Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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State Sen. John Sparks (D-Norman)
Oklahoma Senate

A Democratic state senator who opposes a bill creating education savings accounts is proposing three amendments that appear to take a shot at other recent Republican legislation.

The amendments involve drug testing parents and bans on Advanced Placement U.S. history courses and Common Core standards materials.

Ilea Shutler / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she knows of no school grading system in the nation that she likes and believes Oklahoma can develop its own pioneering system to measure school performance.

However, she said revising the controversial A through F grading system is not an immediate priority. She is focused now on a “crisis” with keeping and hiring teachers and trying to add more days to the school year.

Pregnant women who use drugs could face criminal penalties under a measure working its way through the Oklahoma Senate.

SB 559 would change the definition of assault to include the illegal use of a narcotic drug by a child's mother while the mother is pregnant. A woman found guilty would face a misdemeanor charge, possibly 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

  However, if the child dies as a result of the drug use, the assault would be considered a felony and the woman would face a prison sentence of not more than five years and a $500 fine.

Synergos Institute / Flickr

Despite a budget hole of $611 million, a court-ordered reform of Oklahoma’s child welfare system will be funded for the 2016 fiscal year, the chairmen of the Legislature’s budget-writing committees said Monday.  

State Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the Department of Human Services’ Pinnacle Plan would be funded for the next fiscal year.

“It’s not up for debate,” said Jolley, chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. “The Pinnacle Plan will be funded.”

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, who is House budget chair, agreed.

Before he took an unusual step, Homer Stephens, of Oklahoma City, faced thousands of dollars in court fines and fees.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Thousands of offenders in Oklahoma fail to pay what they owe on court fines and fees each year.

The reason often has less to do with defiance than with being too poor to make good on debt, some judges say.

In Oklahoma County, for example, as of August the district court had about 134,000 open cases going back to 2000 in which offenders owed a total of around $110 million, said Oklahoma County Special Judge Donald Easter.

An anti-Muslim protester chants Friday on the south steps of the State Capitol building.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

Representatives of Oklahoma’s Muslim community, responding to complaints and criticism about their faith by some state lawmakers, came to the state Capitol Friday to learn how to become more politically engaged.

The event drew more than 100 participants and about two dozen protesters. The protesters, many with signs, stood outside the Capitol's south entrance chanting anti-Muslim statements.

VIDEO: A woman is removed from the Oklahoma State Capitol building Friday after she tried to disrupt a Muslim call to prayer.

Rubias Galegas / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma's House Criminal Justice and Corrections committee narrowly passed a measure Wednesday that would make fines and sentences for cattle theft steeper than they are for aggravated assault.

Preston Doerflinger, Office of State Finance director, during a November 2011 tax credit task force meeting.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Facing a budget hole of more than $611 million, state lawmakers said they're looking everywhere for revenue to fill that hole.

On Friday, Governor Fallin's finance secretary, Preston Doerflinger, said he may have found a source of savings: agency travel costs, agencies' memberships to other organizations and agency promotional and events expenses, or what his office calls "swag."

John Atkinson, who was released from OKlahoma County Jail after serving time on drug and weapons charges, must pay $3,000 to get his driver's license restored. Until then, he is relying on family and friends for transportation.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment in a series reported jointly by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio.

When offenders leave prison to re-enter society, one of the steepest barriers they face is finding a job.

Then they encounter a second barrier: paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees to reinstate a driver’s license so they can look for and keep a job.

Oklahomans who lose a license because of failing to pay a traffic fine or appear in court on the matter may have to pay several hundred dollars to restore the license.

Credit Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma’s judicial system is among those facing budget a budget cut this year, raising questions about whether it would be able to collect as much in court fines and fees that help fund other state agencies.

In February, Gov. Mary Fallin called on lawmakers to cut the budgets of most state agencies, including the judiciary, by 6.25 percent. Fallin’s budget would have cut funding to the Supreme Court by $455,694, to the Court of Criminal Appeals by $226,887 and to the district courts by $3,474,769.

However, since Fallin’s budget was released, state officials announced the budget gap has doubled the original projections, to $611.3 million, and bigger spending cuts are expected.