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Capital City: Stitt promises investment in criminal justice reform

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Good Thursday morning. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt wants nearly $12 million in additional funding this year for prison diversion programs and to expedite pardon and parole requests for some Oklahoma inmates.

Stitt's budget, which will be released Monday, is expected to include $10 million for the County Community Safety Investment Fund, a diversion program established through State Question 781 to provide mental health and substance abuse services.

Stitt's budget will also include $1.5 million for Women in Recovery, an alternative sentencing program for women dealing with addiction.

Stitt also plans to ask for $150,000 to hire two additional staff members at the Pardon and Parole Board to expedite pardon and parole requests.

Stitt wants hiring power over agency heads. Dems don't think that's a good idea: 

“We see that as a move back towards political patronage,” said House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, speaking at the Associated Press legislative forum on Wednesday. “We think that the current system is working. We see giving the governor more power in that area as inserting politics into agencies where it doesn't belong.”

Control over hiring agency directors was a central part of Stitt's campaign, and Republican leaders in the House and Senate have expressed support.

Horn to chair space subcommittee ... U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn will lead a House Science subcommittee on space and aeronautics, House Democrats announced Wednesday, giving her an early leadership role on space policy.

Horn managed government affairs and communications for the Space Foundation, a nonprofit organization, in the mid- and late 2000s. Along with the House Science Committee, she is also on the House Armed Services Committee.

“The influential role the aerospace industry maintains in Oklahoma, coupled with my professional background in the space industry, positions me to be a positive and impactful voice for our state on the important issues of space and aeronautics,” said the freshman Democrat from Oklahoma City.

Stitt announces new cabinet member ... Gov. Stitt announced Wednesday the appointment of Lisa J. Billyas Secretary of Native American Affairs, a cabinet position that will require Senate confirmation. More on Billy: She currently serves in the Chickasaw Nation Legislature, a seat she has held since 2016. She previously served in the Chickasaw Nation Legislature from 1996 to 2002. Billy also served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004 to 2016 representing District 42. During her time in the Legislature, Billy held various leadership roles including Floor Leader from 2014 to 2016, Deputy Whip from 2004 to 2008, and Vice Chair of the Republican Caucus from 2006 to 2008. She formed the Native America Caucus in the Oklahoma Legislature in 2006 and has been recognized for her work on prison reformation policies. Billy holds a B.A. from Northeastern State University and an M.Ed from the University of Oklahoma.

Fallin's legacy ...NonDoc has a review of former Gov. Mary Fallin's legacy, which includes being Oklahoma's first female governor. 

Trait Thompson, State Capitol restoration project manager, was working for the Oklahoma State Senate in 2012 and recalls Fallin as an advocate for the then-unpopular Capitol restoration project, which now draws bipartisan praise as an investment in what some call Oklahoma’s top historical artifact.

“She decided early on that we were going to make this a priority and we were going to get this fixed,” Thompson said. “There’s something about the bully pulpit of the governor that has a tendency — for whatever reason — to rise above the din of the crowd. I think that did have a significant impact.”

Bennett leaves Board of Regents ... Citing health issues, Clay Bennett resigned Wednesday as chairman of the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents before the board's meeting on the OU Health Sciences Center campus.

Regent Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes stepped into the role and made the announcement. She praised Bennett, 59, for his mental and physical fortitude while serving two years as chairman during a very difficult time.

Anita Hill will speak at USAO ... Attorney, academic and activist Anita Hill will be the featured guest at a gala fundraiser to benefit the Dr. Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Center for Social Justice and Racial Healing at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.

The gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Oklahoma History Center. Tickets are $100 per person and must be reserved by Feb. 15. They are available at usao.edu/gala or by calling 405-574-1393. 

Event will focus on legislative session ... The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and the Oklahoma Women's Coalition will host advocacy training and a State of the State Address watch party from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at Building B12 on the Chesapeake Campus, 6100 N Western Ave.

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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