Last Wednesday was Child Advocacy Day at the State Capitol, and I’d like to thank everyone who came out in support of policies that benefit children. We were joined by more than 100 Oklahomans who participated in advocacy workshops before meeting with lawmakers to discuss child-focused legislation. During the event, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) held a luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion, where we were honored to be joined by First Lady Sarah Stitt, Secretary of Health Jerome Loughridge, and Secretary of Human Services Steven Buck. We greatly appreciate the Stitt administration and First Lady Stitt directly investing so much of their time and energy into children’s issues and, specifically, combatting child abuse. Luncheon attendees also heard from Rodney Timms, founder of All Truckers Together Against Child Abuse (ATTACA), who detailed his own abuse and how his faith has led him to a life devoted to helping at-risk children. Continue Reading →
We are fast approaching Child Advocacy Day, held on Wednesday, May 8, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is pleased to be collaborating with the organization, Let’s Fix This, to once again hold a day for regular folks to sharpen their skillsets when it comes to effectively communicating with legislators and policy-makers. Advocacy Day will include seminars on successful legislative and media outreach as well as updates on child and family-focused bills that are making their way through the legislative process. We will also be meeting directly with lawmakers on several key pieces of legislation that impact our youngest residents. We encourage all Oklahomans who want to make a difference to register to attend via the “events” tab on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/OKChildAdv/) or through our website at OICA.gov.
In addition to our free advocacy day at the capitol, OICA will also host a Child Advocate’s Luncheon (attendees are required to make a donation). This event will be held at the Phillips Pavilion on the Governor’s Mansion grounds next to the Oklahoma State Capitol. We will kick off the luncheon at 11:30 AM with remarks from First Lady Sarah Stitt, Cabinet Secretaries Steven Buck and Jerome Loughridge, and Kid Governor Lucas Peterson. Following that, our keynote speaker will be Rodney Timms, accomplished Oklahoma author, cofounder of Western Flyer Express, and the founder of All Truckers Together Against Child Abuse (ATTACA). Continue Reading →
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is pleased to announce the third annual OICA Heroes Ball will be held on the evening of Friday, July 26th at the Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City. The Heroes Ball is a semi-formal event, but attendees can also dress as their favorite superhero in honor of child advocates who have reached “hero status” for the work they do on behalf of children. A special awards ceremony will posthumously honor Judge Lisa Tipping Davis with the Kate Barnard Perseverance Award for her lifetime of achievement on behalf of improving the lives of Oklahoma’s children. Several other honorees will be named at a later date and celebrated during the program. Heroes Ball attendees will also participate in live and silent auctions, a raffle, games and wine pull. Guests must be over 21, but parents and guardians can drop children ages 6-12 off at the “Sidekicks Ball.” The Sidekicks Ball will have kid friendly activities, music, food, and a superhero school with special appearances from superheroes in costume. Continue Reading →
As I write this column on Tax Day, or April 15, we mostly likely will have about one month left before lawmakers adjourn the 2019 legislative session. I want to take the time to reflect on one of the major tax policy discussions being held at the Capitol: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) defines it, the EITC is defined as “a federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people. It encourages and rewards work as well as offsets federal payroll and income taxes. Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have established their own EITCs to supplement the federal credit.” Up until 2016, Oklahoma not only issued its own EITC, it was “refundable,” meaning a taxpayer could claim a tax credit even if it exceeded his or her tax liability. Around 348,000 Oklahoma households received the EITC. Continue Reading →
Last week was Spring Break for many Oklahomans, including our elected officials. As a result, the Legislature enjoyed an abbreviated schedule, although they did begin consideration of bills that advanced in opposite chambers. This means that all the surviving House Bills will now be heard in the Senate, and Senate Bills in the House over the next five weeks. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is tracking all the ideas pertaining to children and families. Of the original 2,800 bills filed and able to be considered in February, less than 1,000 now remain for consideration.
Of those which made it to the full body for a vote, about 70 were voted down. Most of the bills that failed to advance were, however, held in committee (rather than voted down), which means they can be considered next year. Continue Reading →
Jaded observers of Oklahoma politics often express their cynicism with the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In other words, while we may think we are making a difference, in reality, we are all just spinning our wheels. As someone who believes in the power of people to affect transformative change, I don’t like the phrase or its implications. So, at the risk of sounding like an Oklahoma version of Yogi Berra, I am coining a new one: “the more things change, the less they stay the same.” Engaged citizens are changing and improving Oklahoma every day, even if it sometimes feels like we are having the same conversations about the same problems. In fact, sometimes change happens because we insist on having those same old conversations until we break through. For instance, consider a bill filed this year by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. House Bill 2502 would provide a $1,000 tax credit for teachers to claim for classroom expenditures and fees associated with the teacher certification process. As the Speaker pointed out, this bill would “get money directly into the classroom and also help those teachers recoup those costs so they don’t have to choose between their families and their students.”
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 96-0 on March 11 and will now be up for consideration in the State Senate. Back in 2008, one of my colleagues and I authored House Bill 2919, which would have at the time given a similar $500 break for teachers. The legislation filed by Former Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, was not given a committee hearing. Politics, as well as budget issues of the time, hurt his proposed new law. But now this same idea has been resurrected and even strengthened, with a proposed tax break that is twice as large as the original proposal. Continue Reading →
The legislative session is moving quickly, and lawmakers are now busy working in their assigned committees to sort through relevant bills and resolutions. I am pleased to say that our legislators have filed many bills that seek to directly impact and improve child well-being. In fact, two of those bills have been the result of a collaboration between elected officials and one of our OICA advocates, a young man who is an alumnus of the foster care system in Oklahoma.The first of those is House Bill 2331, which proposes the creation of the Families Actively Made for Independent-Living-Aged Youth (FAMILY) Act. The FAMILY Act would help keep siblings in foster care together by assisting with the additional pay for those with therapeutic needs and providing the same payment for those without the need for additional support. The bill would also create the Children Belong with Families Act, which creates a division under the Department of Human Services (DHS) to aid in decreasing the amount of homeless youth in the state. This has become a growing problem in recent years and the hope is that early intervention will help reduce the percentages with homelessness.The second bill, House Bill 2332, creates the Model Successful Future Alumni Act, which provides the opportunity for current foster children to work as advocates within the child welfare system under the guidance of DHS. In addition, DHS would coordinate with the Commissioner of Labor to provide opportunities for gainful employment of program participants, giving preference to program participants with disabilities.Both bills were authored by Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-Oklahoma City. We appreciate her willingness to listen to the ideas and experiences of our advocates and to use those to help guide her policy-making.We would also like to highlight the work of Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa with House Bill 1022, which improves upon the Trauma-informed Care Task Force created last year. HB 1022 codifies the effort in making recommendations on the development of a statewide approach to preventing adverse childhood experiences and to identify interventions and supports for children who have, or are at risk of, experiencing trauma. Continue Reading →
OKLAHOMA CITY – Committees in the Oklahoma House and Senate have passed two bills expanding the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program. The program currently offers tax credits to donors who give to non-profit organizations funding innovative learning opportunities in rural public schools, or that fund scholarships for students attending private school.Opportunity Scholarship donations support STEM and arts programs in rural public schools, such as Chickasha High School’s robotics team. In the private sector, schools like Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School and Crossover Preparatory Academy in Tulsa rely on Opportunity Scholarships to offer free or vastly discounted college-prep educations to underserved, inner-city communities.Although proven to be successful, the Opportunity Scholarship program’s growth has been hindered by a tax-credit cap. Currently, the state can only pay out $5 million in tax credits for donors. That limit has been reached for two years in a row, which has discouraged additional contributions.House Bill 2621, by Rep. Jon Echols, increases the tax credit cap to $60 million, and also allows larger school districts to benefit from programs supporting public schools. Continue Reading →
he 2019 Oklahoma Legislative Session is now less than one month from convening and conducting official business. We at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) are anxious to see the long list of fresh ideas submitted by lawmakers. We have been monitoring much of the progress and feel there are great opportunities ahead with these new legislators and a new governor. Three subjects of interest that we are working on are:
Trauma Informed Care and the Reduction of Adverse Childhood Experiences: In 2018, we worked with lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin to create the Trauma Informed Care Task Force, which looks at ways to help reduce the impact of traumatic experiences suffered by children. In the coming year, this task force will be fully operational and be comprised of six additional lawmakers and two appointees from Gov. Kevin Stitt. The inclusion of lawmakers is especially important, as we hope the taskforce provides these members with policy suggestions that can directly influence legislation. The task force will begin work in February and will hold regular gatherings to explore why Oklahoma has such a large number of children suffering toxic long-term trauma and what can be done to reduce that harmful phenomenon. School Suspensions: As there was in 2018, we expect another healthy discussion regarding school suspensions as an appropriate disciplinary measure. Continue Reading →
Last year was a busy and deeply rewarding year for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). The primary mission of OICA is to advocate for children in the State of Oklahoma and to ensure that laws passed and policies implemented by governmental agencies are beneficial for all our children. I am proud to report we were successful on that front; we worked with lawmakers to see multiple child-friendly laws implemented, and we managed to prevent a few detrimental bills from passing. Thanks to our many supporters, we also grew several programs and services this past year, including: the Heroes Ball, our annual banquet to recognize the true heroes for children in our State; OK-LEAD, our three-day leadership symposium for young Oklahomans; the Melvin & Jasmine Moran Kidizenship Award, which recognizes young Oklahomans doing great work for their peers; the Laura Choate Resilience Award, which honors an Oklahoman who has overcome adversity to give back to others; the OICA Fall Forum, our annual conference which helps shape an aggressive legislative agenda for better policy; our Child Advocacy Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, which raises awareness and encourages Oklahomans to contact lawmakers; and our OK Foster Wishes program, which ensures that all of our children in the Foster Care system have gifts for the holiday season.I am pleased to report, as we conclude 2018, the projects we finalized exceeded our expectations. The OICA calendar is at the printer and will be ready for viewing later in January (the months for the OICA calendar run from February 1, the first month of the legislative session, to January 31. We also wanted to be just a little different.). You can purchase one from our website at oica.org starting mid-January.OK Foster Wishes, our other program which we finalized at the end of December, was a huge success thanks to the many partners we had. First, we greatly appreciate the hundreds of Oklahomans who fill wish lists, ranging from one to 500 lists taken by individuals and organizations. Thank you to Hobby Lobby for providing the warehouse space for OICA and DHS to use to distribute gifts to the various counties. We also want to thank those at DHS who helped do significant work to ensure this program could be successful. We also greatly appreciate the many donors who contributed to keep our Santa Store filled for those children who came into care after the list deadline. We appreciate you all!As we begin a New Year, we look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead of us in 2019. Continue Reading →