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
Supporting immigration will boost Oklahoma’s economy: Immigrants are an integral part of Oklahoma’s economy. They work in essential industries, create jobs by starting businesses, care for our aging population, and contribute to the public services upon which we all rely by paying taxes. Because of the many ways in which immigrants support our state, increasing Oklahoma’s immigrant population is a crucial way to protect the long-term health and prosperity of our state economy. Oklahoma’s policymakers should make our state more accessible to the country’s foreign-born population by creating a state office of immigrant and refugee affairs, working to retain our international students, and uplifting immigrant contributions to our state and community. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez and Josie Phillips / OK Policy]
Lawmakers’ recommendations on ARPA spending starting to take shape (Capitol Update): There was a lot of activity at the Capitol last week with interim studies discussing a variety of topics and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) working groups considering and approving multiple funding proposals. The next stop for the working group proposals approved last week will be at a meeting of the full Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding Committee on Tuesday. Proposals approved Tuesday will be heard by the full House and Senate when the special session resumes, probably later this month. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
Policy Matters: A light in the darkness: Last week’s release of new census data showed Oklahoma is still one of the nation’s poorest states. In fact, our state’s poverty rate was the 10th highest in the nation with nearly 1 in 6 of our friends and neighbors living in poverty. That comes as little surprise to those of us who regularly track how state policies serve – or fail to serve – everyday Oklahomans. The data, however, did show a bright spot beginning to emerge. [Shiloh Kantz / OK Policy]
Weekly What’s That
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a federal program that protects certain undocumented immigrants from deportation. Created by an Obama administration Executive Order in 2012, it allows people who were brought to the United States without authorization before their 16th birthday to apply for temporary protected status for two years, renewable for two year terms. Applicants must meet several criteria, as defined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In September 2017, the Trump administration announced that it planned to end DACA. A federal court ruled that action illegal and kept the program in place. In June 2020, the Supreme Court overturned the Trump Administration decision to end DACA. On July 16, 2021, a U.S. district court in Texas issued a decision and injunction holding that DACA is unlawful and freezing applications from first-time applicants, but allowing the program to continue for current recipients. Federal courts heard arguments on the Texas case, and a separate case filed on behalf of DACA applicants, in July 2022. The Biden Administration, which has tried unsuccessfully to provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, is appealing the Texas court decision and is also moving forward with rulemaking on the DACA process.
Quote of the Week
“Oklahoma’s progress on criminal justice reform changed my life. I am home with my family today because Oklahoma voters and state leaders knew something had to change. I am grateful to have a second chance to give back to my community and contribute to my family.”
– Kevin Ott, whose life without parole sentence for a drug offense was commuted in 2018. [FWD.us]
Editorial of the Week
Editorial: Lack of contested races hurts Oklahoma
Nearly 70% of Oklahoma’s state legislative elections in 2022 will be decided without a single vote cast in November, a recent Oklahoma Watch story reported.
Since June, voters have participated in several high-profile primary races, but those races have mainly been in one political party — Republican. The Republican primary ballot was fairly crowded while the Democratic ballot had fewer options.
A number of factors have weakened the Democratic Party in Oklahoma almost to the place of non-existence. Some hard-core Republicans might think that’s a good thing; however, Oklahomans are served best when they have quality candidates of both parties to choose from.
Oklahoma Watch interviewed political experts, local organizers and current and former legislative candidates to gauge why uncompetitive races are rising. Expanding Republican influence and success in attracting voters and candidates were the most commonly cited factors.
The main problem with a lack of competitive races is that voters are more likely to become disengaged from the voting process. That’s the exact opposite of what needs to be happening right now as our political parties become more partisan and polarizing.
Additionally, when lawmakers go continuous election cycles without a contest, they may tend to be less engaged with their constituents. They “assume” that all their constituents approve of the job they’re doing.
The other mitigating factor was 2021 was a redistricting year. No matter how each political party postures on redistricting, the ruling party at the time tends to get a more favorable map.
One way to avoid that is to devise a non-partisan committee to do the redistricting — but the political party in charge at the time typically makes sure that doesn’t happen. Attempts to get an initiative petition to establish an independent redistricting commission have not gotten very far.
The bottom line is, Oklahoma voters lose when they don’t have a choice in elections. The dominance of one party for an extended period of time — which has happened in Oklahoma — has placed a lot of big issues out of balance.
Numbers of the Day
- 23 – As of Tuesday, there were currently 23 calendar days left in which to register for the November’s general election. The voter registration deadline is Friday, Oct. 14. [Oklahoma Election Board]
- $23,513.30 – Annual cost for housing one person in an Oklahoma correctional facility [Oklahoma Department of Corrections via the Oklahoman]
- 48 – The number of calendar days that it took for the Secretary of State’s office — using an outside vendor hired for $300,000 — to complete signature verification for 117,000 signatures submitted in support of SQ 820. By comparison, the signature verification process for SQ 802 in 2019 took 21 calendar days for nearly 300,000 signatures without using an outside vendor. [Fox 25]
- $3.7 billion – Oklahoma currently spends approximately $455,000, or nearly half a million dollars, to hold a single person in prison for 20 years. As a result of Oklahoma’s harsh sentencing practices, Oklahoma taxpayers will spend an estimated $3.7 billion to hold the 8,027 people currently in prison with sentences of 20 or more years. [Turning the Page / FWD.us]
- 11.7% – Census numbers for 2021 show that Hispanic or Latino residents represent 11.7% of Oklahoma residents, or more than 1 in 9 of all Oklahomans. [U.S. Census Bureau, 2021, Excel]
What We’re Reading
- Online Voter Registration: Online voter registration systems supplement the traditional paper-based process, by which new voters fill out a paper form that is submitted to election officials, who confirm the registration is valid and enter the information from the paper application into the registration system. As of June 2022, a total of 42 states and D.C. offer online registration. Oklahoma is one of two states in the process of implementation. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
- Turning the Page: Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice Reform Story: Since 2016 when Oklahoma had the nation’s highest incarceration rate, the state began turning the page on more than two decades of explosive jail and prison growth that was out of step with evidence-based public safety strategies. As a result of implementing a number of reform measures, Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has gotten smaller, less expensive, more fair, and more just. More work remains to be done. Even after all this progress, Oklahoma still has the third-highest overall imprisonment rate and the second-highest women’s imprisonment rate in the country. [FWD.us]
- In Oklahoma, a Red State Model of Criminal Justice Reform: In the last half-decade, Oklahoma has enacted a series of landmark legislation that has reclassified drug offenses, removed barriers to reintegration, and reappropriated funding to social services — all with stunningly positive outcomes. More than a one-off effort, these policies span two different governorships and demonstrate how justice reform can earn bipartisan support and a warm public reception — all while helping people involved in the carceral system. [Arnold Ventures]
- Pandemic Prompts More States to Mandate Paid Sick Leave: The importance of paid sick leave became evident early in the pandemic when many low-wage workers in places such as grocery stores and meatpacking plants got sick but went to work anyway, fearing that they’d lose pay or be fired if they stayed home. That helped the virus to spread. Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of cities, counties and states were requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. But COVID-19 illustrated that such laws aren’t just about protecting people’s livelihoods — they can help save lives. [Pew Research]
- How American public spaces became so criminalized — and how we can win them back: America has a long history of criminalizing public spaces and our existence in them. As such, it’s far past time to reexamine whether some “public” behaviors merit criminalization. Many of these laws have explicitly racist or classist roots. These laws were born directly out of Jim Crow-era racism and continue to be enforced disproportionately against people of color today. [The Appeal]
- About National Hispanic Heritage Month: Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration of the history and culture of the U.S. Latinx and Hispanic communities. The event, which spans from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, coincides with the Independence Day celebrations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Those five nations declared their independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821. Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, respectively. Also, Día de la Raza on Oct. 12, denotes the day Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492. HispanicHeritageMonth.gov is a collaborative project of the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. [HispanicHeritageMonth.gov]
NOTE: National Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Each week, OK Policy will share policy notes and numbers to recognize this commemoration.