Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma voters deserve choices at the polls | HB 4063 provides only politically practical way to increase sheriff’s department salaries given local revenue limitations | Lawmakers should pass laws based on data

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: Oklahoma voters deserve choices at the polls: One of the great features of our democratic government is choosing who best represents our voice in government. For too many Oklahoma voters, however, these choices will be made for them simply because no one else showed up to file for elected office. For Oklahomans who have felt the call to public service, I encourage you to throw your hat into the ring. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Capitol Update: HB 4063 provides only politically practical way to increase sheriff’s department salaries given local revenue limitations in Oklahoma: House Bill 4063 would establish a grant program to provide state funding for county sheriff’s offices to bring salaries of the sheriffs, deputies, and jailers around the state. Due to local revenue restrictions, state funding might be only politically available solution to more fully fund some local law enforcement agencies. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Upcoming Opportunities

Day of Action at the Capitol

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. [Learn More] | [Register]

Day of Action at the Capitol

Second Floor Rotunda | Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 N Lincoln Blvd. | Oklahoma City
Check-in begins at 9:00 a.m. | Event starts at 10:00 a.m.



Oklahoma Summer Policy Institute

OK Policy’s Oklahoma Summer Policy Institute (SPI) brings together highly-qualified college students, recent graduates, and new policy professionals for a four-day learning experience that informs participants about Oklahoma’s policy landscape and provides tools and resources to create change in our state. Apply by Sunday, May 12. [Learn More & Apply]

Weekly What’s That

Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8)

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (also known as Housing Choice Voucher Program Section 8) is the nation’s largest housing assistance program. Under the program, eligible recipients receive housing vouchers that they can use to rent apartments or homes from participating landlords. Voucher recipients are responsible for paying 30 percent of a unit’s housing costs, with the voucher covering the remainder of the rest up to a limit, called a payment standard, that is based on local estimates of fair market rate. Seventy-five percent of new recipients of vouchers must have “extremely low income,” defined as below the federal poverty level or 30 percent of the area median income, whichever is higher.

The Section 8 program is operated nationally by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in partnership with some 2,170 state and local public housing agencies (PHAs). In Oklahoma, Section 8 vouchers are administered by the Oklahoma Housing Finance Authority and by some 105 local PHAs that are responsible for establishing fair market rate standards and verifying that rental units meet federal housing quality standards. Each agency has a cap on the number of vouchers it administers.

Nationally, housing choice vouchers serve some 5 million people, of whom 40 percent are children and 13 percent are over the age of 62. The program has been shown to sharply reduce homelessness, lift more than a million people above the poverty line, and give families more options of where to live.  However, due to funding limitations, all federal housing assistance programs combined serve only about 1 in 4 households that would qualify for assistance.

In addition to vouchers that can be used to rent units that tenants select, up to 30 percent of vouchers can be used for subsidies — called project-based vouchers — that are tied to a particular property rather than a particular family and thus can help pay for the construction or rehabilitation of housing for people with low incomes. Project-based vouchers serve some 245,000 households nationally.

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

Quote of the Week

“We are grateful that our now-weary bodies have held on long enough to witness an America, and an Oklahoma, that provides Race Massacre survivors with the opportunity to access the legal system. Many have come before us who have knocked and banged on the courthouse doors only to be turned around or never let through the door.”

– Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Ford Fletcher, the last two known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in a joint statement to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which will soon determine whether these Survivors can be impeded from pursuing justice for one of the most egregious racial atrocities in US history. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Op-Ed of the Week

Opinion, Rep. Meloyde Blancett: Without a county jail data-collection system, Oklahoma lawmakers are passing bills based on emotion

Should Oklahoma legislators make laws based on facts? I know that sounds like a stupid question, but I was facing this a few weeks ago when asked to vote on House Bill 3694, which would lower the felony threshold for theft of retail merchandise to $500 from $1,000, which easily passed off the House floor and will be heard in the Senate soon.

We were told that since the passage of State Question 780, which raised the threshold to $1,000, shoplifting had exploded. I’ve even heard thieves are now carrying calculators to be sure stolen goods total less than the threshold to keep their misdeeds in the misdemeanor range.

So I was looking at my voting buttons, not sure what to do because I did support SQ 780, but I also think public safety is important and unlawful behavior has to be addressed.

I ended up voting no on the bill, but honestly, it was more on a hunch because we didn’t have actual data. We just had anecdotal information driven more by perception and emotion.

As it turns out, after some digging, I found that larceny is actually down in Oklahoma, dropping 21% from 2016 to 2022.

I’m not denigrating supporters of this bill because they thought the policy was logical. But because we didn’t have data and statistical facts, we now are on track to increase the felony theft threshold for the entire state. That will add hundreds of low-level offenders, many of whom are first-time, into our county jails and prisons to the tune of about $7 million more a year.

Additionally, lawmakers haven’t even followed through on our obligation to fund the diversion programs required by the companion State Question 781. Voters sent us a mandate to take savings from incarcerating fewer people and give it to counties for diversion and treatment programs.

Instead, we are back to pouring new money into incarceration.

This is why facts and data matter greatly, particularly in making laws.

Had we had a better understanding of the data around retail theft levels, we would have had a better conversation around effective deterrent actions…

[Read the full op-ed from Rep. Meloyde Blancett at the Tulsa World website]

Numbers of the Day

  • 44% – Percentage of Tulsans experiencing homelessness who said that lack of affordable housing was the top reason that contributed to their homelessness. [Housing Solutions Tulsa
  • 1 in 4 – In Oklahoma’s 2022 general elections, incumbents did not face an opponent in a primary election in nearly 1 in 4 races (24.8%) that year. [Ballotpedia]
  • 19.6% – Only 1 in 5 Oklahoma voters (19.6 percent) had choices of candidates during 2022’s primary elections for the state legislature. [Ballotpedia
  • 26% – Percentage increase of people experiencing homelessness in Tulsa during a January 2024 point-in-time count when compared to the previous year. [Housing Solutions]

What We’re Reading

  • Dismantling the Harmful, False Narrative That Homelessness Is a Choice: When asked what the most common misconception is about people experiencing homelessness, Mental Health Center of Denver supportive housing provider Takisha Keesee knew her answer right away: “That they want to be homeless.” This myth enables apathy and maintains the nation’s status quo of too many people experiencing homelessness in an urgent affordable housing crisis. On any given night in the US, about 550,000 people experience homelessness, and almost 89,000 are chronically homeless. Almost 200,000 people live unsheltered in the US. Many times, people sleep outside because it is simply their best option. This doesn’t mean they are choosing to be homeless. It means they don’t have a lot of other choices. [Urban Institute]

  • Policing Doesn’t End Homelessness. Supportive Housing Does: Unsheltered homelessness is on the rise amid a systemic and widespread lack of affordable housing, supportive services, and livable wages. As the housing crisis worsens, homelessness has become increasingly visible and, as a result, increasingly dominant as a public concern. Instead of addressing the issue’s root causes—a lack of housing and supportive services—many cities have leaned into punitive responses that criminalize homelessness, such as arresting people for sitting or sleeping in certain public places. But this approach is costly and ineffective. Police don’t solve homelessness, they only move it around—to other neighborhoods, jails, and emergency rooms—rather than connecting people with the housing and services they need. [Housing Matters]

  • Political Intimidation Threatens Diversity in State and Local Office: Officeholders across gender and race are experiencing abuse, but among local officeholders, the amount of abuse is disproportionately high for women and people of color. They were also more likely than white men to have their families targeted for abuse. In interviews, officeholders belonging to multiple marginalized communities reported that the abuse was compounded. Nearly 40 percent of local officeholders say that it lessens their desire to run for re-election, with women and people of color more likely than white men to say so. [Brennan Center for Justice]


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.