- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Enid News & Eagle. April 14, 2017.

The numbers for the nation’s least popular governors are out, and it isn’t pretty.

Fox News reports that Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has the fifth-lowest approval rating among governors in America, according to a poll by the nonpartisan survey research company Morning Consult. Just 41 percent approve of Fallin while 52 percent disapprove of her performance.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the nation’s least popular with a 25 percent approval rating and 71 percent disapproving, according to the poll.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, last year’s basement dweller, moved up a spot to second worst rated with 27 percent job approval in the Sunflower State. Sixty-six percent disapprove of his job.

Rounding out the cellar of this year’s dubious list are Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (29 percent approval, 66 percent disapproval) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (40 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval).

With Fallin serving her second and final term, it’s not too early to start talking about the race to become Oklahoma’s next governor. Although we’re waiting on formal announcements, it’s not too early to speculate.

Earlier this year, Republican Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb Lamb resigned his post on Fallin’s cabinet as a small-business advocate. In the startling move, he cited a disagreement with the governor over her plan to broaden the sales tax to a variety of services as a way to help shore up the state’s budget shortfall.

On April 7, Lamb filed paperwork to run for governor in 2018. It will be interesting to see how much more he distances himself from Fallin in the future.

State Auditor & Inspector Gary Jones, the former state GOP chair, also is considering running. Jones proposes a 5 percent across-the-board gross production tax on oil and gas and on wind generation, plus capping the top individual income tax rate at its current level and implementing a tax-credit moratorium, according to The Oklahoman.

Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, who pledged free turnpikes in the 2002 gubernatorial race, has said he would run as a Republican this time around - that’s if the maverick decides to throw his hat in the ring again. He once served as U.S. attorney under President Ronald Reagan.

Many in Oklahoma City and beyond are hoping outgoing Mayor Mick Cornett decides to run for governor in 2018. A former TV journalist in the metro market, the popular leader is not seeking re-election in OKC, where leaders are contemplating a potential successor to MAPS 3.

On the Democratic side, two OKC residents - ex-state Sen. Connie Johnson and retired auto mechanic Norman Brown - filed statements of organization. House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, is reportedly eyeing the race.

Some are wondering if former Attorney General Drew Edmondson will run again, but former Congressman Dan Boren and ex-gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman have said they won’t.

We shall see.

___

Tulsa World. April 14, 2017.

A common sense prison reform measure has worked its way to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and deserves passage.

Senate Bill 185 would allow the state parole board to release some prisoners who are 70 years of age or older who have served at least 10 years in prison or at least one-third of their sentence.

Those convicted of the most serious crimes, including sex crimes and violent crimes, are not eligible.

The parole board will have to use an evidence-based risk assessment in considering prisoners.

The potential cost savings are obvious. In general, it costs the state $52.20 a day to house a prisoner, and older prisoners are more expensive to hold and protect.

While prison populations tend to be younger than the rest of the world, Oklahoma’s prison population is aging. In 1980, Oklahoma only had 85 prisoners age 50 or older. By 2015, that number had grown to 5,455.

The aging of the prison population is related to the rising cost of medical treatment of prisoners in the state. In fiscal 2015, the state spent nearly $85 million on medical care for inmates. That cost is paid 100 percent by the state. An elderly paroled inmate is in many cases eligible for Medicaid, which is substantially funded with federal taxes.

An aging prisoner parole docket makes practical sense. Nonviolent prisoners would be considered on a case-by-case basis and released if the evidence shows they are a low risk to society. That leaves more money to spend holding on to younger felons who pose a more significant threat.

___

The Oklahoman. April 17, 2017.

It was probably wishful thinking to believe the Legislature would give quick approval to a raft of bills that seek to reform the way crime and punishment are administered in Oklahoma. Sure enough, objections raised highlight how difficult it is to effect change in this area.

The bills resulted from a task force convened by Gov. Mary Fallin last year. Reforms are being sought to reduce Oklahoma’s prison population during the next several years, something that must happen if the cash-strapped state is to avoid having to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new prisons. As it is, the inmate population increases every year and has for the past three decades, with no significant drop in the state’s violent crime rate.

The dozen task force bills made it out of either the House or the Senate last month, and are being considered by the other chamber (one has been laid over at the governor’s request). Several of the Senate bills were assigned to the House judiciary committee, whose chairman, Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, has been a vocal opponent of most criminal justice reform.

After a day this month in which it was unclear whether the bills would even receive a hearing in Biggs’ committee, the panel dealt with them - and the watering-down process began.

One measure was amended to remove an entire section that dealt with the amount of prison time a person with a nonviolent criminal history could be given for a new nonviolent offense. House members will now try to agree on which crimes they feel are nonviolent and try to include them in the final bill. It’s a worthwhile debate, given that nature of some of the crimes included in the original bill. But a concern is that the list of qualifying crimes will shrink considerably - meaning more Oklahomans potentially will go to prison for longer stretches of time, even as research shows long stints behind bars don’t produce better outcomes for inmates.

Biggs’ committee also spiked language in a bill that would have had the state Supreme Court craft rules for developing payment plans for indigent defendants, and sought to have fines, fees and court costs waived for offenders who pursue post-secondary education or make other strides to better themselves.

These fees create a heavy, long-lasting burden for offenders, many of whom are low-income. This change is the right thing to do. But court officials rely on those funds, and they didn’t like the bill, Biggs said, and so that language was tossed.

A fairly innocuous Senate bill sought to reduce the penalties for burglaries of sheds and other buildings that aren’t connected to a residence. But after a member voiced concern about lower punishment for someone who burglarizes a garage right outside a bedroom window, the bill was amended to eliminate the reclassification of some lower-level burglary crimes.

It’s encouraging that most of the bills remain alive. It’s much less encouraging, though, that several bills ultimately may not wind up doing nearly as much as expected to alter Oklahoma’s unsustainable course on corrections.

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