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Capital City: Legislative Black Caucus grows

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Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. 

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Sen. George Young was an eighth-grade student playing basketball in front of his home in Memphis, Tennessee. His mother called him to the back door of the house. That's where she told him that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

“She had tears in her eyes,” Young said. “I was old enough to know from my parents' reaction that it was not something good. I was worried because they were worried. I was bothered because they were bothered. It was almost an unimaginable fear. You didn't know what was going to happen next.”

The Oklahoman's Josh Dulaney wrote a story for the newspaper's quarterly magazine (The OK) on Young recalling King's assassination. 

Young is also the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, which has a record high seven members this year. I wrote about the caucus' plans for 2019 in today's paper. 

State officials give late pay raises ... Numerous pay raises were handed out by various agency heads within the last six months of 2018 as the clock ticked down on the administrations of Gov. Mary Fallin and several other statewide elected officials.

The Oklahomanexamined pay records for nine state agencies — some where the top leaders would be leaving office and others where they would be returning. The records revealed that 252 employees of those agencies were granted pay raises within the last six months of the year that would add $836,431 to the state's annual payroll.

Many of the raises were relatively modest, but 17 exceeded $10,000 annually.

Some state agency leaders said the raises were necessary so top positions compete with the private sector. Most state employees are low-paid workers who are 24 percent below market rate. I wrote about the state's low-paid workforce last year, but the issue remains the same today. 

State employee pay raise effort continues ... Advocates for state employees plan to push for a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for correctional officers, social workers and other state employees that are currently 25 percent below market rate, based on a recent state compensation study.

That pay raise would cost at least $200 million.

"But we are spending $130 million every year in turnover costs because we can't keep our workers," said Sterling Zearley, executive director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

Governor's first week ... Gov. Kevin Stitt's first week in office was largely focused on drafting the executive budget he will present to lawmakers next month, which is expected to use growing state tax collections for another teacher pay raise and to increase the state's rainy day fund.

Stitt's staff said the new governor is extensively researching the state's dedicated funds in order to question and understand the entire flow of money within state government.

"It's requiring all staff to have sharp pencils," said Donelle Harder, Stitt's spokeswoman. "It also means he is spending more time in the office right now than most groups might be used to for a new governor."

Horn rejects presidents offer ... U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn on Sunday rejected President Donald Trump’s new offer for border wall funding, saying three years of protection for children brought to the country illegally was only a temporary solution.

“We have voted repeatedly to open the government back up and this offer — I’m concerned that the offer about DACA is only a temporary offer,” the freshman Democrat said at her Oklahoma City office.

“I think that it is really important when we’re solving this DACA issue that we offer a permanent solution.”

Horn said the monthlong partial shutdown of the federal government was severely harming families in her congressional district and across the country, and she called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, for not allowing senators to vote to open up the government.

State religious leaders respond to video ... Oklahoma religious leaders -- one Roman Catholic, one an American Indian United Methodist -- have offered statements decrying youths shown on video mocking an American Indian elder.

More political news ... 

-State lawmakers filed more than 2,800 measures that could be considered in the coming months. (Journal Record)

-A page on Facebook has been created to support the election of the late Charles Lamb as Mayor of Edmond. The page supports doing so out of respect for Lamb, honoring his legacy, and then “allowing the council to appoint a qualified person to lead our city.” (Edmond Sun)

-Attempting to increase participation in free lunch programs, a Tulsa lawmaker is championing legislation she said would prohibit school employees from shaming children who can’t afford lunch. (CNHI)

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at bfelder@oklahoman.com. 

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Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›

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