Weekly Wonk: Protecting Oklahoma renters | Maternity leave, childcare | More women representation needed

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

Renters need protection against landlord retaliation: Unlike most other states, Oklahoma does not protect tenants against landlord retaliation when they report health or safety violations to their landlord, a government agency, or when they organize other tenants to advocate with their landlord for needed repairs. Oklahoma renters risk higher rents or losing their lease simply for asking their landlord to address basic habitability standards. People shouldn’t be penalized when they request needed repairs or act as responsible tenants by reporting problems in their rental to their landlord or a government agency. Lawmakers have an opportunity this session to remedy this omission by adding anti-retaliation protections to our landlord tenant act by passing House Bill 2109. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Child leave bill (SB 193) could mark progress for maternity, childcare for state employees (Capitol Update): Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, appears to be making some progress on her goal to make Oklahoma a “top 10 state for women.” She obtained passage last week of her Senate Bill 193 that would grant a six-week maternity leave to any state employee with a new birth or adopted child if the employee had been employed by the state for at least two years prior to requesting the leave. The bill also provides that the service of the employee will be considered uninterrupted for purposes of determining seniority, pay or pay advancement, and performance awards, and for the receipt of any benefit that may be affected by a leave of absence. The bill passed, with the title stricken, by a vote of 33-14 after some lively and perhaps unfortunate debate. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Honoring women’s history starts with improving representation: Unfortunately, the data show significant disparities remain for women, including the gender wage gap where women earn about 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. Progress toward making pay more equal is moving at a glacial pace, improving only about 2% during the last 20 years. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Together Oklahoma Meetings

  • Tuesday, March 21 @ 6:30 p.m. – Pontotoc County Community Meeting, in-person and online. 730 E. Main St., Ada, OK. The meeting will feature a town hall on student involvement in policy and advocacy. Special guests will include East Central University students. [More Information]
  • Wednesday, March 22 @ 6:00 p.m. – Logan/Lincoln/Payne Counties Community Meeting, in person and online. Join us for a community discussion about the issues facing your region. Learn how everyday Oklahomans can claim their political power and voice to promote policies that will help friends and neighbors in our communities. [More Information]
  • Thursday, March 23 @ 6:30 p.m. – Thriving Families Affinity Group (online only) focusing on issues and state policies that can provide equitable opportunity for all Oklahoma families to thrive. [Join the Meeting Online]

Weekly What’s That

Initiative Petition

Oklahoma citizens have the right to initiate statewide legislation via ballot measures, or State Questions, as either statutory or constitutional amendments.

After an initiative petition is drafted, it goes through a lengthy process which can include various legal challenges. To qualify for the ballot, a citizen-initiated statutory amendment requires signatures of registered voters equal to 8 percent of the votes cast at the last general election for the Office of Governor (currently 92,262 signatures based on the 2022 gubernatorial election), while a constitutional amendment requires 15 percent (currently 172,993 signatures). Citizens also have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum.  Once a petition has been determined to have a sufficient number of signatures and meets all other requirements, the Governor has the authority to call a special election to decide the petition or to place it on the ballot at the time of the next primary or general election.

Between 1989 and 2014, only 12 initiative petitions qualified for the ballot; of these, five passed and seven failed. Three initiative petitions were on the 2016 ballot.  SQ 779, raising the sales tax to fund education, failed, while two criminal justice reform measures – SQ 780 and SQ 781 – passed. In 2018, two initiative petitions made it on the ballot: SQ 788, legalizing medical marijuana passed in June, while SQ 793, allowing for optometrists and opticians to practice in retail stores, was defeated in November. In June 2020, voters opted to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income adults by approving SQ 802, while an initiative petition aimed at prohibiting a convicted person’s former felony convictions from being used to calculate future punishments (SQ 805) was defeated in November 2020. An initiative petition to allow recreational use marijuana, SQ 820, gathered sufficient signatures but failed to meet the deadline to appear on the November 2022 ballot; Gov. Stitt called a special election to decide SQ 820 for March 7, 2023.

An initiative petition (SQ 787) was launched in 2016 to lengthen the time period to gather signatures for initiative petitions from 90 days to one year, but it failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. Some legislators in recent sessions have introduced bills to make it harder to place initiative petitions on the ballot by raising the signature threshold or by requiring that the signature threshold be  met in every Congressional district or county.

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

Quote of the Week

“This place is literally yours. We’re literally in the building that everybody in here is here to serve you. Your tax dollars literally pay for this place so never let somebody tell you that you don’t belong and never allow anyone to make you feel other than.”

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World Editorial: Committee to examine Oklahoma business recruitment needs to be diverse, honest

In the loss of landing the Volkswagen electric vehicle battery plant, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat struck on an overdue idea: a committee to study why Oklahoma can’t attract major development deals.

The Oklahoma City Republican said he was tired of the state coming in as runner-up. In addition to Volkswagen, the companies and projects known to have gotten close and passed on Oklahoma recently are Panasonic with its $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant last year and Tesla’s Cybertruck Gigafactory in 2020.

Panasonic opted for Kansas; Tesla went with Austin, Texas; and Volkswagen chose a Canadian location. There are likely more companies not known publicly due to nondisclosure agreements.

A statement from Gov. Kevin Stitt noted that Oklahoma was competing with a country for Volkswagen. That’s true. But some U.S. states, including Texas, California and Florida, have a higher or equivalent GDP and population to Canada.

We believe there is more going on that turns off major companies.

Volkswagen’s statement mentions that the company shares “the same values of sustainability, responsibility and cooperation” as Canada and values its access to “clean electricity.”

Could this be at odds with an Oklahoma law passed last year forbidding state investments in companies dedicated to environmental, social and governance policies?

With Panasonic, a group of conservative lawmakers criticized the company for its embrace of LGBTQ+ employees and for its diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

The outsider view of Oklahoma right now sees laws advancing in the Legislature that would ban certain books from public libraries, drag performances in public areas and gender-affirming health care. It would see low public school and higher education investment…

Numbers of the Day

  • 15.6% – Rate of Oklahomans living in poverty (2021), which was the 10th highest rate in the nation. [U.S. Census Bureau via OK Policy]
  • 18% – Percentage of Oklahoma households with children birth to age 17 with at least one household member who experienced a loss of employment income in the past four weeks (Nov 2022). [KIDS COUNT]
  • 82% – In 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned, according to an analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. [Pew Research Center]
  • $900,000 – Estimated lifetime earnings loss for women due to the gender pay gap that sees women making less than their male counterparts. [Payscale]

What We’re Reading

  • Why Poverty Persists in America: In the past 50 years, scientists have mapped the entire human genome and eradicated smallpox. Here in the United States, infant-mortality rates and deaths from heart disease have fallen by roughly 70 percent, and the average American has gained almost a decade of life. Climate change was recognized as an existential threat. The internet was invented. On the problem of poverty, though, there has been no real improvement — just a long stasis. [Matthew Desmond / NY Times Magazine]
  • Robust COVID Relief Bolstered Economy and Reduced Hardship for Millions: Various data indicate that relief measures reduced poverty, helped people access health coverage, and reduced hardships such as inability to afford food and housing or to meet other basic needs. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • The gender pay gap has hardly budged in 20 years. What gives?: Tuesday was Equal Pay Day: March 14th represents how far into the year women have had to work to catch up to what their male colleagues earned the previous year. In other words, women have to work nearly 15 months to earn what men make in 12 months. Studies find that women still earn about 8% less than their male colleagues for the same job. “It’s what we call the ‘unexplained pay gap.’ Or, you could just call it discrimination,” one researcher said. [NPR]
  • Voting Systems and Women’s Representation: Women’s political representation is vital to sustaining good governance worldwide. But while women comprise over half of the world’s population, men still hold the majority of seats in almost every legislature. Research has shown that diversity in political representation leads to more inclusive and effective lawmaking. This means that political processes and outcomes suffer when women are excluded from office. [Represent Women]
  • No State Has an Adequate Supply of Affordable Rental Housing for the Lowest Income Renters: The U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes affordable and available to renters with extremely low incomes – that is, incomes at or below either the federal poverty guideline or 30% of their area median income, whichever is greater. Nationwide, only 33 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. Extremely low-income renters face a shortage in every state and major metropolitan area. [National Low Income Housing Coalition] | [Full Report, PDF] | [Oklahoma Summary]


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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