Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma should invest in youth justice | Fear is an ineffective policy tool | Gov. should work with tribes on tax issues

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 should invest more in the youth justice system: With the overall occurrence of youth delinquency and detention at a historic low, Oklahoma has the opportunity to invest more resources in delinquency prevention and alternatives to incarceration in the youth legal system. The legislature has taken action in recent years to bring needed reforms to the youth justice system, including reducing and eliminating of some fines and fees assessed on justice-involved youth and their families (House Bill 3205), creating a juvenile expungement process (HB 1799), and the prohibiting the housing of youth in adult jails (HB 1282). However, there is more that legislators can do to make our youth legal system more fair for youth. [Jill Mencke / OK Policy]

Interim study on youth justice shows need for funding, cohesive systems for prevention and treatment services (Capitol Update): A recent interim study on youth justice showed a lack of funding for prevention and treatment and lack of a coherent system that dependably provides vital services everywhere they are needed. As our treatment of troubled kids through the years has proven more than once: Good intentions don’t always provide good results. Today’s youth face a troubled world. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Fear is an ineffective policy tool: While scares are integral to the recently passed Halloween season, fear is a year-round tool for some of Oklahoma’s elected officials. They create division among everyday Oklahomans by preying on our fears, concocting their own political gains as they turn neighbor against neighbor. [Shiloh Kantz/Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events experienced before age 18. They include parental divorce or separation; living with someone who had an alcohol or drug problem; neighborhood violence victim or witness; living with someone who was mentally ill, suicidal or severely depressed; domestic violence witness; parent served jail time; being treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity; or death of a parent.

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.

Nearly two in five Oklahoma children (18.3 percent) have suffered Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2019-2020, as reported by America’s Health Rankings, above the national average of 14 percent and the 10th highest rate among the states. In 2017-2018, 23.1 percent of Oklahoma children were found to have Adverse Childhood Experiences.

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

Quote of the Week

“It is hungry kids. It is not something we should be playing politics with.”

– Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa, speaking about House Bill 1376, which would expand free school lunches in Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Muskogee Phoenix Editorial: Stitt, tribes could work together regarding state income tax

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt should be more concerned with a civil working relationship with the state’s tribes than whether some Native Americans will pay state income tax.

A case winding its way through the courts could determine whether tribal members living on tribal land while working for their tribe are required to pay state income tax.

The question asked of the courts was foreseeable after a Supreme Court ruling stating Oklahoma’s reservations were never disestablished.

We believe — regardless of the outcome of the court case — this is another possible negotiation point with the state’s tribes. That is, if the state is willing to negotiate with tribes in a civil, productive way. So far that hasn’t been the case in Stitt’s administration.

Stitt is concerned it is unfair to all four million Oklahomans if some Oklahomans don’t have to pay state income tax.

Stitt wants a special session of the Legislature to draft a law that would ultimately eliminate the state income tax if some people — read: tribal members — don’t have to pay it.

His stance could sound reasonable if he had not already said he wants to eliminate our state income tax. The fate of our state income tax — it appears — would be the same if Stitt has his way regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit.

It appears Stitt likes the political posturing of trying to protect non-Natives over logic.

Not every tribal member in the state lives on tribal land. Not every tribal member living on tribal land works for their tribe. The total potential loss of state revenue isn’t clear, but clearly is not as much as eliminating the state income tax for all.

We believe tribal leaders want to work with state leadership to patch any holes created by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the McGirt case.

We suspect tribal leaders will tax their citizens working for their tribes in much the same manner as Oklahoma taxes workers in the state. We think tribal leaders would be willing to negotiate a way to ensure Oklahoma does not lose vital revenue because tribal members living in Oklahoma use the same government services as all four million Oklahomans.

It is important to note this court case was not initiated by tribal leaders, but by a tribal member seeking relief from state income tax. That’s what Stitt has proposed — all 4 million Oklahomans deserve relief from state income tax.

Rather than political posturing, Stitt should engage with tribal leaders to see if there is some kind of compromise on the issue through negotiation.

[Editorial / Muskogee Phoenix

Numbers of the Day

  • 14.2% – More than half (50.9%) of the American Indian (alone) population lived in five states; Oklahoma had the largest American Indian alone population (14.2%), followed by Arizona (12.9%), California (9.9%), New Mexico (9.1%) and Texas (4.8%). [U.S. Census Bureau]
  • 19% – Rate of Oklahoma children under age 18 living in households where there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members because of insufficient money or other resources in the previous 12 months. [KIDS COUNT]
  • 24.9% –  Black youth in Oklahoma represent nearly 1 in 4 referrals (24.9%) to the Office of Juvenile Affairs in 2022 but make up less than 8 percent of the population. Conversely, while 63.4% of the Oklahoma’s are white, they represented only about half (50.9%) of OJA referrals in 2022. [OK Policy analysis of provided OJA data]

What We’re Reading

  • Youth Involved with the Juvenile Justice System: Some children and youth become involved with the juvenile justice system because they are accused of committing a delinquent or criminal act. Other youth encounter the system for status offenses—actions that are illegal only because of a youth’s age—such as truancy, underage drinking, and running away from home. Not all of these cases, however, are formally processed through the courts. [youth.gov]
  • Food Insecurity Increased in 2022, With Severe Impact on Households With Children and Ongoing Racial Inequities: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report on food security, showing that 44.2 million people (in 17.0 million households) in the U.S. could not afford enough food to eat at some point in 2022. Overall, food insecurity increased from 10.2 percent in 2021 to 12.8 percent in 2022 — resulting in 10.3 million more people, including 4.1 million more children, who lived in households that experienced food insecurity in 2022 compared to 2021 — reflecting higher food costs and the phasing out of many pandemic relief measures. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Indigenous data warriors and the ongoing fight for data sovereignty: American Indians and Alaska Natives face systematic undercounting, inaccuracies, and exclusion from data gathering, leading to a loss of resources. Stacker conducted interviews, consulted research, and explored how Indigenous data warriors are fighting for data sovereignty: the right and ability of tribes to develop their own systems for gathering and using data. [Stacker]


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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