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Oklahoma has an ambitious plan to bring health insurance premiums down. Here’s how.

by | August 21st, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Last year, health care premiums in Oklahoma for policies offered on Healthcare.gov by the state’s lone remaining nongroup insurer soared by more than 70 percent, the highest increase that year. In response, the state is now poised to use the Affordable Care Act to develop a reinsurance program that is expected to decrease premiums by more than 30 percent in the first year while restraining future premium growth, bringing more lives into the market, and shielding insurers from higher medical expenses. Indeed, Oklahoma’s ambitious reinsurance proposal is the state’s first real effort at engaging meaningfully with the Affordable Care Act. Here’s how it will work. 

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In The Know: Doerflinger says Oklahoma must broaden its tax base, What to watch in potential school funding lawsuit

by | August 21st, 2017 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Doerflinger says Oklahoma must broaden its tax baseOklahoma has shown signs recently that it has turned the corner after a sharp economic downturn, but State Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger warns that the underlying problems remain. “There’s so many good things occurring in this economy,” he told KRMG Wednesday, “but as far as the general revenue fund goes, which is what we use to fund state government, we’re not seeing the types of collections come into that that we need to as rapidly to really, really turn this thing – from a state funding standpoint – around.” [KRMG] The Save our State Coalition proposed new revenues as part of their Better Budget Blueprint [Save Our State]

What to Watch in Potential School Funding Lawsuit: A school funding lawsuit, like the one being considered by the Oklahoma City Public Schools board, threatens to force the state Legislature to find more money for schools — a maneuver attempted in nearly every state with varying degrees of success. The district announced Thursday its board plans to pursue legal action against the Legislature, and specifically House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus, due to unfunded legislative mandates, especially items like textbooks. [Oklahoma Watch] Oklahoma already led the nation in cuts to K-12 education. Now we lead in cuts to higher ed too. [OK Policy]

Parole board vacancies concern defense attorneys: The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is short two members, and some criminal defense attorneys said that could create a burden for defendants and prisoners. The board can’t meet unless three members are present. This has prevented hearings only one month in the past year, when officials had to cancel the April docket and postpone each of those hearings until May. Defense attorneys are less concerned about the possibility that hearings could become more difficult to schedule. They said that having only three members on the board could make it more difficult to get the requisite positive votes. [Journal Record]

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The Weekly Wonk: Legislature has a second chance to fix the state budget

by | August 20th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Summer Intern Leslie Briggs advocated for bail reform as a solution to over crowded jails – about 80% of Oklahoma County jail inmates haven’t yet been convicted of a crime, but can’t afford bail to get out of jail while they await trial. Executive Director David Blatt walked us through some of the options that might be taken up in special legislative session to fix the budget hole created by the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s finding that the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee is unconstitutional. 

In his Journal Record column, Blatt implores the legislature to make good use of this second shot at the state budget and to avoid repeating the mistakes of the regular session. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update echoes that theme, encouraging lawmakers to avoid political gamesmanship and engage in real statesmanship to fix our budget crisis.

OK Policy in the News

Blatt was a guest on Studio Tulsa to discuss the legislature’s options for filling the budget hole that was created by the striking down of the cigarette fee – you can listen to the entire episode here. Policy Director Gene Perry spoke with The Oklahoman and the Red Dirt Report about the state of education funding in light of the petition drive in Oklahoma City proposing a temporary city income tax to raise money for teacher stipends.

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Lawmakers get a Mulligan to fix the budget (Capitol Update)

by | August 18th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, 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.

Those who are golfers, which I’m not, are familiar with a Mulligan. But you don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy the benefits of a Mulligan. The term is now widely used to describe any “do-over,” or second chance after initial failure. The Supreme Court has given the Legislature a Mulligan to write an adequate and balanced state budget. The Court did so by assuming original jurisdiction of the measures that produced revenue for this year’s budget, and by ruling as quickly as a decent respect for giving all sides a chance to make their legal arguments would allow. The fiscal year has barely begun, so if the Legislature will act with the same dispatch as the Court, the damage will be limited.

I suspect the rulings on the other measures will come quite quickly, possibly this week, so legislators and the governor will know the size of the budget hole their initial failure has created. The deficit is at $215 million now, mostly affecting health care agencies, and could go higher depending on the Court’s rulings. Without the cigarette fee revenue, the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority will lose $70 million, 7 percent of its appropriation; the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services will lose $76 million, 23 percent of its budget; and the Department of Human Services will lose $69 million, a 10 percent cut.

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In The Know: Oklahoma City school district threatens to sue Legislature

by | August 18th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma City school district threatens to sue Legislature: Oklahoma City Public Schools is threatening legal action against the state Legislature for failing its “constitutional” and “moral” responsibilities to educate children, district leaders said Thursday. The school board is expected to decide Monday night whether to begin interviewing law firms for the purpose of suing the Legislature, specifically, the speaker of the house and the senate president pro tem [NewsOK]. Analysis: What to Watch in Potential School Funding Lawsuit [Oklahoma Watch]. However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down [OK Policy].

Cherokee Nation Says Opioid Lawsuit Belongs in Tribal Court: The Cherokee Nation is urging a federal judge to allow a tribal lawsuit against distributors and retailers of opioid medications to be litigated in the tribe’s own court. Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree has filed written arguments with U.S. District Judge Terence Kern in a lawsuit that alleges the companies have contributed to “an epidemic of prescription opioid abuse” among the tribe’s citizens [AP].

House minority leader says GOP has no plan to deal with state’s budget crisis: House Minority Leader Scott Inman on Thursday said the Republican majority has no plan going into a possible special session. Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said lawmakers must return in special session to deal with a $215 million shortfall after the Oklahoma Supreme Court said lawmakers did not follow the legal procedure for passing a $1.50 a pack smoking cessation fee [Tulsa World]. Lawmakers must go back to special session and finish the job of funding core services [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Oklahoma governor wants special session to fill health agencies’ funding gap

by | August 17th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Oklahoma governor wants special session to fill health agencies’ funding gap: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she wants a special session to fill a $215 million shortfall in several agencies’ budgets, but she now must wait for lawmakers to strike a deal. Four agencies lost that expected cash after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a cigarette “fee” this month, the Departments of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Human Services, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the commission that enforces alcohol and tobacco laws [NewsOK]. Lawmakers must go back to special session and finish the job of funding core services [OK Policy]. Gov. Mary Fallin talked second chances, new beginnings and special session during day in Tulsa [Tulsa World].

Petition drive for citywide income tax to support schools begins: An initiative petition drive aimed at calling a vote on a temporary citywide income tax to supplement lagging teacher pay has begun. A coalition of education and political leaders, Save OKC Schools, has 90 days to gather enough signatures to put the proposal before Oklahoma City voters. The proposal calls for a 0.50 percent income tax to raise about $50 million per year. Individuals and families living near or below the poverty line would be exempt [NewsOK]. Oklahoma’s investment in preK-12 education has plummeted in recent years [OK Policy]. 

Events In Charlottesville Reverberate With OK’s Violent Racial History: Images of the Oklahoma 46 flag at that white supremacy rally have begun surfacing online. Those photos, coinciding with the recently foiled bomb plot downtown, are raising new questions about hatred here in Oklahoma. Oklahoma, unfortunately, is no stranger to homegrown extremist violence. The state’s history is littered with racial and anti-government violence [NewsOn6]. Although politicians and visible government officials are normally quick to voice support and unity after a tragedy, most of Oklahoma’s have been silent on the events that unfolded in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend [Journal Record]. OK Policy’s statement on this weekend’s events in Charlottesville is available on Facebook here.

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Bail reform should be the solution for Oklahoma’s overcrowded jails

by | August 16th, 2017 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Leslie Briggs was an OK Policy summer intern. She is pursuing a Juris Doctor degree at the University of Tulsa College of Law.

Oklahoma voters know that the time is right for criminal justice reform for our state, and they showed it by passing State Questions 780 and 781 by wide margins last November. Not all stakeholders were on board: Just before the questions took effect on July 1, some Sheriffs and District Attorneys raised concerns about rising county jail populations, since many low-level drug and property offenders are no longer eligible for terms in state prisons. While overcrowded jails are a real problem, the state can do much more to solve it by reforming bail practices than by undoing recent reforms.

Like state prison populations, both urban and rural local jail populations have dramatically increased to a point that is breaking our ability to operate them safely. Oklahoma County jail, for example, was originally designed to hold 1,200 inmates; its average daily population has reached twice that size in recent years. But the vast majority of jail inmates in Oklahoma County – about 80 percent – are being held pretrial, which means they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime but can’t afford bail to get out of jail before their case is resolved. Nationwide, about 9 in 10 pretrial inmates have a bail amount set but are unable to meet the financial burden to be released from jail.

Jurisdictions across the country have shown that we can reduce that number by implementing an evidence-based, pretrial release program that relies on individual risk assessments rather than money bail. Doing so at the state level would save counties huge amounts of money without risking public safety.

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In The Know: State’s payday loan usage rate highest in nation

by | August 16th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

State’s payday loan usage rate highest in nation: Elise Robillard was desperate for a quick cash infusion the first time she walked into a payday lending store. A long-term substitute teacher and mother of two young children, Robillard’s tires were bald, and she couldn’t afford to replace them. So she turned to small, short-term payday advances thinking they would keep her afloat. The loans have few financial qualifications, but annual interest rates as high as 391 percent [Enid News]. If predatory lending is restricted, Oklahomans will find better alternatives [OK Policy].

Confronting a Newly Created $214 Million Budget Deficit at the State Capitol: Last week’s Oklahoma Supreme Court decision invalidating the State Legislature’s cigarette cessation fee means that there’s now a $214 million budget deficit in this year’s budget. This gives Oklahoma lawmakers two options: go back into special session to fix the state budget, or else three state agencies — the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services — will have to rewrite their budgets to account for a roughly $70 million cut to each agency. So, what will state lawmakers do? [Public Radio Tulsa] With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? [OK Policy]

Officials to Reconsider School Names in Oklahoma City, Tulsa: School officials in Oklahoma City and Tulsa will reconsider whether their schools should bear the names of confederate generals after a white nationalist rally decrying the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia. An online petition in Tulsa urges the district to rethink a 99-year-old decision to name a school after Lee. Four elementary schools in Oklahoma City also bear the names of Lee and other Confederate generals. The Tulsa school district released a statement Monday saying officials plan to review the names of all schools in the district to assure they reflect community values [Associated Press].

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In The Know: House Republicans taking wait-and-see approach to state budget

by | August 15th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

House Republicans taking wait-and-see approach to state budget: State House Republicans met to discuss their options Monday in light of an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision last week that struck down a smoking cessation fee that was being counted on to provide about $215 million for the budgets of three health-related state agencies. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said the House Republican caucus met and lawmakers will be ready to address the budget, but are waiting to see how the Supreme Court rules on a challenge to another bill that removed an exemption for sales tax on the purchase of automobiles. That is projected to generate about $110 million for the fiscal year 2018 budget [NewsOK].

With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? Last week’s Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a $1.50 per-package smoking cessation fee passed by lawmakers in May has created a genuine state emergency. Without quick and decisive action, Oklahoma faces unimaginable cuts to health care and other protections for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. However, if they can overcome partisan differences and ideological rigidity, our leaders have an opportunity to not only resolve this crisis, but to come out of it with even stronger investments in Oklahoma families and communities [OK Policy].

Labor Department seeks to simplify occupational licensing: Oklahoma Department of Labor officials are developing plans to help lawmakers be more efficient while creating new occupational licenses and to help industry members be more efficient at applying for them. Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston released the plans on Monday. One of the developing programs creates a rubric for lawmakers who want to create new licenses. The form asks several questions to determine whether a license requirement is appropriate. It offers alternatives that are less expensive and restrictive. The other goal is to create an interactive database for current and soon-to-be business owners who want more information on their industry’s requirements [Journal Record].

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With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved?

by | August 14th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (0)

Last week’s Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down a $1.50 per-package smoking cessation fee passed by lawmakers in May has created a genuine state emergency. Without quick and decisive action, Oklahoma faces unimaginable cuts to health care and other protections for our state’s most vulnerable citizens. However, if they can overcome partisan differences and ideological rigidity, our leaders have an opportunity to not only resolve this crisis, but to come out of it with even stronger investments in Oklahoma families and communities.

Where We Are and How We Got Here

To recall, the Legislature approved the smoking cessation fee in the final hours of the 2017 session as part of a last-ditch effort to pass a budget that filled most of the state’s nearly $1 billion budget shortfall.  After negotiations to produce a bipartisan agreement broke down, Republican leaders gambled that the smoking cessation fee, along with the partial removal of a sales tax exemption on motor vehicles, were not subject to the Constitution’s supermajority requirements for “revenue bills” and could be passed with a simple majority using only Republican votes.

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