With session two-thirds finished, focus shifts at Legislature (Capitol Updates)

by | April 17th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Now that the standing committee work is completed for the 2015 session, the House will be taking floor action on Senate Bills and the Senate will be acting on House bills for the next couple of weeks.  Bills that survive the next two weeks will go on to the governor if they were passed in both houses in the same form.  If a bill is amended it will return to its house of origin where the author will have the option of moving to accept the amendments and send the bill to the governor or rejecting the amendments and asking for a conference committee. 

continue reading With session two-thirds finished, focus shifts at Legislature (Capitol Updates)

In The Know: State gross production revenues decline

by | April 17th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Although state general revenues grew last month, gross production tax collections were below last year’s March collections by 65.9 percent, or $25.9 million. In the Tulsa World, Policy Director Gene Perry of OK Policy and Jonathan Small of OCPA shared their differing perspectives on whether this year’s budget shortfall will allow the state to continue funding core functions of government like education and roads. Oklahoma has options for closing the budget gap.

Speaking to a Senate appropriations committee on Tuesday, ODHMSAS commissioner Terri White explained that the state has never adequately funded the mental health system and said that flat funding, rather than an increase for her agency, will result in thousands of Oklahomans losing services. The Oklahoman shared how Mike Brose and the organization he directs, Mental Health Association Oklahoma, work decrease stigma around mental illness. A new post on the OK Policy Blog discussed how Congress’s recent approval of a higher federal match to fund children’s health care signals that fears the government would fail to hold up its obligation to fund health coverage to low-income Oklahomans are unfounded. Although some politicians blamed the federal government when Oklahoma’s federal match decreased last year, the real problem was closer to home.

The Oklahoma Chapter of the NAACP and has asked state Attorney General Scott Pruitt and the US Department of Justice to investigate the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, Rep. Mike Shelton has called for the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation to step in, and the Oklahoma Chapter of the ACLU has called for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s resignation over the shooting of an unarmed man by a reserve deputy. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the  Sheriff’s Office has said that some training requirements for the deputy might have been waived. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett sought to clarify that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office operates independently of the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Police Department.

A bill that would allow charter schools to expand statewide passed through the Senate Thursday, and now awaits Gov. Fallin’s signature. Amendments added to a controversial “right to farm” bill would allow individual counties to vote whether to adopt the measure rather than putting it before a statewide vote to amend the Oklahoma Constitute. Legislation that would cut Oklahoma’s property tax exemption for new wind power developments passed through the House and now proceeds to the Senate, which already approved an earlier version of the bill. Oklahoma now ranks fourth nationwide for wind energy produced.

The Tulsa City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected under the city’s fair housing policy. The ordinance amendment now goes to the mayor for his signature. A Cleveland County judge has set a hearing for today on a gun advocacy group’s lawsuit challenging a firearms ban at the upcoming Norman Music Festival. The Number of the Day is 472 – the number of federal public corruption convictions in Oklahoma from 1976 through 2010. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic notes that more than half of all prisoners in the US are mentally ill, and very few are receiving treatment for this illness in prison or jail.

continue reading In The Know: State gross production revenues decline

Federal Money As Promised (FMAP)

by | April 16th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

It’s rare that Congress finds bipartisan consensus on important issues, but that happened last month when the House approved health care legislation that includes an extension of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Last night the bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law by President Obama.

Under this law, states will receive a substantially higher federal match rate for coverage of certain low-income children through 2017. Oklahoma will see a 23 percentage point jump in its SCHIP match rate in fiscal year 2016.

The temporary boost in the federal match was included in the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 but was not initially funded. The higher match will boost federal Medicaid spending in Oklahoma by $42 million, according to projections from our state Medicaid agency.

continue reading Federal Money As Promised (FMAP)

In The Know: Tulsa County Sheriff supervisors told to falsify reserve deputy’s training records

by and | April 16th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The Tulsa World reported that supervisors at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office were ordered to falsify a reserve deputy’s training records, giving him credit for field training he never took and firearms certifications he should not have received. A deputy who made a callous comment to a man who had just been shot claims he did not hear the gunshot and didn’t know the man had been wounded. Ginnie Graham wrote that the incident has added to Oklahoma’s recent pattern of inspiring hashtags of shame on social media.

The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that a generous compensation package for new Superintendent Deborah Gist could create a perception problem with the district’s poorly paid teachers. Outgoing Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard wrote a NewsOK op-ed praising the district’s collaboration with Teach for America. With testing already underway, public schools are having troubling finding enough volunteer test monitors. Jenks Principal Rob Miller wrote that Oklahoma’s system of high-stakes testing resembles a coach being evaluated on a single game that he’s not allowed to attend at a school where every child is required to play football.

The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics is struggling to keep its doors open amid a funding crisis, as legislators discuss making even more cuts. Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline said there could be dire consequences if the Legislature doesn’t fund a new public health lab during the current session. A new poll shows that 60 percent of Oklahoma voters support delaying or canceling a planned income tax cut during the budget shortfall, and 74 percent of voters believe the state is not spending enough on education. Oklahomans can contact legislators about cancelling the tax cut using this online form.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column called on legislators to honor the memory of Rep. David Dank by taking real action to end wasteful tax breaks. The Oklahoma House has approved legislation that eliminates a tax credit for the state’s wind energy industry. Several issues related to wind power development have been lively topics of debate in this year’s Legislature. 

Oklahoma’s drug overdose death count set a new record in 2014, despite efforts to curtail overprescribing and raise public awareness of the crisis. Terminally ill patients in Oklahoma would have access to experimental medications that are not yet available in pharmacies under a bill that is heading to the governor’s desk.  The Senate voted to legalize cannabis oil for kids who have uncontrollable seizures. NewsOn6 reported on a couple struggling to get care for their autistic son, because Oklahoma is one of just 10 states that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover autism.

A bill to end restrictions on beer sales in Oklahoma has been sent to a conference committee, where it is expected to stay until next session. A bill that sets up a regulatory framework in Oklahoma for ridesharing programs such as Uber and Lyft passed the state Senate on Wednesday, but not before a provision protecting gay and transgender passengers from discrimination was removed. Tulsa’s updated zoning code could increase the amount of affordable housing in the city. A Seattle zoo has sent two elephants on their long journey to a new home in Oklahoma City after a federal appeals court declined to block the transfer.

The Number of the Day is 25.6% – the percentage of Oklahomans claiming itemized deductions on federal taxes in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the Huffington Post reported that a federal law change finally allows Native American tribal courts to investigate and prosecute non-Native men who abuse Native women on reservations.

continue reading In The Know: Tulsa County Sheriff supervisors told to falsify reserve deputy’s training records

New poll: Majority of Oklahomans favor halting tax cut amid budget shortfall

by | April 15th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Press Releases, Taxes | Comments (0)

A new poll shows that 60 percent of Oklahoma voters support delaying or canceling the income tax cut scheduled for 2016, and only 33 percent still want the tax cut to go forward while the state has a large budget shortfall.

Before hearing any other information about the tax cut, 62 percent of Oklahoma voters said Oklahoma has cut the state income tax too much or the right amount, compared to just 27 percent who said it has not been cut enough. At the same time, a very large majority (74%) said they think Oklahoma is not spending enough on education funding.

poll-education-spending

continue reading New poll: Majority of Oklahomans favor halting tax cut amid budget shortfall

In The Know: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt defends Bible distribution in schools

by and | April 15th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has sent a letter to public school superintendents across the state vowing to defend the distribution of Bibles on campus. Less than two weeks after a third-grade teacher in Duncan distributed Gideon Bibles to her students, a Satanist church in Oklahoma City has asked permission to distribute Satanist literature at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. A statewide Second Amendment advocacy group said they plan to file a lawsuit seeking to prohibit enforcement of a “no guns policy” at the Norman Music Festival.

A lawyer representing the family of Eric Harris, who was killed when a volunteer deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office pulled a gun instead of a Taser, is asking to have an outside agency investigate the death. More than 100 protestors marched to the Tulsa County sheriff’s doorstep, demanding action against deputies who did not provide medical aid immediately after the shooting. A public forum tomorrow hosted by the nonprofit news organization Oklahoma Watch will discuss challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City.

A Tulsa World op-ed by Suzanna de Baca examines the wage gap between men and women in Oklahoma and nationally. Oklahoma has been ranked 48th out of all 50 states for the well-being of women and last in the nation for women’s health. School districts throughout the state would be allowed to create charter schools under a bill approved by the Oklahoma House on Tuesday. The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that Oklahoma’s repeated income tax cuts have made it impossible to fund adequately the education and infrastructure that are needed for economic growth.

The Oklahoman editorial board wrote a tribute to Rep. David Dank, who passed away on Friday. Governor Fallin ordered flags on state property to be flown at half-staff in honor of Rep. Dank. A recent study by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and Feeding America shows that one in six, or an estimated 656,000, Oklahomans, turn to food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families. OK Policy has published a comprehensive overview of Oklahoma’s food security safety net.

Tulsa-resident Michelle Evans, who was crowned Mrs. America 2015, has traveled across Oklahoma and the U.S. to raise awareness about prescription drug abuse. As of yesterday, about one-third of Oklahomans still hadn’t filed a tax return. Citizens for Tax Justice shared five things you should know this tax day. The Number of the Day is 15.3 – the number of black students per thousand who were referred to police and courts by schools in 2011-2012, far higher than the national average for black students (9.8) and about 3 times Oklahoma’s rate for white students (4.2) and Hispanic students (6.3).

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt defends Bible distribution in schools

Upcoming Event: Oklahoma Watch forum on low-income neighborhoods

by | April 14th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Poverty, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

Nonprofit news organization Oklahoma Watch and the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication will host a public forum about challenges in low-income neighborhoods in south Oklahoma City. The event is Thursday, April 16, 6-7 p.m. at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church gymnasium, 123 S.W. 25th St., Oklahoma City.

The forum will focus on the needs and concerns of south Oklahoma City communities and is tied to a recently released mobile-video news project, “Talk With Us: Poverty in Oklahoma City Neighborhoods.”

continue reading Upcoming Event: Oklahoma Watch forum on low-income neighborhoods

In The Know: District Attorney charges reserve deputy with second-degree manslaughter

by and | April 14th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

 A reserve deputy who fatally shot a man during an undercover gun sting was charged with second-degree manslaughter Monday afternoon. The deputy, a 73-year-old insurance agent, had bought at least five automobiles and surveillance equipment for the undercover unit to which he was assigned and was the chairman of Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz’s reelection campaign. The Associated Press reported that the use of volunteer reserve police officers and sheriff’s deputies is common across the country amid tight budgets.

The board that oversees juvenile corrections in Oklahoma is reevaluating its policy to allow pepper spray to be used on incarcerated youth. The Oklahoma House of Representatives has placed a legal advertisement signaling that they may transfer the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center property back to the city of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City could hire legal help at $325 per hour to defend a plan to demolish downtown’s historic Union Bus Station from a lawsuit by city councilman Ed Shadid.

Oklahoma Watch shared comments from a recent interview by state Rep. David Dank, who passed away on Friday. An email from Secretary of State Chris Benge asked every member of the State Legislature to designate up to seven successors in case of an emergency. Faced with a massive budget hole after deep income tax cuts, Kansas Republicans are looking at increasing several other taxes. The OK Policy Blog discusses new research showing how predatory lenders tend to set up shop near the working poor — and cluster around neighborhoods of military families. Payday loan stores reap millions in profits from a product designed to force borrowers into repeat loans at extremely high interest rates.

Oklahoma schools are scrambling to get ready for testing season, which takes every computer most schools can find to handle the demand. McClatchy reported that some teachers in Oklahoma continue to use practices that are part of Common Core standards because they are useful in the classroom. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed why Governor Fallin put her former opponent Jari Askins in charge of improving the child welfare system. Oklahoma has become the second state to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure that critics describe as dismembering a fetus.

The Legislature approved a bill that prohibits health insurers from holding proton radiation cancer therapy to a higher standard of clinical effectiveness than other radiation treatments. An experimental coating applied to a 78-year-old LeFlore County bridge may have contributed to premature structural damage that forced the bridge’s closure. A burst of moisture over the weekend and Monday is the first step in alleviating effects of drought throughout the state, weather experts said. Almost 100 years after took the lives of 40 mental patients at Norman’s Griffin Memorial Hospital, a memorial services was held for the victims.

The Number of the Day is 2.07 – the average number of personal exemptions claimed on Oklahoma tax returns in 2013, 10th highest in the U.S. In today’s Policy Note, economist Noah Smith explain why mass imprisonment imposes a huge burden on the U.S. economy.

continue reading In The Know: District Attorney charges reserve deputy with second-degree manslaughter

New research: Oklahoma’s predatory lenders target vulnerable populations, military installations

by | April 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security | Comments (0)

Payday ImageCredit is necessary for financial stability in today’s economy. Consumers need access to credit in order to lease a car or establish a residency. A lack of credit creates barriers to securing a job, home, or car. Further, routine expenses vary month to month, and on occasion, even a prudent budgeter might need credit if their paycheck does not meet their current obligations.

For low-income people, the lack of access to traditional financial institutions can mean having to turn to nontraditional lenders to meet their financial needs. When faced with losing electricity, eviction, or being late on bill payments, some are tempted by easily accessible payday loans and cash advances. Industry representatives claim that payday loans help provide a necessary access to credit that low-income borrowers generally lack. A growing body of research, however, tells a different story.

continue reading New research: Oklahoma’s predatory lenders target vulnerable populations, military installations

In The Know: Video shows Tulsa sheriff deputy killing man as officer uses gun not Taser ‘by mistake’

by and | April 13th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Video has been released of the moment a reserve sheriff officer in Tulsa shot and killed Eric Harris by mistake. The reserve officer, Bob Bates, a 73-year-old insurance executive, told police he had thought he was firing his Taser stun gun. Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark said his investigation determined that Bates committed no crime, even referring to him as a “victim.” The Tulsa World reported that the 130-person reserve deputy squad is full of “a lot of wealthy people” and donors, some of whom are participating routinely in operations like the undercover investigation. An attorney who is representing Harris’ family is questioning several claims in the sheriff’s report.

A judge ruled Friday that the state’s lengthy delay in providing records on a controversial execution could be a violation of the Open Records Act and ordered state officials to provide reasons for extensive redactions to documents it has already provided. Sheriff John Whetsel has drawn up a “framework” aimed at winning voter approval for a half-cent sales tax to finance a new Oklahoma County jail. Deficiencies at the jail have resulted in lawsuits, inmate deaths and a federal civil rights investigation, and the current effort is at least the fourth run at resolving problems with the jail since 2003. A children’s shelter being shut down due to a federal class-action settlement over Oklahoma’s child welfare system is being looked at as the location for a new juvenile justice facility.

The Tulsa World editorial board endorsed a bill that would give judges more discretion to ignore mandatory minimum sentences. Oklahoma has on the books at least 122 mandatory minimum sentences that have contributed to the state’s high incarceration rates. Police are investigating vandalism at the Islamic Society of Edmond, which alleged pieces of pork were left in the parking lot and on door handles of the mosque.  Oklahoma Watch reported that March of last year was the deadliest month for prescription drug overdoses in Oklahoma since authorities began tracking such deaths in 2001. For Oklahomans ages 25 to 64, unintentional poisoning by prescription drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death.

A record-breaking flu season that killed 107 people in Oklahoma may be winding down. State Rep. David Dank, 76, died Friday in his Oklahoma City home. Rep. Dank was a passionate advocate for tax credit reform, and in January he spoke on a panel about the issue at OK Policy’s State Budget Summit. Former state Sen. Randy Brogdon defeated incumbent Dave Weston to become Oklahoma Republican Party chairman. A rural economic development program promoted by Oklahoma State University has seen limited success because of limited cooperation between rural communities.

The Tulsa World examined difficulties Oklahomans have faced trying to get compensation from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for pothole damage to their cars. The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. fell below 1,000 this week, down from 1,831 active rigs one year ago. The Number of the Day is $2.55 – the average cost for meals per inmate per day in Oklahoma correctional institutions. In today’s Policy Note, Stateline examines efforts to do away with a quirky “double deduction” tax break that benefits mostly higher-income taxpayers in Oklahoma and six other states. OK Policy has recommended doing away with the “double deduction” as a way to close the state’s $611 million budget hole.

continue reading In The Know: Video shows Tulsa sheriff deputy killing man as officer uses gun not Taser ‘by mistake’

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