The Weekly Wonk: Investing in student needs | Protecting the Census | Criminal justice system: Policy notes & numbers

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

  • Undedicated higher education CARES funding should be invested in students’ immediate needs: Colleges and universities should dedicate CARES Act funding to help ensure students have access to necessities such as food and housing. This can significantly reduce the number of students forced to drop out of school due to financial hardship and help secure Oklahoma’s economic recovery in the aftermath of COVID-19. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

  • Policy Matters: Businesses led change when elected officials didn’t: While many elected officials shirked governing responsibilities to help limit the virus, I want to recognize companies and corporations who stepped forward and required masks in their places of business even when it wasn’t a community or state requirement. Small businesses throughout the state were first to respond with mask requirements, followed by national companies like Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, Lowe’s, Target, McDonald’s and more. Following the corporate announcements, it became much more common to see mask wearing in public than it had been previously. I believe the business sector leadership helped make mask wearing more socially acceptable as several communities began passing local ordinances. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

  • Reflecting on public service and ‘the highest calling’: Term limits and super-majority approval for raising taxes are relics — I would say mistakes — of the past for which an entire generation in Oklahoma and a few other states has had to pay a price. I suppose the celebration of Rep. John Lewis drew me to these thoughts because, in Oklahoma, a new generation of leaders cannot follow “the highest calling of their hearts” and choose to spend their best years “standing up for what they truly believe” through lengthy service as legislators even when their constituents would continue to elect them. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
  • OK Policy statement: Shortening Census timeline will haunt Oklahoma: On August 3, the Census Bureau announced it would cut short its operations timeline as it works to ensure a full and complete count for everyone living in the United States. The Census Bureau previously announced it would have enumerators in the field until the end of October. The recent announcement lops an additional 30 days from their efforts to reach those in hard-to-count populations, which includes our communities of color, children under age five, low-income Oklahomans, those who are experiencing homelessness, and residents in very rural areas. This decision to cut short the Census Bureau’s field efforts further diminishes the likelihood of an accurate Census count. It’s a decision that will haunt Oklahoma for the next 10 years. [Full Statement / OK Policy]

Weekly What’s That

SQ 780 and SQ 781

SQ 780 and SQ 781 were ballot initiatives approved by Oklahoma voters in 2016. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and some minor property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. SQ 781 directed the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to calculate the savings to the state of these changes and to deposit that amount into a fund used by county governments to provide substance abuse and mental health services. 

The measures went into effect on July 1, 2017. In 2019, the Legislature passed HB 1269 making the provisions of SQ 780 retroactive, which allowed those convicted of felonies for crimes that became misdemeanors following passage of SQ 780  to apply to have their sentences commuted by the Pardon and Parole Board. An initial group of over 450 inmates had their sentences commuted in November 2019.

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

Quote of the Week

“What we’ve been doing now is talking with families that are directly impacted (by the virus), so we can take the narrative away from the political, and focus on the lives that are being lost in the global pandemic and focus on how our people are having to go to the hospital and they don’t have the resources to pay for those visits.”

-Brenda Lozano, executive director of Dream Action Oklahoma, which seeks to empower the local immigrant community. The group has shifted much of its social justice work into helping Oklahoma City’s Hispanic community survive the pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

We hope SQ 805 is coming to a ballot near you soon, because it’s an idea whose time has come

Supporters of State Question 805 say their proposal to improve Oklahoma’s justice system has qualified for placement on the state’s November general election.

We hope they’re right, because SQ 805 is an idea whose time has come.

The initiative petition would change state law to prevent longer sentences for people on the basis of past nonviolent offenses. It wouldn’t affect prison time for anyone who has ever been convicted of a violent crime…

Read full editorial at Tulsa World

Numbers of the Day

  • 50% – The percentage of all unarmed Oklahomans who were Black that were killed by the Oklahoma City Police Department from 2013-2019. Overall, Black people were killed at 6.6x the rate of white people.
  • 1 in 9 – The estimated number of Oklahoma prison inmates infected with hepatitis C as of 2019.
  • 82% – The percentage of Oklahomans who enter prison with non-violent offenses who have mental health or substance abuse needs. 
  • 2.5% – Drop in the rate of violent crime reported to Oklahoma law enforcement between 2010 and 2018.
  • $435 million – The accumulated state budget savings since 2001 due to a 64 percent decline in youth detention costs.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.