the issues that affect their quality of life and the well-being of their families and loved ones,” Rose said. “We will continue to shine the light on these needs during the upcoming session, and we encourage residents who want to see change to start conversations in their communities and with their elected officials.”
OK Policy will monitor issues related to these policy areas during the upcoming Oklahoma Legislative session, which starts Feb. 7.
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In just its first few months, Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma has provided life-changing access to health care to more than 200,000 residents. It also is providing a financial return to the state through the injection of new federal tax dollars alongside the economic impact from job creation, new tax revenue, and increased economic impact. The program’s long-term effectiveness will depend on ensuring qualifying residents maintain coverage without unnecessary barriers to care. Doing so will help protect the health of Oklahomans while maximizing the investment Oklahoma is making to improve the state’s health outcomes. Oklahoma’s state health care program has been recognized for its historic efficiency and effectiveness for decades, and policymakers should avoid introducing changes, such as the privatization of the state’s Medicaid program, that would increase administrative costs and result in unnecessary barriers to care.
- Ensure prompt, consistent, and equitable access to Medicaid for all Oklahomans who qualify
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Oklahoma continues to maintain one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, but this has not made our residents more safe. What our punishment-first models have done, however, is break up families, worsen racial disparities, and extract millions of dollars annually in court fines and fees from the state’s poorest communities.
Due to systematic underinvesting by the lawmakers, Oklahoma’s courts and public safety services have become increasingly dependent on a vast array of fines and fees that pay for even the most basic operational costs. The burden for these fines and fees overwhelmingly fall on the backs of low-income residents, our state’s communities of color, and rural Oklahomans. These excessive fines and fees create significant harm for those who are unable to pay these costs, get re-arrested, and stay trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty.
Beyond just how our justice system is funded, Oklahoma’s correctional system can make strategic investments that would help break the carceral cycle for justice-involved Oklahomans. The collateral consequences of a criminal record make it harder for Oklahomans to find good paying jobs, to keep a home, and to keep food on the table. The opportunity to seal old arrest records and convictions with “Clean Slate” expungement would be transformative for thousands of families across the state. A key investment would be providing a comprehensive supervision and reentry system to help encourage the success of individuals who are justice involved. Oklahoma can also address the root causes of crime by following through on promises to deliver mental health and substance use disorder treatments in our communities to residents who need it. Implementing criminal justice reforms and increasing access to health and wellness services can assist law enforcement in focusing their efforts on reducing crime and ensuring public safety for every community in Oklahoma.
- Fund criminal courts and court services through appropriated revenue so that Oklahoma’s courts are not reliant on fines and fees from low-income families
- Construct a supervision and reentry system that allows Oklahomans who are justice involved to build better futures
- Reduce collateral consequences of incarceration through increased access to job training, education, and automatic expungement
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Oklahoma’s public policies are failing many of our state’s families and children. Too many children live in poverty, which risks lifelong limits on their education, health, and happiness. Through legislative choices made during the past two decades, Oklahoma lawmakers now have about 22 percent less — about $2.1 billion annually — to invest in the shared programs and services that can help support our families and children who need it. This resulted in significant underinvestment in our schools, our health, our communities, and our residents.
At the same time, our state’s tax system requires low- and middle-class taxpayers to carry a higher proportional tax burden, which further limits opportunities to get ahead. Oklahoma’s tax policy choices contribute to and perpetuate inequities based on race, ethnicity, gender, and location, making it harder for historically marginalized groups to catch up and get ahead. Changes in Oklahoma’s approach to public policy can dramatically improve the trajectory for Oklahoma families and children.
- Expand refundable tax credits to empower low-income Oklahoma families to better support themselves and their communities
- Ensure adequate and stable revenue for Oklahoma’s social insurance programs
- Strengthen Oklahoma’s democracy through a transparent and equitable state budgeting process