In The Know: AG Pruitt joins lawsuit against Colorado marijuana law

by | December 19th, 2014 | 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 announced Thursday that he would be joining his counterpart in Nebraska in asking the Supreme Court to declare Colorado’s legalization of marijuana unconstitutional. The people of Colorado had voted to legalize and regulate marijuana sales n 2012. We’ve written about how Oklahoma’s marijuana laws are among the harshest in the US before. State leaders have approved a tax cut for the state’s wealthiest, after projections showed that revenues were high enough to trigger the cut. OK Policy released a statement arguing that allowing the tax cut to trigger is supremely irresponsible. We’ve previously noted that 41 percent of Oklahomans will see no change to their taxes at all. State officials report that falling gas prices will not have a significant effect on the budget of the current fiscal year, although there are concerns that it could impact next year’s budget.

A new post on the OK Policy Blog reveals that the state’s school funding situation is even worse than many previously believed, because our public schools are more dependent on state revenues that those in other states. The State Board of Education has voted to award the contracts for the state’s end-of-instruction, science and social studies assessments to one of three bidders. Board members voted without knowing the name of the vendor, and the name will not be released until the final contract is in place. Superintendent Janet Barresi said that it will be difficult for schools to make mid-year budget adjustments following a state aid miscalculation. Writing in the Journal Record, Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton discussed the legislative outcry following Supt. Barresi’s decision to create a $90,000/year position for her counsel’s husband, and argued that the practice is more common in the legislature than the outcry would suggest.

In federal court on Thursday, the former general counsel for the state Department of Corrections testified that political pressure played a key role in the decision to procure and use an untested drug cocktail in the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. A former Tulsa Police officer has been bound over for trial on charges of first degree murder and shooting with intent to kill. The man had shot at his daughter, and shot and killed her boyfriend, Jeremy Lake.

The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board argued that a state Supreme Court decision in favor of an executive privilege exemption to the Open Records Act had torn “a giant hole” in the state’s most important transparency statute, because it makes it more difficult for the public to hold the Governor’s office accountable. Hundreds of residents turned out for a public meeting on an oil drilling plan for Lake Hefner. Pedestal Oil Co. Inc. plans to drill multiple wells 600 feet from a park near the lake. The state Department of Health says that a total of six people have died of influenza in the current flu season, and nearly 140 people have been hospitalized. We’ve written about the importance of getting a flu shot before. The Number of the Day is the cost of a bear hunting license for Oklahoma residents in the 2014-2015 hunting season. In today’s Policy Note, Slate discusses America’s dismal college dropout rates.

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In The Know: Oklahoma revenue projections sufficient to trigger tax cut

by and | December 18th, 2014 | 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 finance officials announced that Oklahoma’s revenue projections have increased enough over the last year to trigger an income tax cut in 2016. The tax cut will go into effect even though officials are expecting more budget cuts to most state services next year. OK Policy previously analyzed how the tax cut would affect Oklahomans – 41 percent of Oklahomans will not see any tax reduction, and the average tax cut for middle-income families will be just $30. An error in the way state aid has been calculated for public schools across Oklahoma since 1992 is expected to cause as much as $18 million to be redistributed between school districts for the current fiscal year.

The Oklahoman editorial board argued that the state should not take away transportation funding to protect the budgets of other state services next year. Due to off-the-top transfers from the income tax, transportation has received large funding increases in recent years even while most state agencies absorbed funding cuts of over 20 percent. David Blatt’s Journal Record column examined the push to roll back tax breaks for the wind industry in Oklahoma. On the OK Policy Blog, we showed Oklahoma lawmakers passed a “work requirement” for food stamps that effectively did nothing, while stripping out funds for job training and education that could have actually helped the unemployed find work.

A Florida anesthesiologist testified that Clayton D. Lockett, whose botched execution in April led to a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma, was most likely conscious, in intense pain and feeling the equivalent of “liquid fire” from the inappropriate use of drugs used to kill him. A prison warden who was supposed to be solely in charge of Oklahoma’s execution protocol testified Wednesday she had no role in drafting the protocol used to carry out a botched execution. Citing “tremendous need”, a Kentucky-based company plans to build a 72-bed mental health hospital in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality says a gauge containing radioactive material has been stolen from the parking lot of an Oklahoma City hotel. An official said the amount of radiation in the gauge likely would not deliver a lethal dose, but would be a health risk. State and local law enforcement authorities are working to eradicate feral swine that were illegally brought to the Oklahoma Panhandle and released and later tested positive for pseudorabies. The Number of the Day is the average premium increase of health insurance plans purchased on Healthcare.gov in Oklahoma if Attorney General Pruitt’s lawsuit against the health care law is successful ($75/month to $277/month). In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses evidence that the huge health care gap between whites and minorities is starting to narrow.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court says Governor can withhold details from public

by and | December 17th, 2014 | 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 Oklahoma Supreme Court osided upheld a district court’s decision letting Governor Fallin withhold from the public records related to her decision-making process. The Tulsa World reported that Devon Energy’s political action committee and executive chairman have poured nearly $1 million since 2006 into the campaign funds of GOP candidates for state offices, including the maximum allowed contribution to Attorney General Scott Pruitt even though he faced no opponent. A new OK Policy report looks at the evidence that democracy is broken in Oklahoma and lays out several reforms that could fix it. You can download the full report here, download an executive summary, or watch an animated video summarizing the report.

The Obama administration announced Tuesday it had chosen Oklahoma to receive an Affordable Care Act grant of up to $2 million to develop innovative models for delivering health care. Despite Department of Corrections efforts to release inmates to make room for offenders from the county jails, the prison system remains significantly over capacity, understaffed, and badly in need of repair. The Enid News & Eagle wrote that Oklahoma needs to reform the prison system soon or risk the federal government taking over and mandating expensive changes. Tulsa World business columnist John Stancavage examined how cheap gas may cost the state economy down the road. A Community Action Project program providing education and job opportunities to low-income parents with young children celebrated its first participants’ graduation from a Registered Nurse program. On the OK Policy Blog, we previously discussed why it’s so important to expand policies that help parents.

The U.S. Geological Survey says groundwater levels are rapidly declining in an aquifer that serves parts of Oklahoma and seven other states. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved a plan to conduct a $1.4 million study of ways to conserve and manage water in southwest Oklahoma’s Upper Red River Basin. The Oklahoma City utilities department plans a public meeting Thursday on a proposal by a private company to drill for oil and natural gas near Lake Hefner. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women who entered the state correctional system in 2013 with a moderate to high need for substance abuse treatment. In today’s Policy Note, Nature discusses evidence that estimates of abundant natural gas reserves in the United States may be wishful thinking.

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In The Know: OKC Public Schools under federal investigation for discriminating against black and Hispanic students

by and | December 16th, 2014 | 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. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating three complaints against Oklahoma City Public Schools for failing to provide equal opportunities to male and female high school students; discrimination against blacks and students with disabilities related to alternative education placements; and individual race-based harassment, retaliation and discrimination against Hispanic and black students related to discipline. Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel argued that schools should embrace moving away from Redskins mascots to improve school pride. Capitol Hill High School recently chose to switch to a new mascot, but the Oklahoman examined other schools in the state that still have mascots that are offensive to many Native Americans. The Tulsa school board has approved a $415 million bond package to send to voters on March 3.

Tickets are now available for OK Policy’s 2015 State Budget Summit on January 29, featuring keynote speaker EJ Dionne. The Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of $120 million in bonds that are paying for repairs to the crumbling state Capitol building. Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election campaign has raised more than $300,000 — and spent almost $160,000 — since he learned in mid-April that he would not have an opponent. Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, has filed legislation to restrict the hiring practices of politicians who are leaving office. The bill comes in response to State Superintendent Janet Barresi’s recent creation of a new position and hiring the husband of her general counsel, sparking accusations of cronyism. The Ethics Commission decided to look at rewording a proposal concerning reporting of scholarships and payments for trips and conferences, after one commissioner argued the new language would open a “Pandora’s box” of ethics abuses.

Buzzfeed reported that Oklahoma’s “enabling child abuse” law has sent women to prison for not intervening to stop their violent partners from harming their children, even though the partner was also abusing the woman. In several cases identified by Buzzfeed, the woman has been imprisoned for longer than the man who committed the abuse. Authorities are investigating the strangulation death of an inmate at a private prison in southeastern Oklahoma as a homicide. Tulsa County’s board of commissioners deferred voting today on a resolution to set jail fees for municipal inmates.

With foundations already finished for dozens of giant turbines, the federal government is no longer seeking a court order to stop construction of a wind-energy development near Pawhuska. The Oklahoma Blood Institute declared a statewide blood emergency Monday, saying there is less than a one-day supply available. Representatives of Oklahoma’s public retirees who have not had a cost-of-living adjustment since 2008 say the time has come to increase their pension incomes now that the state’s underfunded pension systems are regaining financial strength. A survey by an anti-smoking advocacy group found 80 percent of Oklahoma respondents saying they prefer smoke-free bars and nightclubs. The Hefner Canal has added a donkey to the team of goats who have been chewing back weeds and underbrush.

The Number of the Day is how many cases of malaria were reported in Oklahoma in 2013. In Today’s policy note, Vox discusses research showing that growing up in a poor neighborhood can hold you back in life — even if your parents aren’t poor.

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In The Know: Corrections officials revise policies to release more violent, sex offenders

by and | December 15th, 2014 | 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.

Pushing to reduce prison overcrowding, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has quietly changed its policies to give early releases to greater numbers of violent and sex offenders. Oklahoma Watch shared a timeline of documents they uncovered showing the policy change. Corrections reforms and an examination of some tax credits are front and center on the agenda when the Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes in February, and House Speaker Jeff Hickman said the federal government could take over Oklahoma’s corrections system if the state doesn’t address overcrowding and understaffing in prisons. Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Michael Carnuccio wrote that Oklahoma needs to ask hard questions about who we are putting in prison and whether there are better ways to do justice.

When Oklahoma investigators issued a report on what went wrong with the April execution of Clayton Lockett, they downplayed and omitted disturbing details from witnesses and officials, records filed in federal court show. Dozens of Oklahomans protested at the state Capitol over the death of Luis Rodriguez while he was being restrained by Moore police. Lawmakers would be able to carry weapons anywhere in the state, including on college campuses and into the state Capitol, under legislation filed by Sen. Mark Allen, a Republican from Spiro. Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman named the members Friday who will serve as chair and vice chair of Senate committees and subcommittees during the next Legislature.

The latest OK PolicyCast shares excerpts from a presentation by Duke University researcher Nick Carnes on what’s keeping working-class Americans out of public office. Today marks the last day to purchase insurance plans through the federally operated health marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act for those who want benefits to begin with the new year. Americans can still purchase plans through February 15, but plans purchased after today will not go into effect until after the New Year. The Oklahoman shared tips for how to sign up for health insurance through healthcare.gov.

Teacher attrition is on the rise in Oklahoma, with Tulsa Public Schools seeing an annual teacher turnover rate of 15 percent. With Kansas facing an already large and growing budget shortfall, lawmakers have begun to consider rolling back Governor Brownback’s tax cuts. A new study in the journal Health Affairs says one in three Oklahoma children experience at least two traumatic events in their lives. The Tulsa World discussed how unfunded repairs could threaten Oklahoma’s Port of Catoosa. Due to understaffing, forensic pathologists in Oklahoma’s Medical Examiner’s Officer perform almost double the recommended number of autopsies per year. Vice magazine shared photos of the Satanic monument being built for the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of all arrests made in Oklahoma in 2014 that were related to drugs or alcohol. In today’s Policy Note, the Los Angeles Times reports on how Arizona’s shifts in Medicaid coverage provide strong evidence that expanding the program reduces illness and saves lives.

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In The Know: Oklahoma’s growth could trail nation in 2015

by and | December 12th, 2014 | 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.

Experts at an Economic Outlook Conference said Oklahoma’s economic growth Oklahoma in 2015 likely will go from bettering the nation to trailing it slightly, thanks to the slump in energy prices. The state’s General Revenue Fund collections in November flattened, dropping below last year’s revenue and the official estimate. The Justice Department released a memo implying that federal prosecutors will take a hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana charges on any Indian lands when tribes vote to allow it, but an Oklahoma City U.S. Attorney said it will only apply in states that have already legalized marijuana

A new “fracking scorecard” released by a coalition of shareholder advocates and environmental watchdogs found that major Oklahoma oil and gas companies are not being transparent about their fracking practices or their progress in reducing risks of the operations. Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, Inc. was ranked last out of 30 major companies in the report with a score of ‘zero.’ You can read the full report here. In the Journal Record, Arnold Hamilton argued that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s close collaboration with oil and gas companies to fight regulation of their industry has violated the spirit of his oath of office. Rep. Earl Sears says he will sponsor legislation that would put regulations on the wind industry in next year’s legislative session.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association president made the case to state lawmakers for why Oklahoma should accept federal funds to expand Insure Oklahoma. OK Policy previously discussed how the state’s negotiations with the federal government over Insure Oklahoma can pave the way for this long-term solution. There have 16,219 new Soonercare enrollees in the past six months. Monday is the last day to sign up for new individual coverage through the federal health insurance marketplace in order to be covered on Jan. 1, but Oklahomans can continue to sign up through Feb. 15. The Oklahoma Department of Health says influenza has taken the lives of two people in the state. OK Policy previously discussed why everyone should get a flu shot.

A federal judge denied the state’s request for a broad protective order to conceal information and block testimony in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma death row inmates. On the OK Policy Blog, we look at who’s on the new leadership team appointed by House Speaker Jeff Hickman. Members of the State Capitol Repair Expenditure Oversight Committee asked the Legislature to delay the due date of its final plan by six months. Oklahoma County District Judge Bernard Jones said he would not overturn the results of Locust Grove’s contested 20-19 win over Douglass in 3A high school football quarterfinals.

Oklahoma’s drought continued to spread this week, and some parts of the state have gone more than a month without substantial rain. StateImpact Oklahoma reported that expanding residential development has increased the risks associated with dam failures, but the state has put little funding into safety efforts. The Number of the Day is how many babies were born to women incarcerated in Mabel Basset Correctional Center in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, PBS reported that domestic violence is as prevalent an issue among college students as sexual assault.

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In The Know: Some early legislative proposals could rock Oklahoma state government

by and | December 11th, 2014 | 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.

Lawmakers have begun to introduce measures for next year’s legislative session, including bills that seek to eliminate the state Senate, reduce legislators’ pay, and transfer gaming and tobacco revenue to pay for completing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses the voices still missing from the Oklahoma Legislature. Devon Energy CEO Larry Nichols admitted that he believes oil and gas wastewater disposal wells have been triggering earthquakes.

Officials from the Osage and Cherokee nations were sworn-in as tribal special assistant U.S. attorneys on Wednesday, becoming the first two such attorneys in the state. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a retailer that denied employment to an Oklahoman after she wore a religious head scarf to a job interview. Students protesting against racism at Oklahoma State University said they’ve received death threats on social media.

Marketplace examined the huge cost of prescription drugs that are thrown out unused, and efforts in Oklahoma and other states to donate unused drugs to people who need them. Oklahoma scored slightly above the national average for readiness to protect people during a health emergency or disaster. Governor Fallin and state agencies will participate in a conference on improving older Oklahomans’ health.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that seniors in Oklahoma have about two fewer years of healthy life than the national average.

 On the OK Policy Blog,  a guest post discusses a new program that is providing grants for innovation in Oklahoma’s rural public schools. The okeducationtruths blog discussed a new rule from the state Department of Education seeking to block schools and parents from opting out of field tests that are used only to help testing companies develop questions. The Oklahoman editorial board praised new Oklahoma City Schools superintendent Rob Neu’s frank assessment of problems facing the district.

Randy Brogdon, a former state senator and one-time tea party favorite who ran unsuccessfully for governor and U.S. Senate, is now setting his sights on the chairmanship of the state Republican Party. Grand River Dam Authority directors voted a $45,000 raise for Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan on Wednesday, bringing the former legislator’s annual base pay to $270,000 a year. Discussions have begun to potentially start a Space Flight Participant Training Program in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of households in Oklahoma that do not have bank accounts. In today’s Policy Note, Slate shared an excerpt of a new book on why it’s so hard to climb out of poverty in the United States.

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In The Know: Despite some progress, Oklahoma drops to No. 46 in national health ranking

by and | December 10th, 2014 | 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.

Despite some progress, Oklahoma dropped to No. 46 in overall health, according to a national health ranking report released Wednesday. The state’s public health laboratory continues to crumble, despite repeated requests from health leaders that the Legislature provide funding to build a new facility. Seventeen Oklahoma health centers have received a total of $351,319 in federal grants through the Affordable Care Act. You can see the list of Oklahoma grant recipients here.

The Edmond Sun examined how low pay is driving teachers out of Oklahoma. A Tulsa area center that provides supervision and services for troubled juveniles has been rescued for the next six months thanks to the city and a few charitable foundations that came up with $113,000, but its long-term existence still depends on restoring state funding. The Oklahoma Transportation Commission has approved its largest-ever single contract — a $71 million project that involves the reconstruction of two interchanges along Interstate 35 in Norman.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt announced Tuesday that Oklahoma is joining other states in a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s policy on immigration. Spanish-speaking residents in Oklahoma reported feeling better prepared for severe weather, but they still couldn’t always find up-to-date information in an emergency. A federal judge declined to unseal thousands of pages of documents related to the botched execution of Clayton Lockett. A new pipeline is now in service shipping North Dakota and Canadian crude oil from Illinois to Cushing, Oklahoma.

The Tulsa World wrote that a recent vote by the Oklahoma City school board to eliminate the Redskins mascot from one of its schools should be followed by Tulsa Union, which still uses the Redskins mascot despite protests from Native Americans. A new elementary school that would alleviate overcrowding in east Tulsa is set to be included in a $415 million bond proposal being considered by the Tulsa School Board next week. The Number of the Day is the season limit on bobcat hunting in Oklahoma (per license). In today’s Policy Note, ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock discusses how gains of the Civil Rights Movement have been thwarted by a half-century of segregation by incarceration.

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In The Know: Oklahoma income tax cut could be blocked by oil tax revenue declines

by and | December 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, 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.

Vanishing oil and gas tax revenues may delay implementation of a cut to Oklahoma’s income tax, because it is not triggered until revenue grows larger than FY 2014. A miscalculation by researchers at the National Council on Teacher Quality ranked Tulsa and Oklahoma City teachers’ lifetime earnings as higher than they actually were. Both cities were already ranked near the bottom in the nation for teacher pay, and the corrected numbers push them down even further. A report from Pew Charitable Trusts ranked Oklahoma 24th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in federal dollars received per capita in fiscal year 2013. You can read the report here.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt responded to a New York Times investigation that revealed he has participated in a secretive alliance with large energy companies to fight environmental regulations. State corrections officers are ‘freaking out’ over a new push to cut overtime costs at prisons by sending home officers, even though they are already severely understaffed. In a continuing series on mental health and homelessness, the Tulsa World examined the challenges of a father trying to help his son who has been diagnosed with treatment-resistant paranoid schizophrenia. On Dec. 11, the state Department of Human Services will host Tim Knapp, the director of career training and education at The Bowery Mission in New York City, for a free public lecture on providing services to the homeless.

The New York Times examined the controversy over a referee’s error in an Oklahoma high school football game that could be decided by a judge. The Oklahoma City school board voted unanimously to remove “Redskins” as the mascot for Capitol Hill High School. The Jenks school board called for a $120.4 million bond issue election on Feb. 10 that would include building a new elementary school. KGOU shared audio of a presentation by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s Diedre Myers on what Oklahoma needs to do to better prepare its citizens to find good jobs. 

In the latest religious challenge to the federal health care law, four Christian colleges in Oklahoma that object to covering birth control in their employee health plans argued in federal appeals court that the government has not gone far enough to ensure they don’t have to violate their beliefs. Under current policy, the groups don’t have to cover contraceptives, but they have to tell the government they object on religious grounds in order to get an exemption. The Number of the Day is the percentage of women incarcerated in Oklahoma who experienced childhood physical and/or sexual abuse. In today’s Policy Note, NPR discusses what some schools are doing to convince children to eat healthier school lunches.

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In The Know: Energy firms in secretive alliance with Oklahoma Attorney General to fight regulation

by and | December 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, 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 New York Times investigation found that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s letter challenging federal regulations of natural gas drilling was written by lawyers working for Devon Energy and delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying. Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller warned that energy-related revenues are feeling the squeeze from lower oil prices. Through the first four months of FY-15, allocations for the General Revenue Fund exceeded the estimate by $82.4 million or 4.7 percent. Economists at the Oklahoma Economic Outlook Conference said the decline in oil prices could result in the loss of as many as 1,000 energy sector jobs. Bloomberg explained why gas fell below $2/gallon in Oklahoma City before anywhere else in the country.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman has announced several appointments to leadership positions in the Republican-controlled House. Democratic House Minority Leader Scott Inman said he believes the 29 members of his caucus can be relevant, especially when it comes to politically difficult issues like criminal justice reform and funding to complete the unfinished Native American museum in Oklahoma City that may divide the GOP caucus. Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, said there’s talk among members of the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus about the need to “get out of the way” when it comes to some education issues.

Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, has filed a bill that seeks to exempt firearms manufactured in Oklahoma from all federal regulations. Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City, wrote an op-ed criticizing the rise of “dark money” campaigns allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed why the stars may be aligning for action on criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. Tulsa County officials say the Tulsa County Jail has become the state’s largest mental health facility. Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz wrote an op-ed questioning Oklahoma’s practice of jailing the mentally ill. A Tulsa World series examines challenges faced by the city’s homeless population.

On the OK PolicyCast, we spoke about the roots of Oklahoma’s racial wealth gap. Joining protests across the nation in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, students at Oklahoma State University held a ‘die-in’ on campus. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is looking for volunteers to open their homes on Christmas Day to children staying in emergency shelters across Oklahoma. The Number of the Day is how many people workers as embalmers in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, USA Today examines the impact of a growing number of rural hospitals that are shutting down.

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