Weekly Wonk: Justice reform during 2021 session | Juneteenth holiday overdue | More

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

Weekly What’s That

SQ 780 and SQ 781

SQ 780 and SQ 781 were ballot initiatives approved by Oklahoma voters in 2016. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and some minor property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. SQ 781 directed the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to calculate the savings to the state of these changes and to deposit that amount into a fund used by county governments to provide substance abuse and mental health services. 

The measures went into effect on July 1, 2017. In 2019, the Legislature passed HB 1269 making the provisions of SQ 780 retroactive, which allowed those convicted of felonies for crimes that became misdemeanors following passage of SQ 780  to apply to have their sentences commuted by the Pardon and Parole Board. An initial group of over 450 inmates had their sentences commuted in November 2019.

Since passage of SQ 780, legislators have introduced several measures that would partly roll back its provisions, including a 2021 bill would make it a felony to possess methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or fentanyl within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school.

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

Quote of the Week

“Getting a license shouldn’t be harder than landing Garth Brooks concert tickets.”

-Tulsa World editorial about issues Oklahomans are having renewing driver’s licenses, as well as getting new licenses or REAL ID [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Legal and political challenges to Obamacare have fallen short

The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — has survived another legal fight.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that those challenging the federal health coverage law in the latest case had no standing to bring their claims.

The high court’s ruling isn’t entirely satisfying to anyone involved because it didn’t address the questions raised about the law’s legality, only whether two individuals and more than a dozen states led by Texas had any right to take those issues to court. They don’t, the court ruled on a 7-2 vote that included conservative and liberal justices.

This is the third time that Obamacare’s opponents have brought increasingly creative and desperate challenges to the health care law before the high court and the third time they have been turned back. Although the justices involved have changed over the years and the court has clearly become more conservative, the common thread of the high court’s public discussions seems to be that the Supreme Court shouldn’t be used to make essentially political decisions about health care coverage law.

As Chief Justice John Roberts bluntly said during oral arguments on the Texas case, “that’s not our job.”

Indeed, there have been countless efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act in Congress, too. All ultimately failed, although lawmakers undercut the law in 2017 when they essentially neutered its individual health coverage mandate by reducing the tax penalty for the uninsured to zero.

Still, the essence of the law has remained in place since 2010, including protections against insurance discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions; ability of parents to cover their children through age 26; minimum standards of coverage; and broad federal financing of health care for millions through Medicaid expansion for the poorest working-aged Americans and subsidized insurance for many others.

Oklahoma voters approved acceptance of Medicaid expansion only last year, and the program is scheduled to go into effect July 1. Almost 118,000 working poor Oklahoma adults have signed up for Medicaid benefits, and as many as 82,000 more could join them.

Oklahoma is one of six red states where voters have embraced Medicaid expansion against the wishes of dominant politicians. Initiatives are pending in three others. A total of 39 states have accepted Medicaid expansion.

There may well be more legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act, but the Supreme Court doesn’t seem to be moving any closer to accommodating those ideas. Meanwhile, it is clear that voting Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with the protections and benefits of Obamacare.

The high court has repeatedly made it clear that this is an issue to be decided in the political sphere. When a majority of deep-red Oklahoma voters embrace one of the law’s central options, that looks unlikely.

[Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 10 times – People who are formerly incarcerated are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than the general population, and housing security is the number one factor in determining the likelihood of re-offense. [Source: Prison Policy Institute]
  • 38% – Percentage of LGBTQ+ Oklahomans who are raising children [Source: Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law] June is national LGBTQ+ Pride month.
  • 39% – COVID-19 vaccination rate in rural Oklahoma, compared with 46% for urban areas in the state. [Source: CDC]
  • 50 – Number of states, plus the District of Columbia, that have passed legislation recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday or observance. South Dakota is the only state that does not officially recognize officially Juneteenth. [Congressional Research ServiceNote: Hawaii officially recognized Juneteenth in legislation signed on June 17 after this report was published, and Congress this week passed a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

What We’re Reading

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