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
Oklahoma hasn’t always been inclusive of our immigrant communities. It’s time to change that: There are nearly 237,000 immigrant residents in Oklahoma, making up about 6.1 percent of the state’s population. These individuals have built lives, raised families, and become an integral part of our communities, but for many years, legislation has treated our immigrant residents as threats rather than neighbors. Oklahoma’s immigrants want their families to thrive, but frequently, unnecessary barriers keep them from being able to realize their full potential— both for themselves and their contributions to our communities. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]
The 2022 session brings rare opportunity for significant progress in our criminal justice system: As the state legislature begins the 2022 session, criminal justice issues should be a higher priority for Oklahoma lawmakers. This includes modernizing expungement by building a “Clean Slate” system, alleviating the burden of criminal court fines and fees, and further reducing Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. Even after significant progress, Oklahoma still ranks third in overall incarceration, with more than 21,000 people in state custody and another 26,000 under some form of supervision. While Oklahoma’s overall incarceration rate remains alarming, the demographic composition of our prison and jail populations show a significant imbalance along both racial and gender lines. [David Gateley / OK Policy]
ARPA funds offer start to transform nursing needs, but state will need to step up in the long run (Capitol Update): The first public hearing by a legislative working group of the American Rescue Pandemic Act (ARPA) Committee was held last Thursday. The working group, led by co-chairs Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, and Sen. John Haste, R-Tulsa, will do the nuts and bolts work of evaluating various project proposals for using the federal funding before sending them on to the full ARPA committee with their recommendations. The group previously made a decision to first recommend projects dealing with the preexisting nursing shortage in Oklahoma that was aggravated by the pandemic. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: Black History is Oklahoma history: As we enter the last full week of Black History Month, I encourage each of us to more deeply explore the richness and complexity of Black history in Oklahoma. A good place to start might be the Oklahoma Historical Society’s online collection, “Black History is Oklahoma History.” There you can learn more about the major milestones in state history, as well as the significant contributions Black Oklahomans have made to literature, music, sports, and especially civil rights. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]
Join our team! Application deadline this week: We believe all Oklahomans deserve to live in safe communities, raise thriving families, and lead healthy lives. If you do too, join us in the fight for an equitable future. OK Policy is currently hiring for three full-time positions:
- Digital Communications Associate / Storybanker
- Manager of Organizational Advancement
- Staff Accountant
Remote work is available for Oklahoma residents. Applications for these three positions close on Friday, February 25 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]
Two New Paid Fellowships Announced for Fall 2022-2023: We are currently hiring for two paid Fellow positions: a Policy Fellow and Communications & Operations Fellow. These one-year fellowship opportunities are for Fall 2022-Fall 2023 and applications are open now. The deadline to apply for a Fellowship is Wednesday, March 30 at 5:00 PM (CST). [Learn more and apply]
Weekly What’s That
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, is federal legislation that would, if passed, provide a path to legal permanent residency and eventually citizenship for certain categories of currently undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age.
The bill would confer benefits to those unauthorized residents who are between the ages of 12 and 30 at the time of bill enactment; arrived in the United States prior to age 16 and resided in the country for five consecutive years; and have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education. They would not qualify if they had committed crimes, were a security risk, or were inadmissible or removable on certain other grounds. Those who meet all qualifications would be granted “conditional” status; they could earn permanent legal status if within six years they graduate from a two-year community college, complete at least two years towards a four-year degree, or serve two years in the US military. The DREAM Act would also eliminate a federal provision that penalizes states that provide in-state tuition without regard to immigration status.
The DREAM Act was first introduced in Congress in 2001 by Democrat Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. After years of advocacy by undocumented youth, commonly labeled Dreamers, and allies, versions of the bill passed the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2010 but never managed to gain the 60 votes needed in the Senate to defeat Republican filibusters. In 2012, the Obama Administration through executive action, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that provided a population similar to the one covered by the DREAM Act protection from deportation and access to work permits and other legal benefits for two-year renewable periods. Unlike the DREAM Act, DACA does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship, and has been subject to multiple legal challenges.
The Biden Administration has strongly encouraged passage of the DREAM Act while exploring multiple options for expanding legal protections to undocumented residents who meet various criteria.
Quote of the Week
“While those who have committed offenses need to pay some of the cost, it is my belief that they should not have to carry the entire weight of the court system”
– Senate Budget Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, speaking about a bill he filed (Senate Bill 1458) which would remove a huge chunk of court fees from state law [The Frontier]
Editorial of the Week
High court fees, costs amount to a debtors’ prison scenario
We’re pleased to see the Legislature finally addressing a long-term problem with the criminal justice system, and that is the fines, fees and court costs that pile up against defendants who have no ability to pay.
These fees make up more than 70% of the budget of district courts, according to data from the Administrative Office of the Courts. That number dropped by about 30% in 2020 due to reduced collections during the coronavirus pandemic. Court collections are only expected to make up about 30% total of the courts’ roughly $70 million budget this fiscal year. State appropriations have filled the gaps.
Critics say fines and fees are an unreliable source of funding that unfairly burdens the poor. About 80% of criminal defendants are indigent, and the collection rate on court debts is only 25%, according to information presented by Tim Laughlin, director of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, at an interim study at the Oklahoma state Capitol last year.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, has filed Senate Bill 1458, which would remove a huge chunk of fees — roughly $41 million in recurring revenue — from state law.
Even better is this is a bipartisan approach that has support from both Democrats and Republicans. The governor’s office and several legislative leaders said they would be open to working on addressing fines and fees. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the issue likely would come up during budget negotiations.
Thompson said his goal is to replace most of that money with state appropriations, which is a more consistent source of funding than court debt. The time is right, he said, because the state has about $2 billion in reserves, more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money to spend and record-breaking tax revenues over the past year.
The system, as it is set up now, amounts to little more than a debtors’ prison. When criminal defendants fail to pay these fines, a warrant is issued for their arrest, and they may spend time in jail simply for being poor. This hinders their ability to rehabilitate from their crimes.
We look forward to what we hope will be a fruitful discussion to solve this problem.
Numbers of the Day
- 236,882 – Number of immigrants in Oklahoma in 2018, comprising 6 percent of the state population [American Immigration Council]
- 16 – Number of states that offer driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, in addition to Washington DC. Oklahoma is not among those states. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
- $423.6 Million – Total annual revenue generated by immigrant-owned businesses in Oklahoma [American Immigration Council]
- 5x – Black Oklahomans are more than 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white Oklahomans [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- 16.8% – Percent increase of Oklahoma’s population who reported being Black alone or in combination between the 2010 and 2020 Census. [U.S. Census Bureau]
What We’re Reading
- The impact of DACA Nine years after implementation [FWD.us]
- States Offering Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants [National Conference of State Legislatures]
- Revival and Opportunity: Immigrants in Rural America [Center for American Progress]
- The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines [Brennan Center for Justice]
- Black History is Oklahoma History [Oklahoma Historical Society]
NOTE: February is National Black History Month, a time to honor the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans who have helped shape the nation, and celebrate the rich cultural heritage, triumphs and adversities that are an indelible part of our country’s history.