Weekly Wonk: How are Oklahoma children doing? | Many reasons for a special session | Fines & fees system harms families

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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.

This Week from OK Policy

  • How are Oklahoma children doing? Kyle Lawson, Together Oklahoma Senior Field Organizer, and Rebecca Fine, the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Education Analyst and KIDS COUNT coordinator, discuss what KIDS COUNT is and how data can be utilized by stakeholders. [OK Policy / YouTube] OK Policy is Oklahoma’s KIDS COUNT affiliate. Learn more at okpolicy.org/KIDSCOUNT. During the month of December, we will be highlighting data and issues that highlight child health and well-being in Oklahoma. 
  • There are many reasons to call a special session and, contrary to claim from the Governor’s office, no reasons not to: Oklahoma hasn’t yet fully committed to fighting the human, social, and economic damage wrought by COVID-19; instead our leadership has largely relied on federal action, pleas, and hope. Time is running out for all three, and it’s nearly three months before the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene. Now is the time for our governor and lawmakers to demonstrate that they are serious about helping us through this most difficult of times. A special session is a big first step in that direction. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]
  • Legislature should address fines and fees system that harms families (Capitol Update): The Legislature faces a troubling challenge in attempting to limit the reliance of law enforcement agencies and the courts on fines and fees owed by defendants in criminal cases. As the state faced budget gaps or added programs without funding them, it has piled on more court costs, fees, and assessments to avoid appropriating tax dollars. But 70 percent of criminal court debt goes unpaid each year. Meanwhile, thousands of Oklahomans — most of whom will never pay and likely cannot afford to — are burdened with the funding of courts and government agencies. Caught in a vicious cycle of re-arrest on “cost warrants” or inability to have their cases terminated for failure to pay, these Oklahomans are caught in a web that stands in the way of rehabilitation, reentering the work force, and moving on with their lives. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
  • Lawmakers filling committee chairs for upcoming session (Capitol Update): With interim studies, elections, and Thanksgiving now in the past, organizing for the next legislative session will get underway in earnest. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, have both been re-elected to their posts, so you can expect considerable stability in leadership and committee chairmanships in both bodies. Technically all committee chairmanships are up for appointment, but few are likely to change except where vacancies exist. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
  • Policy Matters: Redistricting meetings don’t account for pandemic, rural geography: State lawmakers are starting the process for redistricting, which uses census data to redraw district boundaries both for the state Legislature (House and Senate) and our congressional representation. This process shapes the distribution of political power and influences who has a seat at the table. That’s why it’s essential that Oklahomans statewide have ample opportunity to actively participate in the process. Current plans, however, fall short of engaging all Oklahomans. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal RecordFor more information, visit the Oklahoma House of Representatives redistricting website or the Oklahoma Senate press release.

Upcoming Opportunities

We’re hiring for a Justice Data Analyst: OK Policy is now hiring for a Justice Data Analyst. The Justice Data Analyst will use Open Justice Oklahoma’s (OJO) database of court, prison, and jail records to open the black box of our justice system. Working closely with the Research Director, the Justice Data Analyst will identify and prioritize research projects, analyze proprietary data sets, develop and document methodologies, and communicate findings to internal and external audiences. Click here to learn more and apply.

Weekly What’s That

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events experienced before age 18 including all forms of child abuse, having a household member who is incarcerated, exposure to domestic violence, neglect, and having a parent with an untreated mental illness or substance use disorder.

ACEs can disrupt brain development causing social, emotional, and cognitive problems throughout an individual’s life; which increase the likelihood of risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, difficulty functioning at school/work, and even early death.

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

Quote of the Week

“By taking his position not to enact a mandate, the governor is not so much standing on principle as he is standing on people’s graves … Democratic and Republican governors across the nation have enacted masks mandates. Saving lives is a bipartisan issue.”

-The Rev. Dr. Marlin Lavanhar, a senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

White House task force say the state isn’t doing enough to fight COVID-19, and it’s right

Forgive us if this sounds repetitive, but with Oklahomans getting sick and dying at a disturbing and accelerating pace, we’ll keep saying it until someone in the state Capitol acts.

Oklahoma must act differently.

Gov. Kevin Stitt must order a statewide mask mandate.

In failing to do so, Stitt is failing to do the most potent thing in his power to protect the people from a deadly disease, and, coincidentally, the one thing that could prevent another economy-crushing shutdown.

On a near daily basis, the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state breaks previous records, straining the health care system’s ability to deal with the issue.

The science is clear and has been demonstrated locally: A mask mandate slows the pandemic’s spread, protecting lives and the economy. Without a statewide mandate, however, the deadly statistics seem bound to constantly new, deadlier heights…

[Read full Tulsa World editorial here

Numbers of the Day

  • 28% – Percentage of all Oklahoma children who have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences during 2017-2018. Of those, American Indian children had the highest rate at 37% followed by Black and Latinx children (both at 36%) and white children at 24%.
  • 1 in 3 – Oklahoma adults living in households with children who did not get needed medical care because of the coronavirus pandemic, July 2020.
  • 65% – Percentage of Latinx Oklahomans who live in households with children and who lost employment income since March 13, 2020, compared to 45% of all adults in Oklahoma.
  • 29% – Oklahoma adults living in households with children who are very or extremely likely to have to leave this home due to eviction or foreclosure in the next two months as of October 2020.
  • 13% – Percentage of Oklahoman adults living in households with children who sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat in the past week in October 2020.

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.

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