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
Targeted relief can help Oklahoma families weather inflation: By gavelling in for a special legislative session to address inflation relief, lawmakers have the opportunity to enact real and positive tax reform. The slate of bills introduced by House leadership offer little actual timely relief to the low- and moderate-income Oklahomans most affected by inflation. A few bills introduced during the special session — and other measures that could be added — would offer targeted and timely relief to the families that need it. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]
Hits, misses regarding justice reform during the 2022 session (Capitol Update): There were very few criminal justice reform measures passed this session. A couple of promising bills that would have repealed various court cost and fee penalties currently imposed in criminal cases to partially pay for the court and law enforcement system also failed to make it through the process. One bill that did pass, HB 3925 by Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, and Sen. Brent Howard, R-Altus, could have a major impact on people who owe fines, costs, and fees but do not have the ability to pay. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]
Policy Matters: Oklahomans need targeted, timely help: The House on Monday afternoon unveiled 15 complicated bills – with some of them contradictory – just minutes before the special session was to be called to order. The breakneck schedule had House lawmakers introducing the bills on Monday, holding a second reading on Tuesday, and voting on them on Wednesday. It’s plain that this plan provides little opportunity for thoughtful conversation about complicated tax law. [Shiloh Kantz / The Journal Record]
TOK Listening Sessions scheduled statewide throughout June: Together Oklahoma will be hosting six upcoming Listening Sessions, which will offer the opportunity for you to express your ideas and views on policy matters in a collaborative way and let our TOK staff members get the chance to hear directly from you. Learn more abour our upcoming Together Oklahoma Listening Sessions. All events will have virtual options to attend. [Learn More] [Register]
Join the team: OK Policy is currently hiring for three positions: Youth Justice Policy Analyst and Regional Organizer for Together Oklahoma (two positions, one each for Central Region and Northeast Region). The application deadline for these positions in July 7, 2022 at 5 p.m. Visit OKPolicy.org/jobs for the full job description and compensation.
Weekly What’s That
In Oklahoma, any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot. Absentee ballots may be cast either by mail or in-person at their county election board office or other approved locations in the days prior to the election (early voting). It is not necessary to give a reason for voting absentee. Under Oklahoma statute, any person who knowingly executes a false application for an absentee ballot is deemed guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $50,000.
A voter may apply for an absentee ballot online or by mail. They may apply for absentee ballots for one election, for several elections, or for all elections in which they are eligible to vote during the calendar year in which the application is submitted. An absentee ballot must be received by the county election board by 7 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
Except for certain individuals (see below), mail-in absentee ballots must be signed by a notary public. In May 2020, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the notary requirement, but Republican lawmakers immediately passed new legislation to reinstate it. However, for 2020 elections only, in light of Covid-19 concerns, voters were given the option of including a copy of a photo ID in lieu of having their absentee ballot notarized.
Special conditions apply for certain categories of voters, including physically incapacitated voters; voters who care for physically incapacitated persons who cannot be left alone; residents of nursing homes; military and overseas voters and their families, and first responders and emergency workers.
See the Election Board’s absentee voting page for additional information.
Quote of the Week
“This really is about having political mailers to send out to say, ‘we cut your taxes,’”
– Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City), speaking about the tax cuts passed by the state House during special session [The Oklahoman]
Editorial of the Week
Editorial: Tenant representation in court leads to better outcomes for city
Fears of soaring evictions after the pandemic haven’t panned out in Tulsa, showing that tenant representation makes a difference.
Recent data shows that changes in the Tulsa eviction process are making a difference for landlords, as well, according to a story from Michael Overall.
Landlords certainly filed for evictions once the pandemic-related federal moratorium was lifted. Tulsa property owners filed more than 3,200 eviction court cases in the first four months of 2022 — nearly 20% more than during the same period last year.
However, legal representation for Tulsa tenants was bolstered during the pandemic. This gave tenants someone who could negotiate on their behalf and appear in court. A landlord can dismiss a case if a tenant voluntarily moves out or agrees to a payment plan.
Last year, about half of the eviction cases were dismissed before they went to trial. In the first four months of this year, the number went up to more than 3 out of 5 cases being dismissed. Studies have shown that tenants with legal representation during an eviction are 75% more likely to find ways to remain in housing.
The expanded legal services in Tulsa were made possible only through federal stimulus funds meant for pandemic-related needs. Funds were given to Legal Aid to take on more clients in eviction cases.
The goal isn’t to make life harder for landlords, most of whom operate in good faith and according to the law. Rental properties are businesses. Property owners generally go to court as a last resort when they can’t reach an agreement with tenants.
What a tenant attorney can do is serve as a type of mediator to ensure that a fair resolution is met. Often, tenants facing eviction are dealing with other challenges, making it difficult to navigate that system. They may shut down, not knowing other options or their rights.
Before the pandemic, Tulsa had one of the highest eviction rates in the country, averaging nearly 1,200 cases per month. That’s harmful for the economy, housing market and tenants.
This poor community measure was already a target for improvement by housing advocates before the pandemic. The pandemic-inspired national attention put toward eviction-prevention allowed city officials to implement its plan ahead of schedule.
It appears that it’s working, at least so far.
Numbers of the Day
- $4 – For Oklahomans in the lowest 20 percent of earners, a cut in the personal income tax rate would reduce their taxes by an average of $4 per year, while middle-class Oklahomans would get a tax cut of about $61. The wealthiest one percent of Oklahomans would receive an average tax cut of more than $2,000 annually. Cuts to the individual income tax rate are unfair to low- and middle-class families since they return the largest benefit to the wealthiest Oklahomans. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- Two-thirds – A cut to the state’s personal income tax rate will direct nearly two-thirds (65%) of the benefit to the top 20 percent of earners. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- One-third – A personal income tax cut would send about one-third (35%) of the benefit to the bottom 80 percent of earners. Most of the benefits, nearly two-thirds (65%), will go to the top 20 percent of earners [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- 12% – Oklahoma has cut taxes by nearly 12% since 1997. During this time, Oklahoma’s economic growth – other than the historically volatile oil and gas industry — has been substantially lower than that of the surrounding region and the nation. Concurrently, Oklahoma has also seen comparatively less employment growth. [Oklahoma Policy Institute]
- 1865 – Although the Emancipation Proclamation that freed enslaved people held in confederate states was made effective in 1863, it could not be implemented in places still under Confederate control. As a result, in the westernmost Confederate state of Texas, enslaved people would not be free until much later. Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state, were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas. [The National Museum of African America History and Culture]
What We’re Reading
- Reality Check: Drastic Income Tax Cuts Are Dangerous Despite What Anti-Tax Supporters Say [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
- Rising Prices: Another Reason to Be Wary of Tax Cutting Right Now [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
- 5 key takeaways on inflation from the May CPI report [Brookings]
- Punitive fines and fees are an invisible cost of state tax cuts [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]
- Juneteenth celebrates just one of the United States’ 20 emancipation days – and the history of how emancipated people were kept unfree needs to be remembered, too [The Conversation]