In The Know: State agencies face budget cuts due to shortfall

by | January 30th, 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.

Governor Fallin has announced that state agencies will likely face budget cuts in the upcoming year due to a $300 million revenue shortfall. KGOU reports that said shortfall was a central topic of discussion of OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit yesterday: despite growth and recovery from the recession, there’s still about $700 million less in the state budget this year than there was in 2009. OK Policy has released some tools to help you decipher the Oklahoma legislature, including our updated legislative primer. Tulsa-based drilling rig maker and operator Helmerich & Payne, has announced that it plans to lay off 2,000 employees due to falling oil prices.

The State Board of Education unanimously approved new State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s revised education budget at her first board meeting. The budget calls for gradual raise for teachers while increasing the state’s minimum number of instructional days to the national average. Hofmeister’s request for a seat on the committee overseeing new reading and math standards was also approved. Executive Director David Blatt wrote that election reforms proposed by Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) bring hope. We’ve made suggestions for repairing our broken democracy before.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services heard the last initial budget proposals on Thursday. All stage agencies have requested increases. Mickey Hepner, Dean of the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Business, said that anti-gay legislation could damage the state economy because businesses have diverse workforces and pay attention to social policies when they consider moving to new states. Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) has withdrawn legislation that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay customers. Legislators have filed a number of bills that would allow guns to be carried on the state’s college campuses.

A new report shows that while Oklahoma’s economy is improving, most families – even those in the middle class – are living on the edge of financial disaster. Whether Oklahomans with mental illness get treatment when they are arrested depends entirely on which county they live in. While the US Supreme Court issued a stay on the executions of three Oklahoma inmates while they consider the constitutionality of a drug used in lethal injections, Attorney General Scott Pruitt says that the executions could be done using other drugs, and that he’ll push to resume executions. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board argued that Oklahoma must pursue smart-on-crime criminal justice reforms. We’ve written that the stars may be aligning on criminal justice reform before.

The State Department of Health reported 11 new flu deaths in Oklahoma his week, bringing the season’s total to 58. A reports from the American Wind Energy Association ranked Oklahoma fourth nationwide for wind capacity. The Number of the Day is the number of incarcerated Oklahomans who participated in GED programs in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg View breaks down myths about who really pays your taxes.

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In The Know: Legislative leaders propose new scrutiny of business tax breaks

by and | January 28th, 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.

In The Know will be off tomorrow as we host the 2015 State Budget Summit. It will return Friday.

Oklahoma House and Senate leaders have introduced legislation that would require thorough reviews every four years of several dozen business incentives that are costing the state as much as $300 million annually. Governor Fallin said she would call for Oklahoma to tap millions of dollars in “revolving funds” to close this year’s budget hole. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has twice found that lawmakers acted illegally last year when tapping revolving funds in ways that took money from Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships and health care for the uninsured. On the OK Policy Blog, we examined the damage being done by Oklahoma’s chronic funding shortfalls.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission says the state’s unemployment rate declined in December, from 4.4 percent in November to 4.2 percent. More than 100,000 Oklahomans are already insured for 2015 through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, 30,000 more than last year. A bill to grant Oklahoma patients with terminal illnesses increased access to experimental drugs has been introduced by state Rep. Richard Morrissette. A bill proposed by a Tulsa Senator Brian Crain would bring brewers of high-point beer in Oklahoma on par with wineries by giving them the ability to sell their products directly to consumers on site, but there is some question if the bill is constitutional.

Gov. Mary Fallin has asked the War Veterans Commission to replace the executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. The Oklahoma PTA is encouraging parents to opt their children out of the fifth- and eighth-grade writing tests this year because one of the test’s two prompts is a field test. The Journal Record editorial board criticized bills by Rep. Sally Kern targeting the gay community. Rep. Kern defended the measures as an effort to support traditional values. Watermelon farmers are concerned about Senator Nathan Dahm’s bill to repeal the watermelon’s status as the state’s official vegetable.

The Number of the Day is how much Oklahoma paid to private companies through the Quality Jobs Program from 1993 to 2014. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times explains how a couple of little-noticed legislative tweaks appear to have created the conditions for far-reaching changes that are helping to lift the burden of student debt.

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In The Know: Supreme court declines to review Oklahoma case against Affordable Care Act

by and | January 27th, 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 U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider Oklahoma’s case against Affordable Care Act subsidies as part of the justices’ review of the issue. Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office filed for stays of all of the state’s scheduled executions, pending a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Oklahoma’s lethal drug cocktail. New State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister unveiled a new five-year plan to give Oklahoma teachers a $5,000 pay raise over the next five years, along with an additional five days of instruction to the school year.

In the Tulsa World, op-eds by a mental health professional and the head of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority make the case for why mental health and Medicaid should be higher state budget priorities. NewsOK examined nine bills that seek to boost voter turnout and encourage more competitive elections in Oklahoma. OK Policy discussed several of these ideas in our report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. On the OK Policy Blog, David Blatt warns about a proposal that could lead to far-reaching and radical changes to America’s time-tested constitution that is being pushed in states across the country this year.

The power of local communities to regulate oil and natural gas activities inside their city limits could be curtailed under several bills introduced at the Oklahoma Legislature. A gay-rights group vowed to fight back against a number of Oklahoma bills they feel target their members. While some law enforcement agencies in the state are rolling out or testing body cameras worn by their officers, numerous problems have the Tulsa Police Department years behind on an order to put a camera in every patrol vehicle.

Gov. Mary Fallin expressed confidence Monday in Preston Doerflinger and plans to keep him as her Cabinet secretary of finance despite his arrest Thursday night. State hospitals are reporting an increasing number of newborns who tested positive for drugs or alcohol at birth, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. As many as 2,000 Oklahomans are expected to receive free dental care at the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy event in downtown Tulsa next month.

The U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 1.8 million Oklahomans are being affected by an ongoing, deepening drought. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded more than $7.8 million in grants to 72 homeless housing and service programs in Oklahoma. The Number of the Day is the average number of autopsies per staff member per year performed by the Oklahoma Medical Examiners office in 2014, nearly double the recommended average of 250. In today’s Policy Note, Northwest Public Radio examines how local jails have ended human contact between inmates and visitors and allowed a private company to charge family members to do video calls with their loved ones.

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In The Know: State Supreme Court to decide if oil companies can be held liable for earthquake injury

by and | January 26th, 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.

In a case expected to set a precedent for future earthqfuake claims in Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court will consider whether two oil companies can be held liable in state court for injuries a Prague woman suffered during the 2011 earthquake.  While state authorities are quietly scrutinizing wells in quake-prone parts of the state, most of the companies that operate the wells are staying silent. The Oklahoman editorial board criticized OK Policy for pointing out that tax breaks to the oil and gas industry are costing Oklahoma more than $500 million this year alone.

 Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said it is alarming that Texas pays teachers so much more than Oklahoma. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed House Speaker Jeff Hickman’s comments that Oklahoma is “one lawsuit away” from a federal takeover of our prison system. The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Terri White said she is hopeful the agency will be one of the few not receiving budget cuts this legislative session. Officials with the highway patrol say they can already see the rise in interest from trooper recruits because of a pay raise that went into effect at the start of 2015. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has given $217,655 in pay raises to Senate employees. 

More than 100,000 Oklahomans have selected or were automatically re-enrolled in private health insurance plans they bought through healthcare.gov. The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review the drug protocol used in Oklahoma executions to determine whether the procedure violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. A recent federal policy reversal, long-sought by states and health care advocates, could enable schools to take a lead role in managing chronic childhood diseases and result in the hiring of many more school nurses. The Oklahoma Department of Health says influenza has taken the lives of 16 people during the past week, bringing the total numbers Oklahomans who have died due to flu-related illness since the flu season began to 47. The Tulsa school board has called off its Monday vote on a new superintendent, citing a need for more time to deliberate between finalists Millard House II and Deborah Gist.

The Tulsa World discussed the comprehensive set of election reform ideas being put forward by Senator David Holt. OK Policy discussed many of the ideas in our report on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy. Tulsa World editor Julie Delcour looked at how the state budget breaks down. More information and charts about the state budget can be found in OK Policy’s 2015 budget highlights report. The Washington Post profiled how families in Oklahoma are reacting to the sudden arrival of same-sex marriage.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans vaccinated for for the seasonal flu between fall 2013 and spring 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses recent research showing that when public schools get more money, students do better.

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In The Know: State Rep. Kern files handful of anti-gay proposals

by | January 23rd, 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.

State Rep. Sally Kern filed three anti-gay bills, including one to allow businesses to refuse service “to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Oklahoma women earn some of the lowest wages in the country.

The widow of a man killed by three Moore police officers and two off-duty game wardens in the parking lot of a movie theater filed a lawsuit alleging unreasonable force; Rodriguez had not committed any crime, didn’t attempt to resist or evade arrest and didn’t have a criminal record.

A proposal to ban oil and natural gas drilling in some parts of Stillwater was rejected by the city council. Gov. Mary Fallin announced Oklahoma’s new secretary of education and workforce development.

The OK Policy Blog discusses Governor Fallin’s goal of boosting educational attainment – and President Obama’s new plan to make that happen. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women incarcerated in Oklahoma who ran away from home before age 18. In today’s Policy Note, PolicyLink published new research to inform the debate about racial equity and the future of the American economy. 

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In The Know: State Rep. proposes barring marriage licenses for same-sex couples

by | January 22nd, 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.

Today you should know that State Rep. Todd Russ proposes barring court clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman says Oklahoma teachers are underpaid.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt is accused of harassment and misconduct in a suit filed by the Humane Society, alleging a campaign of harassment of the organization at the behest of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau. Authorities are quietly scrutinizing wells in earthquake-prone parts of the state.

Sen. Jim Inhofe supports an amendment declaring that climate change is real and not a hoax, but maintains that, “the hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate.” The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs began presenting its case against a Sequoyah County doctor who it says was overprescribing controlled substances at his clinics. 

The OK Policy Blog writes about the three biggest barriers that block Oklahomans with a felony record from putting their lives back together. The Number of the Day is the percentage of children receiving the full series of childhood vaccinations in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Howard University’s Center on Race and Wealth reports on how predatory lenders drain income and wealth from economically vulnerable communities.

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In The Know: Oklahoma’s oil and gas tax breaks top $500 million this year

by and | January 21st, 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.

Tax breaks for Oklahoma oil and gas production will result in $516 million less in state revenues in this fiscal year. The cost of the oil and gas tax breaks is some $130 million greater than what state officials projected back in February, a few months before the Legislature voted to make most of the multi-million dollar tax breaks permanent. Oil services company Baker Hughes Inc. says it will lay off about 7,000 workers, possibly including hundreds in northeast Oklahoma, even as the company is reporting record revenues. 

New state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has fired two more key members of Janet Barresi’s leadership team. The Tulsa school board is set to hold final interviews later this week with candidates to replace retiring superintendent Keith Ballard. The final two candidates are Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist and former Tulsa Deputy Superintendent Millard House II. At a panel hosted by the Oklahoma Coalition Against High-Stakes Testing, Rep. Katie Henke said parents possess the most clout in the growing fight over the use of high-stakes tests in public education.

On the OK Policy Blog, our research fellow Michael Thomas examined how investing in higher education contributes to economic growth. A state lawmaker has filed a measure to allow offenders convicted of crimes requiring them to serve 85 percent of a sentence to begin earning credits toward early release at the beginning of their sentence, though the credits would not change the 85 percent requirement. This reform was originally part of Oklahoma’s justice reinvestment bill and has been repeatedly requested by state corrections officers as a tool to improve their safety, but lawmakers have voted it down for the past two years. For the second straight year, Tulsa claimed the award for the best tasting water at a regional conference.

A Chickasha lawmaker has filed a bill targeting automated political calls. Candidate filing begins Monday for a special election in state Senate District 11 to replace Sen. Jabar Shumate, who resigned to become state director of private school voucher advocacy organization. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s latest budget proposal cuts about $127.4 million from state support to local school districts. The Number of the Day is the annual income level at which a family of 3 makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Vox has a guide to the policies proposed by President Obama at last night’s State of the Union address.

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In The Know: New Oklahoma schools superintendent fires three top administrators

by and | January 20th, 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.

At the end of her first week in office, state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister fired three key members of her predecessor’s staff. Former State Superintendent Janet Barresi has taken to the Internet and written letters to the editors of multiple news outlets to respond to criticism of her moves to hire several new staffers and give others large raises and promotions during her last days in office. The public education blogger “okeducationtruths” has stepped out from behind the veil of anonymity after nearly three years. You can read the blog post here by Assistant Superintendent of Moore Public Schools Rick Cobb revealing himself to be okeducationtruths. The Oklahoma Gazette reported on how a twitter hashtag and a network of blogs have helped unite educators across Oklahoma to push back against attacks on public schools. Some education advocates say the controversial Teacher and Leader Effectiveness evaluation system may be this year’s Common Core in the legislative session.

Three major energy industry firms with strong northeastern Oklahoma ties have begun laying off employees in response to the oil price crash of the past six months. An analysis by the Migration Policy Institute found that in Oklahoma, fewer than half of undocumented immigrants are eligible for President Obama’s programs to defer deportation. On the OK PolicyCast, we discussed a report showing low- and middle-income Oklahomans pay a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than the wealthiest in the state.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman said Oklahoma is “one lawsuit away” from a federal takeover of its prison system. For the sixth time in two weeks, an inmate has escaped the J.H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley. The Oklahoman editorial board questioned Governor Mary Fallin’s decision to set the deadline a full two years away for leaders to make recommendations on reforming criminal justice. More than a dozen ministers in the Tulsa area wore hooded sweatshirts Sunday and preached against a proposed state law that’s become known as the “hoodie bill.” Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan wrote an op-ed in the Tulsa World calling for Oklahomans to stop letting domestic violence go “under the radar.”

Wayne Greene shared eight reasons you should care about the health of Morton Comprehensive Health Services. OK Policy previously discussed how state budget cuts are threatening Morton and other community health centers. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed how a new state law threatens the “grand bargain” that has been the basis for workers’ compensation programs since the early 20th Century. More than 3,200 same-sex couples have gotten married in Oklahoma in less than three months since it was made legal.

The Number of the Day is the number of abandoned well sites cleaned up by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board since 1994. In today’s Policy Note, NPR examines how driver’s license suspensions unfairly target the poor.

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In The Know: Oklahoma executes first since April

by | January 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.

Today you should know that Oklahoma executed Charles Warner Thursday night. It was the state’s first execution since the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April. The Tulsa World has a timeline of the execution here. According the Oklahoma State Election Board, registered Republicans now outnumber registered Democrats for the first time in state history. OSEB’s report is available here.

An OSU student and member of the activist group Oklahoma Students in Solidarity, which led protests and die-ins throughout the fall and winter, called out OSU President Burns Hargis in an open letter for comments he and other administration officials made in a meeting over the death threats the activist group ad received. The open letter can be read here. State Representative Randy Grau has filed a bill calling for budget-only legislative sessions every other year. On the OK Policy Blog, we examined how the state has already developed an effective criminal justice reform model with Tulsa’s Family Drug Court.

An editorial in the Tulsa World discussed recent data indicating that state prison employee morale is so bad that many simply stop coming to work. A district attorney approved more than $84,000 in raises to four outgoing employees in her final months on the job. Oklahoma schools are bracing for funding adjustments to correct an error in the way state aid had previously been calculated. More than 1,000 people have been hospitalized due to the flu in Oklahoma this season, and a total of 31 have died. In his Journal Record column, Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton discussed the film “Children of the Civil Rights,” which shares the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma. NewsOK previously interviewed the director.

After five years of persistent drought, some Oklahoma communities that rely on lakes for drinking water are in trouble. The Number of the Day is the number of women per 100,000 incarcerated in Oklahoma, double the national average. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post makes the business and public health cases for expanding paid sick leave to all workers.

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In The Know: More than 95,000 Oklahomans sign up for health insurance on healthcare.gov

by and | January 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.

Updated numbers show that more than 95,000 Oklahomans have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act during this year’s enrollment period. The Cherokee Nation will sign a deal with the federal government this week that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care funding over the next several decades. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation announced it will build a $22 million golf-themed entertainment complex at the RiverWalk Crossing in Jenks. Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order establishing a panel to look for ways to better treat nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. OK Policy previously discussed evidence that Gov. Fallin was preparing to take a more constructive approach to criminal justice reform.

A new national study shows that low and middle-income Oklahomans pay over two times more in taxes as a percentage of their income compared to the state’s wealthiest residents. The study found that Oklahoma has the 16th most unfair state and local tax system in the country. You can read the full report here and see the fact sheet on Oklahoma’s tax distribution here. An op-ed in the Duncan Banner examined how Oklahoma’s recently triggered cut to the top income tax rate is worsening the state’s budget perils. The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that the budget shortfall facing lawmakers is of their own creation.

Medical experts and lawyers expressed concern that Oklahoma plans to attempt more executions with the same drug combination used in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. David Blatt’s Journal Record column warned against a push coming in Oklahoma and other states that could lead to radical changes to the U.S. Constitution. A proposed bill in the Oklahoma state Senate seeks to allow schools to offer “an elective course in the objective study of religion or the Bible” without fear of legal liability. The Oklahoman editorial board condemned Rep. John Bennet’s (R-Sallisaw) latest attacks on Muslims and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Oklahoma City police will take part in a pilot program in which officers will wear body cameras.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans have signed up for health insurance or been automatically re-enrolled on Healthcare.gov since November 15. In today’s Policy Note, a new study finds that children who received expanded Medicaid benefits in the 1980s and 1990s contributed more to the U.S. tax system, were more likely to attend college, and less likely to die prematurely in adulthood. 

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