N E W S L E T T E R
APRIL 2017
Churches and society are confronted by many issues such as poverty, the environment, immigration, education, health, and criminal justice. By working together, individuals, churches, and communities can share information, organize efforts, and share resources. The OCC Social Justice Ministry Network gives us a vitally important tool enabling us to do this.


How does it work? Each representative is kept informed by OCC of important issues, including the work of the OCC  
IMPACT 
Committee as it tracks Oklahoma legislation. Where appropriate, we will produce relevant statements and recommend responsible action. Network representatives will then determine how best to disseminate this information to members of their own congregation and other interested persons. To join the Social Justice Ministry Network, send an e-mail to SJMN@okchurches.org.
 
Click on the embedded links in the paragraphs below for more in-depth information on each topic.
PREDATORY LENDING

HB 1913, if passed, would allow the payday lending industry to offer clients a new type of "small loan" (up to $1,500) at 17% interest per month . This interest rate is a whopping 204% Annual Percentage Rate (APR). While this is less than the maximum able to be charged on payday loans, people are currently limited to two payday loans. The new loan targets people who cannot afford to pay back their payday loans and who need to take out additional loans. There is, however, already the option of providing people in such a situation a loan with an APR of 30% instead of the 204% allowed by HB 1913.

The Oklahoma Conference of Churches has taken a strong stand against this bill. See this link  for the statement against HB 1913 signed by all the OCC Bishops and other Heads of Churches. 

Surprisingly, this proposed legislation has passed its house of origin and its Senate Committee. It will be voted on by the whole Senate as early as this week. Please contact your senators ASAP to urge them to vote against enacting a bill which targets the most vulnerable in our midst. 

ROLL BACK OF UTILITY RATES

While this time of year much of the
Social Justice Ministries Network is focused on legislation, we received some important good news recently unrelated to legislation. The Corporation Commission approved a markedly reduced rate hike for OGE and required them to roll back the increase put in place last summer in anticipation of approval. If you are an OGE customer, you will be getting a refund for the previously implemented increase. The new increase should amount to about 72 cents a month for most customers.

This is an excellent example of prudent regulations and oversight making a difference in the lives of citizens, particularly those finding it difficult to pay their current utility bills. Click here to see a copy of the 

Keeping up with regulatory bodies is another way of doing justice by letting them know about your stances on issue they address. If you have some expertise in a particular area, that makes it even better. As with legislators, be polite, be concise, share your sources of information, and if appropriate share your credentials. Other state bodies with regulatory functions relating to the six OCC Theological Statements (see links), include:

FUNDING

Since our last newsletter, Governor Mary Fallin challenged the
Legislature to raise state revenue by  saying, it's time "to get down to business" [The Oklahoman 4-1-2017]. Ear lier she had sent the Legislature her plan for raising revenue related to removing sales t ax exemptions from many services and raising the tax  on tobacco. The Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus recently released its RECOMMENDATIONS  of ways to raise revenue. These recommendations, some of which have bi-partisan support, are a good place to start. What can we do with these? Read through them, consider the impact of each on all citizens, identify the ones that make the most sense to you or add your own ideas, and let your senator and representative know the ones you support. The governor and her executive team and some members of both parties recognize that our financial crisis cannot be solved by cuts alone. Some legislators believe that raising taxes or taking other revenue raising actions is the political kiss of death. Strong support from their constituents will help them make good decisions.

RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

The IMPACT  Committee was pleased to see several measures related to restorative justice pass out of their houses of origin and continue through the legislative process. Changing a more punitive system to a justice system that returns criminals to wholeness in society is a long-term SJMN vision. It is important to monitor what is happening to these criminal justice bills in the other house. This legislation can be followed via this link:  IMPACT .

On another positive note, HB 1482 was pulled from committee consideration. This bill would have reversed major parts of SQ 780, which was approved by a vote of the people in November of last year. You'll remember that SQ 780 reduced certain simple drug possession offences from felonies to misdemeanors, which would eventually lower the prison population. The related SQ 781 passed to enable the savings inherent in SQ 780 to be applied to preventative mental health and drug rehabilitation programs.  
  
If HB 1482 had passed, it would not only have thwarted the will of the people, but caused further harm to the very people the ballot issues were designed to help. Oklahoma has the highest level of incarceration of women in the United States. Many are in prison on offenses like simple drug possession with no intent to sell.  Do we do any child good by making these crimes felonies as they were before the vote, and imprisoning their mothers for behavior that needs treatment--not punishment?   Often these children must live with other relatives who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for their care while the mother is in prison. Some end up in state custody. Would the children not be better off if we provided treatment and job placement for those moms so they can continue to care for their children and grow into a recovered role model for them? We have good data that drug courts work ( see Adult Drug Court ). We also know the imprisonment of parents cause negative impacts ( see Children of Incarcerated Parents ). Of course, the negative impact of parent imprisonment relates to fathers also.

Possession of a controlled substance in and of itself does not equal bad parenting skills. Child abuse and neglect as a crime has its own delimitators and requisite action must be taken when they are present. 

OCC IMPACT Committee successfully advocated against HB 1482. Thank you also for your own advocacy regarding this bill and Restorative Justice.

BILLS BEING TRACKED ARE LISTED ON OCC WEBSITE

Please remember that a listing of the bills tracked by the
IMPACT Committee are now maintained on the OCC website, with updates as they become available. This will make the information available for you to access in your time frame. If a specific bill is important to you, you can sign up for updates from the Legislature's website by clicking this link:  LENS . A lead person from the IMPACT Committee is assigned for each of the six focus areas tracked. If you have input about legislation for the IMPACT Committee, please share it at sjmn@okchurches.org. Your e-mail will be forwarded to the appropriate lead person. He or she will contact you if further information is needed.

ADVOCACY TRAINING WORKSHOP

OCC will be conducting an Advocacy Training Workshop from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at St. Paul's Cathedral (127 N.W. 7th St., OKC). The workshop will give practical advice regarding how you can personally participate in the legislative process (or do so on behalf of your faith community). The cost of the workshop is $10.00.  You may register and pay online via our website by clicking here.  

Credits for Pictures:   Incarcerated Mothers - Can Stock Photo -  Sangoiri,  Utility Costs - Can Stock Photo- John Kwan,   Raising Revenue - Can Stock Photo   - Nevenova, Credit for 3 branches of government  Can Stock Photo - JPL Designs
OKLAHOMA CONFERENCE OF CHURCHES
301 N.W. 36th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73118
www.okchurches.org    (405) 525-2928
  The Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director