Weekly Wonk: Nex Benedict’s death shows policy failures, harms from inaction | Lengthening Oklahoma’s eviction timeline | Senate budget transparency efforts continue

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

Nex Benedict’s death shows policy failures, harms from inaction (Commentary): Year over year, bills targeting transgender individuals have surged across the country, particularly in Oklahoma which leads the nation in such measures. The recent death of Nex Benedict — a nonbinary student from Owasso High School who died a day after a confrontation with bullies — has garnered worldwide attention because advocates have been warning that the recent uptick in hateful anti-2SLQBTQ+ laws would create an atmosphere where people could be hurt or killed. [Jill Mencke & Polina Rozhkova / OK Policy]

Lengthening the eviction timeline will increase access to justice for Oklahoma renters (SB 1575):  Oklahoma’s short eviction timeline makes it nearly impossible for tenants to gather back rent, make arrangements to show up in court, or even find alternate housing. Extending the eviction timeline will help Oklahoma tenants to exercise their legal rights and prevent housing instability and homelessness. [Katie Dilks / Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation

Policy Matters: When is it OK to hate?: The death of Nex Benedict — a nonbinary student at Owasso High School who died after a confrontation with bullies at school — has caused a lot of soul searching. How could this have happened in our community? What can be done to prevent it from happening again? Have I done enough? We have not. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Senate’s efforts on budget transparency continue, but final budget will still rely on end-of-session negotiations (Capitol Update): It is a noble effort to try to make the appropriations process more transparent and open to all senators. However, the state budget is almost always going to depend on other revenue and spending policy decisions made earlier in the session. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Upcoming Opportunities

March 19, 6:00 p.m. [Tuesday]

ONLINE AFFINITY GROUP: Safe Communities (Criminal Justice Reform)


The Safe Communities Affinity Group is for advocates of criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. This statewide group meets online regularly in the spring to discuss legislation, share resources, and plan community outreach. 

Learn more about affinity groups here, or contact Southeast Regional Organizer Roxanne Logan for more information.

March 20, 6:00 p.m. [Wednesday]

ONLINE AFFINITY GROUP: Thriving Families (Hunger, Housing, and More)


The Thriving Families Affinity Group is for advocates of policies that help all Oklahomans thrive, including access to affordable housing and nutritious food. This statewide group meets online regularly in the spring to discuss legislation, share resources, and plan community outreach. 

Learn more about affinity groups here, or contact Northeast Regional Organizer Austin Webb for more information.

April 25, 9:00 a.m. [Thursday]


Join advocates and community activists from all across the state on Thursday, April 25, for our 2024 Day of Action at the State Capitol, hosted by OK Policy and Together Oklahoma. Tap into your political power and work toward changes that make our communities safer, healthier, and more equitable.

Day of Action at the Capitol
Second Floor Rotunda | Oklahoma State Capitol
2300 N Lincoln Blvd. | Oklahoma City
Check-in begins at 9:00 a.m. | Event starts at 10:00 a.m.

[Learn More] | [Register]

Weekly What’s That

Judicial Nominating Commission

The Judicial Nominating Commission is a constitutionally-created body tasked with reviewing and recommending appellate judicial nominees for gubernatorial appointment. The purpose of the commission, created in 1967 in the wake of court scandals, was to create a nonpartisan body to select judicial nominees based on merit, rather than leaving appellate judicial selection up to a general election. The Commission select candidates for appointment by the Governor to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Civil Appeals, District and Associate District Judgeships, and the Workers’ Compensation Court. 

The body is made up of 15 members. Six of these members are attorneys selected by the bar of each of the six congressional districts of 1967. Six more are non-attorneys appointed by the Governor. Of these six, at most three can be affiliated with the same political party, and none can have an attorney in their immediate family. These twelve members serve six-year, staggered terms. The remaining three are also non-attorneys and are appointed as follows: one by the Senate President Pro Tempore, one by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and one by the other members of the Judicial Nominating Commission. Of these three, no more than two can be affiliated with the same political party. These three “at-large” members serve two-year terms. This 15-member body then selects a chair.

Because the Judicial Nominating Commission is intended to act as a nonpartisan body, members cannot succeed themselves after their term, hold public office, hold positions of leadership in political parties, or become judicial officers until five years have passed since their term limit.

Since the mid-2010s, legislation has been introduced almost every year to change the judicial selection process, including legislation in 2022 that would have sent to a vote of the people a measure to effectively repeal the Judicial Nominating Commission and give the Governor the direct authority to name justices subject to Senate approval. The measure, SJR 43, passed both chambers but died in conference committee.

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

Quote of the Week

“Once an individual has entered the criminal justice system, that creates yet another barrier to getting back into housing. Housing is the proper response to homelessness. Needless fines are simply a step backward.”

– Dan Straughan, Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City, on why SB 1854, a bill criminalizing camping on state-owned land, will only trap unhoused Oklahomans in a vicious cycle of homelessness. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial, Tulsa World: Oklahoma lawmakers must do more to ensure DHS can recruit, retain enough foster homes for vulnerable children

Oklahoma is moving backward in its improvements made to foster care, with an urgent problem developing in not having enough foster homes.

Now is the time for state lawmakers to invest in resources to help current foster homes stay open and to recruit new foster families.

Fifteen years ago, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services negotiated an end to a class-action settlement through a mandated improvement plan. At the heart of its success are people stepping forward to welcome abused and neglected children into their homes.

Guiding children who are going through trauma can be difficult. They are recovering from the chaos of their previous homes and uncertainty about their futures.

Making it worse is having to move children away from their schools, friends and other people who can help them through this difficult time.

[Read the full editorial at TulsaWorld.com]

Numbers of the Day

  • 180,000 – Number of Oklahoma children — 19% or nearly 1 in 5 — living in households where, in the previous 12 months, there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members because of insufficient money or other resources. [KIDS COUNT]

  • 2% – The effective federal corporate tax rate for oil, gas, and pipeline industries between 2018 and 2022, well below the statutory rate of 21%. The oil and gas sector had the second lowest effective tax rate during this period while reporting more than $39.3 billion in profits. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

  • 58.2% – Percentage of Oklahoma voters who in 2016 approved State Question 780, which included a provision to raise the felony threshold for theft to $1,000. It was part of a justice reform package to reduce the state’s prison population and increase access to community level treatments. [Ballotpedia]

  • 90% – Percentage of LGBTQ youth who reported that recent politics negatively impacted their well-being either sometimes (49%) or a lot (41%). [2022 Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health in Oklahoma / The Trevor Project]

  • 19.5% – Percentage of women in the Oklahoma Legislature (House & Senate), which represents about 1 in 5 members. This is the nation’s 6th lowest rate. [Center for American Women in Politics]

What We’re Reading

  • Tribal Nations Are Taking Back Their Food Systems: For years, the Oneida Nation has been growing crops and raising cattle and buffalo on its 65,000-acre reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Now, some of that food is doing more than nourishing people: It’s helping undo centuries of government overreach. As part of a pilot program included in the 2018 farm bill, the tribe is using federal dollars to buy food grown on the reservation and distributing it for free to low-income members of its tribe and another, the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin. [Mother Jones]
  • Corporate Tax Avoidance in the First Five Years of the Trump Tax Law: The tax overhaul signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2017 cut the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, but during the first five years it has been in effect, most profitable corporations paid considerably less than that. This is mainly due to loopholes and special breaks that the 2017 tax law left in place and, in some cases, introduced. This study examines federal corporate income taxes paid by the largest profitable corporations from 2018 through 2022. Because the corporations included in this study were profitable each year for all five of those years, one would reasonably expect that they would pay significant taxes. But in many cases, they did not. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
  • What the Panic Over Shoplifting Reveals About American Crime Policy: The panic over retail theft offers a real-time look at the making of American crime policy. In the absence of reliable data, and in response to perceptions of lawlessness, legislators have doubled down on punitive policies. Many have even created a new category of retail crime in response to the industry’s concerns. In some states, elected officials have capitalized on the shoplifting uproar in an attempt to roll back recently enacted criminal justice reforms. [The Marshall Project]
  • Bullying and Suicide Risk among LGBTQ Youth: These findings indicate that bullying of LGBTQ youth remains a significant area of concern, particularly among middle school students, students who are transgender or nonbinary, and Native/Indigenous students. Our data pointed to rates of electronic bullying that exceeded those of in-person bullying. Previous research has found states with anti-bullying laws that specifically consider sexual orientation to be associated with lower odds of student suicide attempts compared to states with anti-bullying laws that do not mention LGBTQ identities [The Trevor Project]
  • For Women’s History Month, a look at gender gains – and gaps – in the U.S.: For American women, job opportunities look much different than they did 50 years ago. Women have made gains in labor force participation and wages, and they’ve increased their presence in the highest-paying jobs. Some of that progress has stalled in recent years, however, and large gender gaps persist at the top levels of government and business leadership. [Pew Research Center]


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.