Weekly Wonk: Democracy inaccessible to many Oklahomans | Plain language eviction summons | More empathy needed | Capitol Update

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

The 2022 Midterms reveal our democracy is still inaccessible to many Oklahoma voters: Oklahoma’s democracy is inaccessible to many Oklahomans, especially those in historically marginalized communities. We’ve consistently had among the nation’s lowest rates of electoral participation, with only 4 in 10 eligible Oklahomans voting in the November 2022 midterm election. Despite this low participation rate, Oklahoma has made it increasingly difficult to vote by requiring absentee ballots to be notarized and failing to deliver an electronic voter registration system. Studies show laws that make it harder to vote disproportionately impact marginalized communities, two of which are American Indian/Alaska Natives and naturalized citizens. [Cole Allen, Vivian Morris, Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]

Plain language eviction summons can help Oklahomans in eviction courtOklahoma’s civil courts should be fair and accessible for all residents. Tenants facing eviction, as well as their landlords, should have legal documents that clearly explain the process and the rights of the parties involved. The current eviction summons – the document a tenant receives to let them know they are being sued by their landlord for eviction – uses dense, legal language that is hard for everyday folks to understand. Rewriting the eviction summons into plain language will create fairness in eviction proceedings by explaining the process to all parties and making it clear when they are supposed to be in court and the consequences of not appearing. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

SB 844 would help calculate SQ 781’s overdue investments in mental health, substance use disorders (Capitol Update): Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Senate Bill 844 by Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, which is his latest effort to implement State Question 781 that was passed by vote of the people in 2016. Its companion measure, SQ780, changed simple drug possession and property theft less than $1,000 into misdemeanors when they were previously felonies in Oklahoma. Both state questions went into effect July 1, 2017, but SQ 781 has never been fully implemented. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Oklahoma in radical need of empathy: It shouldn’t have to happen to you to matter to you. A throughline for recent Oklahoma legislative sessions has been creating limits to bodily autonomy – for women, for transgender residents, and for parents who are seeking medical care to help their children as best they can. Our fellow Oklahomans have stepped forward at great personal and emotional cost to tell their stories. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Together Oklahoma Meetings This Week

  • Tuesday, March 7 @ 6:30 p.m. – Carter County Community Meeting [More info]
  • Wednesday, March 8 @ 6:00 p.m. – Creek County Community Meeting [More info]
  • Thursday, March 9 @ 6:30 p.m. – Combined Community & Affinity Meeting: Comanche County + Healthy Oklahomans Affinity Group Meeting [More info]

Weekly What’s That

Voter ID Requirements

In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 746, which established new voter identification requirements. The state question requires voters to present a valid government-issued document that includes their name and picture or a voter identification card issued by their county election board. A person who cannot or does not provide one of those forms of identification may sign a sworn statement and cast a provisional ballot.

SQ 746 was approved with 74.3 percent of the vote and took effect in July 2011. After a lengthy legal challenge, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld Oklahoma’s voter ID law in 2018.

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

Quote of the Week

“This work isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad. But the truth makes people feel bad because the truth is an ugly truth. It’s not directed at any individual person. But the truth is about how particular communities have done really terrible things intentionally and, oftentimes, unintentionally through laws, policy, procedures and behaviors.”

– Kelli McLoud-Schingen, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Tulsa, speaking on how diversity initiatives are not an attack on anyone based on their race, gender, religion or political ideology, but can involve difficult conversations about the nation’s complex and, at times, dark history. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Tahlequah Daily Press Editorial: Measures to help with child care essential

If Oklahoma is going to be a pro-life state, we have to remove not just the emotional and social hurdles parents face when raising their children, but the financial ones as well.

Plenty of curmudgeons grumble about families getting “welfare,” and their tiresome and cruel mantra is, “Get a job!” But it’s impossible to get a job if it doesn’t pay enough for the parent to afford child care. And while jobs may be plentiful these days, the wages of most make the cost of child care prohibitive – especially if more than one child is involved.

House Bills 2451 and 2452 aim to ease the burden on families, and it’s about time some of these short-sighted legislators – who pull in more than enough to pay babysitters and even nannies, on the taxpayer backs – saw fit to provide help. Here’s what Rep. Suzanne Schreiber, D-Tulsa, had to say about the matter: “Addressing these issues will ensure the growth and sustainability of this important sector of Oklahoma’s economy, while at the same time send a message to Oklahoma families that we are working for common-sense solutions to the real problems they face staying in the workforce.” The companion bill purports to streamline regulations on child care facility licenses, which Republicans – and some Democrats – agree are prohibitive. That’s why this bill should enjoy strong bipartisan support.

For too long, single mothers and low-income families have been marginalized. Many want to work, but when they have to pay more for child care than they bring in on their paychecks, it doesn’t make sense. There’s no rational reason not to move these measures forward. Life has to matter not just in the womb, but for the children who come thereafter. This, along with a proper education, is one of the best ways to ensure success for these families.

[Editorial / Tahlequah Daily Press]

Numbers of the Day

What We’re Reading

  • The Push to Bring Medicaid Behind Bars: Around 600,000 people leave prison in the U.S. every year, and another 10 million are released from county jails. Many of them suffer from chronic physical, mental and substance use conditions. Research shows they are also at an extremely high risk of hospitalization and death. That’s why in January, federal health officials for the first time signed off on having Medicaid pay for services for some people in jail, prison or a juvenile facility. The goal is to use the time before someone leaves incarceration to connect them with medical providers in the community and limit any disruption in their care. [Tradeoffs]
  • Rural Communities Need More Health Care, Not More Jails: Millions spent on new jails instead of on much-needed infrastructure like education, affordable housing, and health care has become dynamic evident across the United States. But it is particularly pronounced in rural counties, where jail populations have grown at an alarming rate over the last several decades. Mayors, commissioners, and sheriffs are spending scarce local resources to increase jail capacity—building more and bigger jails—and then quickly filling up those jails. The vast majority of people in jail—approximately two-thirds—haven’t been convicted of a crime. They are awaiting trial, and often, they are stuck behind bars because they can’t afford bail. They spend days, weeks, months, years—even the rest of their lives—incarcerated, awaiting trial. [Vera Institute of Justice]
  • Put it Plainly: How the Use of Plain Language Can Increase Equity and Procedural Fairness in Small Claims Eviction Proceedings: There’s an easy solution to bring the small claims eviction process back to a true “people’s court”: plain language. Many people assume plain language simply means “dumbing down” words, but at its core, plain language means presenting information in a way that allows users to understand what they are reading the first time they read it. This means writers must employ shorter sentences, use active voice, address the reader directly and reduce the reading level. [Oklahoma Bar Journal]
  • What does a user-centered eviction court summons look like?: If you are sued by your landlord to evict you from your home, how would you like to find out? The papers you get from the court — the Summons to the eviction trial, and the Complaint from your landlord about why they’re suing from you — most often are dense, legalistic documents. These pieces of paper can set the tone for the eviction legal process. [Stanford Legal Design Lab
  • How Much Do You Know about Homelessness in America? (interactive): Homelessness is pervasive in communities across the United States. This interactive quiz will help determine how much you understand the causes of — and solutions to — one of the nation’s most pressing challenges. [Urban Institute]


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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