The Weekly Wonk: Congress needs to deliver bipartisan relief bill | State moving away from private prisons | More

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Policy Matters: ‘Skinny’ relief bill is inadequate: As of Friday, it will have been 24 weeks since Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March. If executed correctly, that would have been the first of several relief packages to provide much-needed support for families harmed by the pandemic, while also shoring up the fiscal health of our state, local and tribal governments. In the months since the CARES Act passed, we kept looking to Washington for progress. Instead, all we’ve gotten is politics. [Ahniwake Rose / Policy Matters]

Oklahoma’s move away from private prisons (Capitol Update): Early commutations and perhaps other causes have decreased the total Oklahoma inmate population by a bit more 3,000 this year. Interestingly, although they house less than one-third of ODOC inmates, more than half of the decrease in population was taken from the private prisons. By the end of August, the private facilities were operating at 72 percent capacity, having started the year at 93 percent. A 72 percent capacity likely makes the private facilities difficult, if not impossible, to profitably sustain. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

Weekly What’s That

Legislative Referendum

A legislative referendum is the mechanism by which the Oklahoma Legislature can submit a constitutional amendment or statutory change to a vote of the people. A legislatively-initiated ballot measure, or State Question, must take the form of a Senate or House Joint Resolution and be approved by a simple majority vote in both chambers. It does not require the Governor’s approval.

Once received by the Secretary of State, each legislative referendum is designated a State Question number and a Legislative Referendum number. Copies are delivered to the Governor and State Election Board to issue the Election Proclamation and place the measure on the ballot for a vote of the people at the time of the next general election. The Attorney General has the responsibility to review the measure’s ballot title and may rewrite the ballot title if he determines that the title proposed in the legislation does not meet requirements.

Since 1989, there have been 76 State Questions referred to the people by the Legislature (including four in 2018), of which all but seven have been constitutional amendments

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“If we ever want to see progress and change, we can’t ignore the stories of the unheard and oppressed. We have to look at ugly truths. We can’t make the choice to hide it away for the students.”

-Eric Parker, a social studies teacher at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City [The Frontier

Editorial of the Week

Oklahomans deserve transparency from state leaders

(T)he governor’s office rejected criticism about his administration’s lack of transparency, citing an A-plus rating from the COVID Tracking Project for data transparency. Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said the governor has been as honest and transparent as possible, and his administration releases detailed county-level data and specific guidance for elected officials. 

That was news to members of the Muskogee City-County Coronavirus Task Force, which was assembled in March to craft a local mitigation plan in the absence of a unified response led by federal or state officials. The task force sent a letter to the governor, expressing their frustration with the lack of information and leadership provided by the governor during this pandemic.  

The letter was sent after the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reported an outbreak of more than 700 new COVID-19 cases at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft. Local task force members cited the difficulty of enforcing local mandates when commuters contribute to a 50% increase in the city’s daytime population as an example for the need of leadership at the state level. 

[Read the full editorial from the Muskogee Phoenix]

Numbers of the Day

  • $1.70 – Added to the economy from each $1.00 in federal assistance to state and local governments.
  • 4 million – Expected number of state and local employees nationally who will be laid off without additional federal aid to governments, according to Moody’s Analytics.
  • $0 – The amount of previous federal COVID-19 relief money that could be used to address Oklahoma’s $2.1 billion revenue shortfall.
  • $290 billion – Expected shortfall in state budgets nationally due to COVID-19.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Denying Federal Aid to State, Local Governments Could Put Neediest Residents at Risk [ABC News]
  • How COVID-19 is Driving Big Job Losses in State and Local Government [Pew Trusts]
  • The Way Out Through State and Local Aid [Economic Policy Institute]
  • A Conversation with Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen [NPR]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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