Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
The Enid News & Eagle. Aug. 13, 2018.
- Revitalized Lahoma Courts could feature attractive retail options
In 2015, City Manager Jerald Gilbert outlined Enid’s economic development priorities shortly after took over the leadership position.
The downtown hotel project was at the top of the list. Now that this project has broken ground, it’s time to move to the next phase of economic development.
The second priority identified by Gilbert, the Lahoma Courts properties, has a bigger geographic footprint. The area is located at West Owen K. Garriott and Cleveland Road, east of Sunset Plaza and south of Starbucks Coffee.
This land could support significant big-box retail. Rumors once circulated the corner node could support a Target store, but that never materialized.
The original development deal for Lahoma Courts fell through. Through an agreement with former developer Hunt Properties, the city of Enid invested approximately $3.2 million into acquiring the properties at Cleveland and Garriott, but the agreement to sell the land to the developer ended in the spring of 2016.
At the time, Gilbert said the city of Enid was unable to fulfill its end of the agreement with Hunt Properties, and Hunt was unable to fulfill its end as well.
After that, Ron Ward Investments LLC, of Oklahoma City, marketed the property, but no deal was announced.
In May, Enid Economic Development Authority - made up of the Enid City Commission - approved a two-year contract with Retail Attractions LLC, founded by consultant Rickey Hayes. Gilbert said the agreement continued a long-term relationship for multiple years with Hayes.
One significant component of the agreement is an incentive to bring deals to the Lahoma Courts area. Recently, Gilbert said several proposals are being considered and further refined, but those are not yet ready to be presented to city commissioners.
After significant public investment - and considerable private investment by Nicholas Real Estate - we’re still eager to see this high profile retail corridor developed to its maximum capacity.
As we’ve said before, Enid deserves a premium movie-going experience, particularly as the economic hub for Northwest Oklahoma. This revitalized area could house such development along with some attractive places to shop and eat in Enid instead of residents spending their dollars in Oklahoma City.
Tulsa World. Aug. 14, 2018.
- OU, OSU ban medical marijuana … and that’s OK
On first glance, it stinks that the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University are telling students they won’t be able to possess or use legally licensed medical marijuana in dormitories or elsewhere on campus.
If marijuana is medicine - and the voters of Oklahoma have decisively answered that question in the affirmative - then it doesn’t seem like it should be treated any differently than any other medicine by the state or its universities.
OU and OSU don’t tell students with valid opioid prescriptions that they can’t use their medicine on campus. Would anyone like to compare the potential dangers of medical marijuana and prescription opioids?
But, in this case, the two schools are not substituting their judgments for those of the voters, and the ban is legitimate.
In a joint press release issued Thursday, the two schools explained that marijuana remains illegal under federal law; and the schools are bound to enforce a ban under the Federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act.
The universities say they are also bound by the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Act and the Federal Controlled Substances Act.
If the schools didn’t obey the federal laws, they would risk millions in federal funding.
State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma, seemed to recognize this potential. It says that schools cannot penalize marijuana licensees “unless failing to do so would imminently cause the school … to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations.”
In other states that have legalized marijuana, state colleges and universities - including the University of Colorado, the University of California and the University of Washington - have taken similar steps, according to reporting in the Journal Record.
If a doctor prescribes medical marijuana to an Oklahoma college student, the law has not been broken; and, for the most part, no one should interfere with the student’s use of his medicine within the bounds of state laws and regulations.
But with their substantial federal funding at risk, the state’s higher education institutions have no choice but to tell students that their medical marijuana is strictly an off-campus activity.
The Oklahoman. Aug. 14, 2018.
- Will ‘hero’ emerge to lead Oklahoma corrections reform?
One of the key leaders of successful corrections reform in Texas says a primary ingredient is to find “a hero . somebody who’s willing to step up and say, ‘I’m going to lead this and get it done.’” Does our Legislature have one?
It did once in former Republican House Speaker Kris Steele, who late in his tenure tried to add Oklahoma to the list of conservative states pursuing reform. Steele succeeded in passing a significant piece of legislation in 2012, his last year at the Capitol, but it essentially was dismissed once he left office.
Efforts at corrections reform have begun to gain some momentum at the Legislature in the past few years, with several bills being signed during the 2017 and 2016 sessions. These bills do such things as give judges more leeway in sentencing for some crimes, ease sentencing mandates on repeat drug offenders, and end mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug-related and burglary offenses.
But Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh has described these as nibbling at the edges of the problem. He’s right, in the fact that recent reform bills will only slow the rate of growth of the Oklahoma inmate population. By 2026, according to projections, the inmate census is expected to be roughly 30,900, compared with 27,200 today.
Considering that at 27,200, Oklahoma’s prisons are already well beyond capacity, this is a problem. Allbaugh has called for building new prisons to deal with the growth.
As The Oklahoman’s Justin Wingerter chronicled Sunday, Texas found itself in a similar spot in 2005, facing the prospect of adding prisons to deal with an ever-growing inmate population. Yet lawmakers there chose another option - embracing reforms that have led to eight prisons being closed even as crime rates have fallen.
That effort, begun with approval of a reform package in 2007, was led by the chairman of the House Corrections Committee at the time, who was a Republican, and the longtime head of the Senate, a Democrat.
At the time, prisons in Texas were at 97 percent capacity but were expected to surpass that in the next few years. Oklahoma’s prisons are already filled beyond capacity - and have been for several years.
The great advantage Texas lawmakers had in pursuing reform a decade ago was that they were working with a huge state budget surplus. As Wingerter noted, instead of spending half a billion dollars on new prisons, “the state spent half that on treatment and diversion programs.” That’s an injection of roughly $250 million to stem the flow of prisoners - a total that equals more than half the Oklahoma DOC’s total budget. Clearly, the comparison between states is not apples to apples.
Oklahoma is emerging from a period of several years of down budgets that have made new investments in corrections (or numerous other state agencies) a challenge. As the budget picture improves, lawmakers must look for opportunities to fund additional drug and mental health courts and other successful prison diversion programs.
What’s needed, too, as the Texas official noted, is for a legislator or two to make corrections reform their cause and bang the drum repeatedly. Although some gains have been made, many more are needed.
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