Weekly Wonk: State questions are foundation of Oklahoma’s democracy | Overreliance on incarceration increasing prison population | Holiday giving with intent and purpose

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

State Questions: The Foundation of Oklahoma’s Democracy (video): In this video, adapted from a presentation given during a legislative interim study this fall, OK Policy’s Cole Allen provides an overview of the state questions process (also known as the initiative petition or citizens initiative) and why it’s so important to protect this vital democratic right in Oklahoma. [Cole Allen / OK Policy]

Oklahoma’s overreliance on incarceration is increasing prison population (Capitol Update): It looks like the relief the state’s corrections system received by passage of State Question 780 in 2016 has ended, and Oklahoma’s incarceration numbers are beginning to increase again. The trend back to higher incarceration rates was predictable due to lack of substantial criminal legal reform in the state despite tremendous efforts by reform advocates. Efforts are thwarted during each legislative session by a combination of lobbying by prosecutors and law enforcement, apathy, and fear by many legislators of being perceived as “soft on crime.” [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Giving with intention and purpose: Now that it’s December and the clock is ticking down to the holidays, it’s important to remember how vital this season is for many of Oklahoma’s nonprofits. In Oklahoma and nationally, the majority of charitable giving comes during December. In fact, end-of-year giving represents about $1 in every $5 that nonprofits receive throughout the year. So, this holiday season, let’s take a moment to remember the profound impact our generosity can have on causes and community needs that are close to our hearts. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record

Upcoming Opportunities

Safe Communities (Criminal Justice Reform) Affinity Group 
December 12, 6:00 p.m. | [JOIN MEETING ONLINE]

The Safe Communities/Justice Reform Affinity Group is for advocates with an affinity to help make our communities safer. This statewide group meets online regularly in the winter and spring to discuss legislation, share resources, and plan community outreach related to criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. Learn more about affinity groups here, or contact Southeast Regional Organizer Roxanne Logan for more information.

Weekly What’s That

Board of Equalization

The State Board of Equalization was established in 1907 by the Oklahoma Constitution. The seven-member Board is composed of six statewide elected officials – the Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Superintendent of Instruction, and State Auditor – plus the Secretary of Agriculture.

A primary responsibility of the Board is to provide an official estimate of how much revenue will be available for the Oklahoma Legislature to spend for the coming year.  Three times a year, in December, February and June, the Board meets to certify revenue estimates for the upcoming budget year. Estimates are prepared by the Oklahoma Tax Commission and other agencies.

The Board is also responsible for assessing taxable property values for entities such as public service companies, railroads, and airlines. Each Oklahoma county has its own Board of Equalization that settles disagreements between county assessors and property owners about the taxable value of property.

Note: The Board of Equalization is scheduled to meet on Dec. 22 to discuss and certify the revenue estimate for next year’s fiscal budget. [Agenda] | [Website]

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

Quote of the Week

“(The initiative and referendum process) serves as a backstop against the Legislature. It placed legislative authority directly into the hands of the people.”

-Oklahoma historian and attorney Bob Burke, saying the initiative petition/state question process in Oklahoma’s Constitution was designed to give people a voice in the legislative process. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Stillwater News Press Editorial: Harsh Lessons

House Bill 1775 – which created the new Oklahoma law that tries to ensure no white child ever feels guilt about inherently racist happenings in our state’s history – was finally brought before a judge.

The courtroom of federal Judge Charles Goodwin, who, for the most part, seemed to be asking all the right questions.

Opponents argue that it has a chilling effect on free speech and the language is too vague to keep people from running afoul of the law, regardless of intention or teaching practices.

Proponents have said something akin to “You can still teach history, just don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Yes, as tough as we like to claim we are as Oklahomans, we passed a law to police feelings.

And, the part that’s being left out, because they aren’t party to the lawsuit, is how schools have already punished and threatened.

The law is being wielded like a paddle by a partisan Oklahoma Department of Education. With the law on the books, they can silently threaten school districts to avoid harsh but true histories on race or culture – even though that is a large part of our American history – by implying anyone who steps out of line is getting swatted.

The Trail of Tears.

The Tulsa Race Massacre.

The Osage murders.

It was only a few years ago we seemed to be at a reckoning point with our history. A lot of work has gone to undo it. It made certain people uncomfortable.

Now, teachers are having their livelihoods threatened and school districts’ their accreditation.

Because of House Bill 1775. Which deserves only to be stricken down and relegated to another harsh history lesson.

[Editorial / Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 24% – Percentage of child care providers who have run out of stabilization funding and reported they were serving fewer children. [National Association for the Education of Young Children]
  • 55% – Percentage of children in Oklahoma small towns and rural areas who had Medicaid/CHIP coverage in 2020-2021, compared to 46% for urban areas. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]
  • 10.5 million – The unauthorized immigrant population in the United States reached 10.5 million in 2021. This was a modest increase over 2019 (10.2 million) but nearly identical to 2017 and consistent with a general decrease during the past 15 years. [Pew Research Center]
  • 16.4% – Percentage of Oklahomans who are over 65. The national rate is 17.3%. [U.S. Census]

What We’re Reading

  • Child care programs see closures, resignations and tuition hikes after federal funding expires: It’s been two months since the federal government’s $24 billion in child care stabilization grants expired, sending the sector over what many have come to refer to as the “child care cliff.” The relief, part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act, was intended to avoid a worst-case scenario for the early care and education field while the country rebounded from the pandemic. But the relief stopped on Sept. 30. Without another source of funding to supplement the sector, which the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has called a “textbook example of a broken market,” the problems that the relief money helped paper over are once again pronounced. [The 19th]
  • Medicaid’s Coverage Role in Small Towns and Rural Areas: Medicaid’s vital role as an insurer for low-income families, people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, and individuals in need of long-term services and supports in the nation’s health care system has continued to grow over the past decade. According to federal administrative enrollment data, one-quarter of all residents of the United States and more than half of all children — nearly 94 million people — were covered by Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as of March 2023. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]
  • New census projections show immigration is essential to the growth and vitality of a more diverse US population: In a future of decreasing births and increasing deaths across an already aging population, immigration levels are crucial in leading to national growth as opposed to decline, and countering what would otherwise be extreme aging. Yet counter to widespread claims, immigration is not primarily responsible for making the nation more racially and ethnically diverse, as the U.S. population will become less white even under scenarios of low or zero future immigration. [Brookings]
  • Housing and care costs leave aging Americans with limited options: Over the last decade, the number of older adults increased 34% and now makes up 17% of the overall population. By 2040, the number of households headed by someone 80 or older will more than double. The data on aging adults’ finances paints an ominous picture. Nearly 11.2 million adults over 65 spent more than 30% of their income on housing in 2021, a record high up from 9.7 million in 2016. Of that group, more than half are spending at least 50% of their income on housing. So it’s little surprise that so many older adults cannot afford the extra expense of in-home care or assisted living. [Route Fifty]


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.