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
Caring for Caregivers Act had a difficult road to passage; it shouldn’t have been so hard (Capitol Update): The Caring for Caregivers Act, requested by Oklahoma AARP and championed by Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, passed last session. Anyone who has ever been a caregiver would consider this tax credit a no-brainer. In fact, it doesn’t begin to cover the financial burden to a family of caregiving for a loved one. It really shouldn’t have been that hard to get done. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Courts, harmful rhetoric delay justice for Tulsa Race Massacre: Recent events have again brought international attention to the Tulsa Race Massacre, a dark chapter in our state’s history that hasn’t gotten a full examination or justice for the survivors. These recent events highlight the need to keep attention focused on the generational traumas caused both by the race massacre and decades of harmful policy decisions that followed. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]
Weekly What’s That
Interim studies are studies of legislative and policy issues that may be requested by any member of the House or Senate. They often address issues that have been the subject of legislation that failed to pass in previous sessions, or emerging issues that are deemed worthy of more in-depth consideration.
Interim studies must be requested by House and Senate members by a deadline set by each chamber. The two chambers handle interim study requests differently. In the Senate, the President Pro Tem assigns all interim study requests to the appropriate Senate committee; the committee chair then decides which studies will be heard. In the House, the Speaker decides which studies to approve or disapprove. In some cases, House study requests on similar subjects are combined into a single study. Some studies may be considered jointly by the House and Senate. In 2022, Senate President Pro Tem approved 45 interim studies while House Speaker Charles McCall approved 81.
Interim studies are typically held from September to November and usually meet at the State Capitol. A committee may devote anywhere from a single hour to several full meetings to each study. Local and national experts may be invited to testify at interim study meetings. Interim studies rarely generate formal reports or recommendations, but their work can guide future legislation.
Quote of the Week
“I implore you. Stay. Keep watching. Keep the pressure on. Pay attention. … The only way (the justice system) works is when everybody pays attention.”
– Attorney Sara Elena Solfanelli, on the Tulsa County District Court’s dismissal of a lawsuit connected to Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre. [Tulsa World]
Editorial of the Week
Editorial: Election reforms in open primaries, no straight-party option to calm the rhetoric
Tulsa and Oklahoma City municipal elections have proven something: When every voter gets the same ballot, candidates representing the broadest consensus of a community emerge. That’s a good outcome.
When citizens feel they have a choice in their representation, they tend to vote more often and enter public life. Civic engagement goes up, and elected officials are more responsive to constituents.
Oklahoma faces a crisis in democracy. Since 2008, the state ranks in the bottom 10 in voter turnout for presidential races, including next to last in 2020. In the November election, 76% of Oklahoma voters younger than 30 did not vote.
A reason may be that 70% of legislative races were already decided. Compare that to November 2018, when about 75% of Oklahoma House and Senate races had a candidate from both parties. Oklahoma is considered the least competitive state for legislative races by Ballotpedia.
That apathy bleeds into local, county and federal races, creating lopsided outcomes.
More moderates are seeking a change for better balance and fairness to all voters, no matter the party affiliation.
States enacting election reforms such as variations of open primaries and ranked-choice voting are showing promising results. Oklahoma remains one of only six states with straight-party voting.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, both Republicans, support moving the state’s primaries to open elections, according to a story from Tulsa World reporter Kevin Canfield. They point to their experiences in nonpartisan races and governance as examples of healthy democratic involvement.
The nonpartisan Oklahoma United for Progress movement seeks election reforms to give more voters access in choosing elected representatives. The goal is to quell the toxic rhetoric dividing communities and increase voter participation.
Extremist candidates are emerging from closed primaries, and single-party options emphasize party over people. Voters are being turned off by hyper-partisanship rather than being motivated by political parties.
This polarization avoids discussions on more complex problems and solutions. Taxpayers pay for the primaries for political parties, making the exclusion of thousands of voters even more unfair.
Oklahoma United for Progress is holding outreach efforts to know what type of changes voters want. It seeks an initiative petition for a statewide vote in 2026. We appreciate the effort and look forward to the proposal.
A preferred route would be for elected officials to do this work, but that is unlikely to happen. The status quo benefits parties and those currently in power.
Democrats had a chance to make reforms, including getting rid of straight-party voting, but didn’t. Republican leaders now have the same resistance.
It’s time to the right thing for Oklahoma and bring reforms that energize the electorate and tamp down extremism.
Numbers of the Day
- 17% – Rate of Oklahoma households with zero (or negative) net worth. Oklahoma’s ranking here is the nation’s second highest, tied with three other states (Tennessee, Indiana, and Georgia) and the District of Columbia. [Prosperity Now]
- 76% – The rate of Oklahoma fourth graders who are not proficient in reading, up from 71% in 2019. [KIDS COUNT]
- 2015 – The year that the Oklahoma legislature authorized online voter registration in the state. Election officials on Tuesday unveiled the online registration platform after technical snags in cross-checking voter registration information and motor vehicle data delayed full implementation for years. [Oklahoma Watch]
- 80% – White Tulsans are 80% more likely to own a home than Black Tulsans. [Tulsa Equality Index]
- 1 in 6 – 650,600 Oklahoma residents, or 16% of the state population (1 in 6), were assisted by the federal anti-hunger program — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — during fiscal year 2022. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
What We’re Reading
- State Limits on Revenues and Budgets Stifle Democracy: This year, 18 state legislatures have considered roughly 50 proposals that would create or tighten arbitrary limits on state and local revenues and budgets. These limits tie the hands of future policymakers and undermine their ability to advance policies that meet their constituencies’ evolving needs. In doing so, they needlessly — but arguably deliberately — constrain the democratic process. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- Meet the People Deciding How to Spend $50 Billion in Opioid Settlement Cash: As more than $50 billion makes its way to state and local governments to compensate for the opioid epidemic, people with high hopes for the money are already fighting over a little-known bureaucratic arm of the process: state councils that wield immense power over how the cash is spent. [KFF Health News]
- Strengthening Early Childhood Health, Housing, Education, and Economic Well-Being Through Holistic Public Policy: The preschool years present a critical developmental period sensitive to changes in public health and social policy, for which robust investments in programs that support families can improve intergenerational outcomes. [Center for American Progress]
- The true costs of the Tulsa Race Massacre (2021): In both the Tulsa Race Massacre and later destruction caused by 1960s “urban renewal,” important Black capital that undergirded the community was lost, as were opportunities for wealth-building for Tulsa’s Black residents. To be clear, the loss of human life in the massacre is a horror beyond all calculation. But another important and often neglected dimension to this history is the devastating effects of destroyed communal wealth, which had supported the flourishing of the city’s Black residents. [Brookings]
- About 500,000 Adults Will Soon Lose SNAP Due to Return of Work-Reporting Requirements; Another 750,000 Older Adults Newly at Risk: An ineffective SNAP policy that takes food assistance away from people who can’t meet a work-reporting requirement will return this summer, after being paused during the public health emergency. This will mean that people who are between jobs, who have health conditions or caregiving responsibilities that impede work at least temporarily, whose work hours fluctuate, or who face challenges navigating the red tape of the reporting and exemption systems will be at risk of losing the food assistance they need to buy groceries. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]