Weekly Wonk: Proposed tax cuts ‘shortsighted, dangerous’ | Paid family leave supports working Oklahomans | A look at justice reform 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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom. 

This Week from OK Policy

  • OK Policy Statement: Half-billion dollars in corporate and individual tax cuts is irresponsible, shortsighted and dangerous: It’s been just three years since Oklahoma lawmakers passed a historic $531 million in additional state revenue to support education. On Thursday, the Oklahoma House approved a sweeping set of corporate and individual tax cuts that undoes that historic achievement — and then some. These measures sacrifice needed revenues for those who need assistance the least. More than half of the individual income tax cut would go to Oklahomans with incomes of $100,000 or more. Most of the $350 million corporate tax cut will go to out-of-state corporations. [OK Policy]
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave is a crucial step towards modernizing our economy:  Despite its benefits, access to paid family leave is not widespread, especially for lower-wage families. In 2020, four in five workers in the U.S. lacked access to paid family leave. To improve Oklahomans’ health and increase the labor force, the Oklahoma Legislature should guarantee paid family leave benefits to our state’s workers. [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]
  • Policy Matters: Addressing gender inequity: When the next generation looks back on today, I hope they see our current gender inequalities with the same abject horror we feel at such anachronisms as “Whites Only” drinking fountains and other open displays of inequity. During this Women’s History Month in March, many are celebrating the extraordinary accomplishments of women in all aspects of life. The best way to honor the women in your life is by making gender inequity a relic of the past. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]
  • HB 1795 reduces driver’s license suspensions for court fines and fees: House Bill 1795, authored by Rep. Nicole Miller and Sen. Kim David, dramatically reduces driver’s license suspensions for court fines and fees. HB 1795 also significantly increases access to provisional driver’s licenses for the thousands of Oklahomans who have lost their driver’s licenses for non-traffic offenses and who often find themselves caught up in this perverse court funding scheme. Suspension of driving privileges should be reserved for dangerous driving offenses that risk the public’s safety; it should not be used as a tool to collect debt for the judicial system. [Damion Shade / 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

“We’re having a bunch of political bills that are going to get headlines, but we are missing the really critical policy changes that will frankly save lives.”

-State Rep. Monroe Nichols speaking about police reform measures and bills filed in response to this summer’s protests in Oklahoma and nationwide [The Frontier]

Editorial of the Week

Legislators try to undermine voters’ will

Oklahoma voters should make sure legislators don’t chisel away progress made since 2016, when voters approved criminal justice reforms included in State Question 780.

The measure reclassified some nonviolent felonies, making them punishable only as misdemeanors. SQ 780 accomplished much of what proponents — along with a sizable majority of Oklahoma voters — hoped it would.

Oklahoma’s prison population has dropped considerably since the implementation of SQ 780 reforms — the state’s incarceration rate is only the third highest now. And many of those previously swept up by the criminal justice system are being treated now for their problems rather than being imprisoned…

[Read full Muskogee Phoenix editorial]

Numbers of the Day

  • 70% – 70% of criminal court fines and fees assessed to Oklahomans each year are never paid. This funding model leaves essential court services like public defenders and drug courts chronically underfunded. [Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]
  • 42,176 – The number of driver license suspensions that were issued for Failure To Pay and Failure To Appear in 2018. Of those suspensions, 45% (19,280) were for Failure to Pay. Each year court fines and fees unrelated to driving infractions cause thousands of Oklahomans to have their driver’s licenses suspended. Not having a driver’s license makes it harder for Oklahomans to keep a job, to take care of their kids, and to simply live a normal life. [Source: Oklahoma Department of Public Safety]
  • 35% – Black Tulsans represent 17% of the city’s population but account for 35% of all people arrested. Nearly 40% of all Tulsa Police Department arrests are based on outstanding warrants, including a high percentage of warrants for failure to pay court fees, fines, and costs. Oklahoma’s system of court fines and fees contributes to racial disparities in police use of force, arrests and incarceration. [Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute]
  • 183 days – In 2018, Rogers County, Oklahoma had a median jail stay of 183 days for people accused of non-violent offenses who couldn’t afford to pay bail. Ellis County has a median jail stay of 171 days, followed by Comanche County with 120 days. These obscene jail stays produce immense harm: family separation, lost jobs, lost homes, entire low-income communities decimated by people being pulled repeatedly in and out of county jails. [Source: Open Justice Oklahoma]
  • 111% – The jail population increased 111% in Oklahoma’s 59 rural counties from 2000 to 2015. Oklahoma’s system of cash bail leaves too many Oklahomans experiencing homelessness, struggling with addiction or mental health issues in crisis stuck in jail because they can’t afford to buy their freedom from a bondsman. [Source: Vera]

What We’re Reading

  • Prison fines and fees are used to pay for basic government functions [NPR]
  • How driver’s license suspensions in New Mexico drive people deeper into debt [PBS]
  • Many juvenile jails are now almost entirely filled with young people of color [The Marshall Project]
  • Jail deaths in America: Data and key findings of ‘Dying Inside’ [Reuters]
  • Everything Has Been Criminalized,’ Says Neil Gorsuch as He Pushes for Stronger Fourth Amendment Protections [Reason]


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