Weekly Wonk: Fact Check: Has Oklahoma’s larceny rate skyrocketed since SQ 780 was passed in 2016? | Budget transparency progressing, but needs all players on board | The people’s legislative authority

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

Has Oklahoma’s larceny rate skyrocketed since SQ 780 was passed in 2016? No.: The data shared during recent legislative debates was wrong. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data shows all forms of property crimes in Oklahoma have steadily decreased for decades—including larceny-theft and shoplifting. [Cole Allen / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Budget transparency progressing, but needs all players on board: The Oklahoma Senate held true to its word about passing a budget proposal before the end of March, nearly two months sooner than has been the norm. While this is a welcomed step towards making this vital process more public, we now need the House leadership to address budget issues with similar vigor. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma Constitution allows for people to legislate themselves through initiative petition (Capitol Update): Quite often, some legislators who disagree with the decisions the people have made, try to change the rules for initiative petitions to diminish the people’s legislative authority. Seems like a bad idea. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy in the News

1.3 million Oklahomans at risk, Oklahoma landlords can legally retaliate against renters: Oklahoma is one of six states where landlords can legally retaliate against tenants. OK Policy’s Senior Infrastructure and Access Policy Analyst Sabine Brown spoke to KTUL News 8 Tulsa about the misconception that Oklahoma has laws in place to protect renters from landlord retaliation. [KTUL]

Upcoming Opportunities

April 25, 9:00 a.m. [Thursday]


Join advocates and community activists from all across the state on Thursday, April 25, for our 2024 Day of Action at the State Capitol, hosted by OK Policy and Together Oklahoma. Tap into your political power and work toward changes that make our communities safer, healthier, and more equitable. [REGISTER TODAY]

Weekly What’s That

Initiative Petition

Oklahoma citizens have the right to initiate statewide legislation via ballot measures, or State Questions, as either statutory or constitutional amendments.

After an initiative petition is drafted, it goes through a lengthy process which can include various legal challenges. To qualify for the ballot, a citizen-initiated statutory amendment requires signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of the votes cast at the last general election for the Office of Governor (currently 92,262 signatures based on the 2022 gubernatorial election), while a constitutional amendment requires 15 percent (currently 172,993 signatures). Citizens also have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum.  Once a petition has been determined to have a sufficient number of signatures and meets all other requirements, the Governor has the authority to call a special election to decide the petition or to place it on the ballot at the time of the next primary or general election.

Between 1989 and 2014, only 12 initiative petitions qualified for the ballot; of these, five passed and seven failed. Three initiative petitions were on the 2016 ballot.  SQ 779, raising the sales tax to fund education, failed, while two criminal justice reform measures – SQ 780 and SQ 781 – passed. In 2018, two initiative petitions made it on the ballot: SQ 788, legalizing medical marijuana passed in June, while SQ 793, allowing for optometrists and opticians to practice in retail stores, was defeated in November. In June 2020, voters opted to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income adults by approving SQ 802, while an initiative petition aimed at prohibiting a convicted person’s former felony convictions from being used to calculate future punishments (SQ 805) was defeated in November 2020. An initiative petition to allow recreational use marijuana, SQ 820, gathered sufficient signatures but failed to meet the deadline to appear on the November 2022 ballot; Gov. Stitt called a special election to decide SQ 820 for March 7, 2023, where it was soundly defeated.

An initiative petition (SQ 787) was launched in 2016 to lengthen the time period to gather signatures for initiative petitions from 90 days to one year, but it failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Some legislators in recent sessions have introduced bills that would make it harder to place initiative petitions on the ballot by raising the signature threshold or by requiring that the signature threshold be met in every Congressional district or county. [Read More]

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

Quote of the Week

“National rhetoric has resurfaced on immigration during this presidential election year. The vitriol is emotional and meant to divide Americans. State and local political opportunists are using it for their own gain.”

– Tulsa World editorial focused on political stunts that are preying on and stoking fears of immigrants in our communities. [Tulsa World

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Tulsa leaders were right to reject political stunt preying on illegal immigrant fears

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and the majority of the Tulsa City Council deserve praise for fighting fear-mongering and keeping the focus on actual city problems that they can address.

National rhetoric has resurfaced on immigration during this presidential election year. The vitriol is emotional and meant to divide Americans. State and local political opportunists are using it for their own gain.

Put City Councilor Jayme Fowler in this category. He is pushing a local anti-immigration proposal that is unenforceable and unnecessary. He’s running for mayor.

Thankfully, other councilors saw through this partisan distraction and threw it out. They have more pressing matters to discuss and get done.

Fowler brought forth a proposal in early February that would have banned using city funds, either directly or indirectly, to “house, accommodate, or benefit illegal immigrants.” He later added asylum seekers.

Federal and state laws already prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining public services such as food stamps and housing subsidies. Contractors follow federal labor laws in hiring legal residents, and the city already has mechanisms to pull support from nonprofits found to be breaking immigration laws.

Tulsa immigration workers say the city hasn’t experienced an influx of illegal immigrants. Fowler has not presented local data, including financial information from Tulsa, showing that his proposal is needed.

He argues that it’s meant to be preemptive — another way of saying it’s a solution looking for a problem.

Many people share the belief that we shouldn’t reward people who don’t follow immigration laws. They are frustrated with the outdated federal system and scenes from the U.S. border, especially since national leaders are at a stalemate.

City services are largely in infrastructure and public safety. Fowler argues that the 14th Amendment provides illegal immigrants basic services such as utilities and police services. But a lot remains in doubt, including his interpretation of that amendment.

Bynum and the council majority rightfully question how such an ordinance would be enforced and how far it could be applied.

Do city officials stop runners along the River Parks to check for immigration status? How about kids swimming in city pools? Does the city post guards at public restrooms to check ID? Do public transit bus drivers check for residency?

Because the proposal includes city-supported nonprofits, homeless shelters would be forced to leave illegal immigrants on the street, and those feeding the hungry would have to let them go hungry.

The notion behind these measures is to make America unattractive to illegal immigrants. But creating inhospitable cities harms all residents.

After being presented with councilors’ concerns, Fowler came back with a worse proposal. This version added “asylum seekers,” which includes those being resettled in Tulsa from war-torn places like Afghanistan and Ukraine. By federal law, those seeking asylum are in the country legally because they are working through the immigration court process.

Frustrated, City Councilor Laura Bellis moved to reject the measure and was backed by Councilors Christian Bengel, Jeannie Cue, Vanessa Hall-Harper, Phil Lakin and Christa Patrick.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Week

  • 75.5% – Percentage of the 10,468 people held in Oklahoma jails who were being detained awaiting trial but had not posted bail. [U.S. Department of Justice’s 2019 Census of Jails via R Street]
  • 25% – Percentage of Oklahoma renting households considered extremely low income, that is whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income. This represents more than 133,000 Oklahoma households that rent. [National Low Income Housing Coalition]
  • $2.6 billion – Estimated value of the land held in permanent trust by the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office, which owns and manages about 726,000 surface acres and 1.2 million mineral acres of land in the state. In fiscal year 2023, the Commissioners of the Land Office distributed $129.4 million to common schools (K-12) and 13 colleges and universities. [National Association of State Land Trusts] | [Commissioners of the Land Office]
  • 41.5% – Percentage of people living in north Tulsa who earned at or above 200% of the poverty level in 2022, compared with 73.2% of people living in south Tulsa. [Tulsa Equality Indicators]
  • -4% – Percentage decrease in larcenies nationwide in 2023 compared to 2022. [Council on Criminal Justice]

What We’re Reading

  • Is Bail Reform Soft on Crime? Not When Done Well: Evidence-based changes focused on fairness and effectiveness make for safer communities, better uses of government resources and protection of individual freedom. Some states’ policies can serve as guideposts. [Governing]
  • Housing First Is Still the Best Approach to Ending Homelessness: Homelessness hit a record high in 2023, amid a widespread shortage of affordable housing and the end of pandemic relief programs. As homelessness has trended upward in recent years, some have falsely blamed the rise on Housing First, an approach to addressing homelessness that involves quickly moving people into housing and then providing them voluntary, individually tailored services. Misconceptions about Housing First ignore decades of evidence of its effectiveness. To end homelessness, policymakers at all levels should invest in evidence-backed solutions, such as permanent supportive housing. [Urban Institute]
  • Misplaced Trust: Signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, the Morrill Act used land taken from Indigenous nations to fund a network of colleges across the fledgling United States. By the early 20th century, grants issued under the Morrill Act had produced the modern equivalent of a half a billion dollars for land-grant institutions from the redistribution of nearly 11 million acres of Indigenous lands. But the Morrill Act is only one piece of legislation that connects land expropriated from Indigenous communities to these universities. [Daily Yonder]
  • Feds Seek to Heal Community Scars from Interstate HighwaysThe Reconnecting Communities program is giving $3.3 billion to help cities address problems caused by highways. But in most cases, the projects stop short of removing highways altogether. [Governing]
  • ‘Tough-on-crime’ policies are back in some places that had reimagined criminal justice: Policymakers are responding to public concerns over rising crime rates and heightened fear and anger due to a perceived surge in offenses such as carjackings and retail theft. To some criminal justice experts, the legislative actions represent more of a partial rollback of progressive criminal justice changes rather than a complete return to past punitive policies. [Stateline]


Annie Taylor joined OK Policy as a Digital Communications Associate/Storybanker in April 2022. She studied journalism and mass communication at the University of Oklahoma, and was a member of the Native American Journalists Association. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Strategic Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma. While pursuing her degree, she worked in restaurant and retail management, as well as freelance copywriting and digital content production. Annie is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, and holds a deep reverence for storytelling in the digital age. She was born and raised in southeast Oklahoma, and now lives in Oklahoma City with her dog, Melvin.