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In The Know: State braces for further flooding

by | May 28th, 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.

Officials warn that further flooding is likely as heavy rainfall returns today, and flash flood warnings extending through the weekend are in place in central and western Oklahoma. KGOU reported that although strides have been made, gaps remain in Oklahoma’s Spanish-language weather warnings. Gov. Fallin has instructed the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to expedite bidding on repair efforts and explore additional opportunities to fund those repairs. The state Department of Environmental Quality will provide free bacterial testing of private well water through August because of the floods.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Scott Inman (D-Del City) said that the most recent legislative session hurt middle-class Oklahomans. The slowdown in oil and gas production prompted the state’s unemployment rate to inch upward to 4.1 percent. Experts say that wind energy can bring consistency to electrical bills in Oklahoma because it is predictable and its long-term price is stable. Following the shooting of an unarmed suspect by a reserve deputy, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office has received three bids for a top-down assessment of its performance, and a contract is expected next month.

Researchers with OU have been awarded one of seven $15 million grants to improve heart health by the US Department of Health and Human services. The grant will allow researchers to partner with primary care physicians across the state to determine best practices for improving heart health and preventing heart disease. The Oklahoman reported that abused and neglected children as young as seven were handcuffed and threatened with pepper spray and Tasers at a state-run emergency shelter in Oklahoma City. The state Department of Human Services says that it has replaced the two off-duty law enforcement officers responsible. Mental Health Association Oklahoma hosted a Twitter chat on mental health and suicide prevention on Wednesday.

The Number of the Day is 3 percent – the total additional increase in Oklahoma Medicaid expenditures from 2015 to 2024 were the state to accept federal funds to expand health coverage to 150,000 low-income Oklahomans. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post discusses a new report revealing that one in four Americans see their income swing widely every month.

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In The Know: Budget cuts jeopardize Oklahoma’s earthquake response

by | May 27th, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

A letter from Corporation Commission Vice Chair Dana Murphy said state budget cuts put at risk the agency’s efforts to deal with man-made earthquakes linked to oil and gas activity. Record-smashing rainfall and flooding that hammered Oklahoma this month has likely caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to roads and bridges across the state. President Obama has signed a disaster declaration for three Oklahoma counties affected by severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding.

Flooded and washed-out train tracks across Oklahoma have put the Amtrak route between Oklahoma City and Texas out of service and disrupted numerous freight trains. Lawmakers nearly raided a fund earmarked for railroad maintenance in this year’s budget deal, but stopped after a state Senator asked the attorney general if it was legal. With a robust 22 percent return on investments last year, Oklahoma’s teachers pension fund is reducing its unfunded liabilities, but it still faces pressure as schools report record retirements and lawmakers have been tempted to raid the fund to help with other budget problems.

On the OK Policy Blog, Michael Leachman discusses how a new study further undermines claims that states can improve their economies by cutting taxes. The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that Oklahoma’s ambitious efforts to reform criminal justice and promote economic development outside the energy sector have faltered because lawmakers did not sustain investments in the reforms. The Oklahoma Corrections Department has released findings on the deaths of two inmates who were murdered by their cellmates.

Two high-ranking members of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office will pull in tens of thousands of dollars annually in retirement benefits despite being terminated in the wake of the Eric Harris shooting. Support is growing among Oklahoma Democratic Party leaders to allow independents to vote in the party’s primaries. State parties can allow independents to vote in their primaries if they notify the State Election Board between November 1 and 30 this year. Oklahoma Democratic leaders blasted tax and budget decisions made by the Republican majority this session.

Oklahoma Watch shared video of its forum on mental health challenges for Oklahoma women. The Number of the Day is 9.7 million – the total barrels of crude oil produced in Oklahoma in 2015, 6th highest in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab debunks the myth that only drivers pay for roads.

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In The Know: How budget cuts will affect key state services

by | May 26th, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

With the Legislature passing a budget and adjourning for the year last Friday, Oklahoma Watch looked at how the budget cuts might affect key state services. The Oklahoma House and Senate did not receive any cutbacks in the budget that slashes funding by as much as 7.25 percent for 49 other state agencies, and the House even found a way to increase its annual budget base by $1 million. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discusses how a lawsuit could upend the process used for the past few years to pass a state budget.

Gov. Fallin called the legislative session a success despite the revenue shortfall. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is closing a Tulsa emergency shelter for abused and neglected kids, even though the Department is still failing to recruit enough foster homes. The Oklahoman reported that kids at a a state-run emergency shelter in Oklahoma City have been handcuffed and threatened with pepper spray and Tasers by off-duty law enforcement officers. The Muskogee Phoenix reported on how a planned pop culture museum in Tulsa is moving forward now that lawmakers have approved a $25 million bond issue for the project.

The Legislature passed a bill Friday to extend for three academic years a program that allows probationary promotions for third-grade students who read below grade level. A group is considering a legal challenge to a new law that prohibits local municipalities from preventing fracking within city limits. A backlog of Tulsa County inmates continue to wait for competency evaluations as the state’s mental health facility for people charged with crimes has no spare beds.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of a $1 billion divorce judgment by the ex-wife of Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm. In the face of volumes of contrary evidence, billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens claimed that Oklahoma’s increase in earthquakes isn’t due to the energy industry, just to better monitoring. The drought that has gripped much of Oklahoma before recent rains has caused millions of dollars in damage to the state’s agricultural industry, and researchers say it is a glimpse of the kinds of conditions climate change in bringing to Oklahoma

Oklahoma City was ranked last in energy efficiency among 51 major U.S. cities, in part due to a lack of building energy code enforcement. Jenks is the fastest-growing city in Oklahoma, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. The Number of the Day is 9,572 people — the net population growth in Oklahoma City in 2014, an increase of 1.6%. In today’s Policy Note, The Week discusses two areas of America’s criminal justice system that are still tragically underfunded.

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In The Know: Legislation prohibiting drilling bans sent to Gov. Fallin

by | May 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.

Bills that would prohibit cities and counties from banning oil and gas drilling within their borders and regulate release of police body camera footage have been sent to the Governor. The Senate approved a $25 million bond plan to complete the Native American Cultural Center and Museum and sent it to the Governor for her signature, although a similar bill to fund an Oklahoma pop culture museum failed hours later. The bill may still be revived on reconsideration before the legislative session ends. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board urged the Legislature to pass a bill that would treat the operation of watercraft under the influence much like driving under the influence. Oklahoma Watch discussed a bill that would cut the number of end-of-instruction tests from seven to four without reducing the requirement that students pass four tests in order to graduate.

Some health care providers are speaking out against a recommendation from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to cut the reimbursement rate for nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other midlevel providers treating Medicaid patients. The Health Care Authority had few other options to cope with the funding it will receive in next year’s budget, which is below what the agency said it would need to maintain existing services. The CDC reports that Oklahoma has seen a significant decline in the number of adults who smoke cigarettes since 2011. The full report is available here. DHS is moving forward with plans to close the emergency shelter for children in state custody, although advocates are concerned that there aren’t enough foster homes available to house the children removed from the shelter.

High water from recent heavy rains has stopped barge traffic at the Port of Catoosa. Climate scientists report that those same rains, along with predictions for a wet summer, could spell the end of the state’s four-year drought. The Number of the Day is 62 percent – the percentage of female inmates at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center who currently have a mental illness. In today’s Policy Note, The Los Angeles Times reports on new research showing that at least 17 million more people in the US have gained health insurance since the Affordable Care Act’s major coverage expansion began.

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In The Know: State budget passes House, heads to Senate

by | May 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.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a $7.14 billion general appropriations bill late Wednesday night after rural Republicans and Democrats blocked its passage for over an hour. The bill now heads to the Senate. The Tulsa World wrote that the the bill is “full of ironies and outrages,” and chastised the Legislature for not taking a more sensible approach to building the budget. Oklahoma Watch wrote that agencies facing cuts will be able to tap into their revolving funds to help cushion the blow. At the State Capitol yesterday, members of the OK Policy team liveblogged discussion and debate about the budget. The budget deal only manages to cover vital services by using millions in one-time revenues that will create another budget hole next year.

Gov. Fallin has signed a bill ending a pair of tax exemptions for new wind farms constructed after 2016. Writing in the Journal Record, Executive Director David Blatt said that the wind power exemption was targeted not because of its actual cost, but because it was an easy target. The Legislature overrode Gov. Fallin’s veto on a bill that will change the way salaries are set for state officers. The Senate education committee approved a bill that would modify the third grade retention law. A new national ranking of states for senior health shows that Oklahoma has improved slightly, but remains among the five worst states in the US.

Two years after a devastating tornado, Moore’s housing boom has slowed. The Tulsa County District Attorney has asked to be recused from an investigation into the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office to avoid any perception that his defense of the office in the past would  affect the investigation. Southwest Oklahoma cities that have struggled with drought for years are reconsidering water rationing following massive rainfall. The Number of the Day is $1,004 – the median annual property taxes paid by Oklahomans in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic explains how segregation continues to impact childhood outcomes.

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In The Know: Budget deal gives flat funding for common ed, cuts for colleges

by | May 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Legislative leaders and Governor Fallin have reached a budget agreement for next year that provides flat funding to common education flat and cuts appropriations for colleges and universities by $24.1 million. OK Policy released a statement calling on lawmakers to reject the budget and demand a balanced plan that includes sustainable revenue options. The budget would cut most state agencies by up to 7.25% while using up hundreds of millions in one-time revenues that will immediately create another large budget hole for next year. You can see a list of all of the proposed appropriations here and a summary of the budget agreement here.

While the Department of Agriculture’s appropriations have dropped by more than 25 percent since 2008 and would see another $1.2 million cut in the proposed budget, Oklahoma House members spent much of yesterday complaining about rules that would increase fees for the Department’s testing services by about $200,000. Lawmakers ultimately approved those rules and more than 300 others while disapproving three, including one that would include harassment based on sexual orientation in the definition of a hostile work environment for alcohol wholesalers.

Today OK Policy will be live blogging our analysis of the budget from the state Capitol. You can follow our updates here. On the OK Policy Blog, we described some of the ways that under-investment by the state is harming Oklahoma families and the economy. A $25 million bond proposal to build a museum of popular culture in Tulsa has cleared the Oklahoma Senate, one day after the same bill failed when a senator said he mistakenly pressed the wrong button. 

University of Oklahoma President David Boren issued a statement defending his position as a member of the Continental Resources Board of Directors, after Bloomberg News reported that the company’s CEO Harold Hamm tried to get OU researchers fired for linking earthquakes to the oil and gas industry. Stillwater officials continue to refine new regulations for oil and gas drilling inside city limits as they wait for the Legislature to finalize a bill that would stop cities from banning drilling. The deaths of 9 oilfield workers who inhaled fumes from chemicals, including one in Oklahoma, have prompted federal officials to warn about the dangers around crude production tanks.

The Oklahoma chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness celebrated its 30-year anniversary, looking back at efforts to advocate in the Legislature for Oklahomans affected by mental illness. With more rain expected this week, Oklahoma is on track for its wettest month ever recorded.

The Number of the Day is $74.3M – the overall decrease in funding for state services in Oklahoma’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal compared to this year. In today’s Policy Note, The American Prospect examines what the contrast between Minnesota and Wisconsin tells us about the best policies for achieving high wages and economic growth.

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In The Know: House votes to cap motor vehicle tax revenue going to education

by | May 19th, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee passed a dozen bills to cap how much funds are transferred off-the-top to education, roads, tourism, and other services. Since the early 2000s, just over a third of motor vehicle tax revenues have been automatically transferred to local school districts, but HB 2244 caps that amount to never exceed what schools get this fiscal year, with the rest going to the General Revenue Fund. With two months left in the fiscal year, schools have so far received $230.7 million from automatic motor vehicle tax transfers.

The House approved an additional $25 million to complete the long-delayed American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City, while a bill to provide $25 million for a museum of popular culture in Tulsa failed in the Senate by one vote. But the author of the measure, Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, indicated he would seek another vote. Sen. Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward said he accidentally changed his vote to no seconds before the vote was closed, and he intends to vote for it when Senate President Pro Tem Bingman brings it up for another vote.

An investigation by The Frontier found that for the past five years, state and federal auditors have repeatedly criticized the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for lax oversight of inmate trust accounts — but those warnings prompted little change and some of the funds went missing. The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has elected not to pursue charges after reviewing a state audit that examined allegations of criminal wrongdoing in a private contract awarded for demolition work on the Tar Creek Superfund cleanup site.

On the OK Policy Blog, research fellow Cassidy Hamilton looks at the pros and cons of vote-by-mail elections. Legislation to make municipalities pay if they adopt ordinances which restrict the development of oil and gas has been granted a conference committee hearing in the Oklahoma House. A former Norman high school student pleaded no contest to rape, a crime that led hundreds of his fellow students to walk out in November and demand punishment for incidents they said were not being taken seriously. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with eight years of the sentence suspended.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of renting households in Oklahoma whose total rent consumes more than half of the household’s income. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how the gap between the richest and poorest in the U.S. has grown so wide that fewer Americans are calling themselves middle class.

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In The Know: Email reveals oil CEO tried to get university quake scientists dismissed

by | May 18th, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

In an e-mail obtained via a public records request, a University of Oklahoma dean said that oil tycoon Harold Hamm was pushing the university to fire scientists who were investigating links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. An oil wastewater disposal well near the epicenter of Oklahoma’s largest recorded earthquake was drilled too deep, which some say contributes to earthquakes. The well’s owner, New Dominion, has sought state approval to make it shallower, but they still deny any connection between their wells and earthquakes. New Dominion faces at least two lawsuits over the earthquake, and one of them is before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

KFOR examined the legal costs paid by taxpayers of defending numerous bills passed by the Legislature that were later ruled unconstitutional. The Tulsa World warned against a bill that would eliminate income taxes for people moving into Oklahoma counties where population has been declining. A very similar tax break in Kansas has not increased migration to declining counties. The Legislature sent to Governor Fallin a bill to eliminate a property tax exemption for new wind farms beginning in 2017.

Legislative leaders and the governor’s office are still trying to hash out a budget that is expected to make more cuts to nearly every state agency. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis wrote that lawmakers have shuffled money around while slashing taxes for years, and now we’re seeing the real costs come out in damage to education, health, mental health, social services and public safety. The Senate voted to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that would decouple the pay of statewide elected officials from that of judges.

Oklahoma Watch reported that a large percentage of Oklahoma’s incarcerated women show symptoms of PTSD due to emotional and sexual abuse. Preliminary results show that 14.6 percent of third graders, or 7,311 students, are at risk of repeating the third grade after scoring “unsatisfactory” on the state’s reading exam. The okeducationtruths blog looked at how media and the state Department of Education differed in portraying the results.

Eleven Republicans with presidential aspirations will be in Oklahoma City this week for the Southern Republicans Leadership Conference. A U.S. Supreme Court decision could make Oklahoma’s numerous licensing boards vulnerable to criminal and civil antitrust actions because they are dominated by existing members of the industry they are regulating. Oklahoma Policy Institute announced that Andrew Tevington, who was a top advisor to former Governor Henry Bellmon, and Felicia Collins Correia, who served 25 years as CEO of major non-profit organizations in Tulsa, have been elected to our Board of Directors.

The Number of the Day is 63.4% – the percentage of managed honeybee colonies lost in Oklahoma from 2014 to 2015. It was the worst loss in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, CityLab looks at how cities and states have shot far past Congress in successfully raising the minimum wage.

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In The Know: Legislative committees pass $25 million bond plans for Indian and OKPOP museums

by | May 15th, 2015 | 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma legislative committees approved separate $25 million bond proposals to complete the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City and build the proposed Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa. Gun rights advocates are seeking to get the Legislature to override Gov. Fallin’s veto of a bill that restricts businesses from banning guns at parks, fairgrounds and recreational areas. 

After a coalition asked for a moratorium on the use of injection wells that are linked to Oklahoma’s earthquake surge, Governor Fallin responded with a copy of an editorial from The Oklahoman defending the state’s response to earthquakes. Oklahoma economists said there are signs that the downturn in oil prices and drilling activity will not last long.

The executive director of the state Pardon and Parole Board has resigned after just six weeks at the agency. The board has faced public criticism for their unwillingness to recommend parole for most offenders. Slate examined how death penalties across the country are being pursued in just a few isolated counties — former Oklahoma County district attorney Bob Macy sent 54 people to death row before retiring in 2001, but over the past five years, Oklahoma County has had only one death sentence.

The New York Times reported that Moore, Oklahoma has gone far beyond any other city in the nation in adopting tornado-resistant building codes. On the OK Policy Blog, Steven Goldman discussed how the latest enrollment data shows Oklahomans are actively using the Affordable Care Act to get health insurance. The Blue Bell corporation and state agencies in Texas and Oklahoma announced a voluntary agreement to institute safeguards before resuming ice cream production, following the discovery of listeria bacteria in its products.

Tulsa-area pediatricians are joining a campaign to encourage parents to read, talk, and sing more to their children to close early literacy gaps. Students attending one of Oklahoma’s four-year public colleges or universities paid $1,192 extra in tuition this year compared to 2008, according to a report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report found that Oklahoma has cut state funding for higher education by $2,251 per student, or 23.5 percent, since 2008. The Number of the Day is 10,105 students – the drop in enrollment at Oklahoma colleges and universities over the past year, a decrease of 5.5% between Spring 2014 and Spring 2015.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs ballot access bill

by | May 14th, 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.

On Tuesday, Gov. Fallin signed a bills intended to make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot and to speed up the transfer of inmates from county jails to state prisons. Oklahoma Watch reports that changes to the Reading Sufficiency Act could expand the number of students at risk of retention and increasing the number of students receiving remediation. Parents would also be involved in the process for an additional three years. Lawmakers say they are close to a deal to reign in wind production tax credits. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt explains why the legislature doesn’t need a supermajority to halt a scheduled tax cut because the state successfully proved that the legislation in question isn’t a revenue bill in court last year.

Responding to allegations from BuzzFeed that the state Attorney General’s office had provided inaccurate information to the US Supreme Court on a death penalty case, the AG’s office has admitted an “inadvertent citation error” and alerted the Court of the error, but says that the “error” has no bearing on the state’s case. Another Tulsa activist group is calling for Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz to resign. The Frontier has compiled extensive documentation of reports alleging racism and sexual misconduct in the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office. An attorney from the City of Tulsa is demanding that the Sheriff’s Office stop connecting the city’s police chief to former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, who shot and killed an unarmed man on April 2. The executive director of the Oklahoma GOP stepped down due to concerns within the party over his record of domestic violence. He was instead appointed as the party’s political director.

Former state Sen. Melvin Porter, Oklahoma’s first African-American senator, was honored on Tuesday. Fifty years after his election to office, the state’s elected officials do not reflect the diversity of the people in this state. An Oklahoma House panel has advanced a bill to complete the state’s long-delayed American Indian Cultural Center. Following two years of collaboration between the Cherokee Nation’s Language Program department and Google, the Cherokee language is now available on a range of Android, Microsoft and Apple devices. The Number of the Day is 9,121 – the years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 of the population in Oklahoma. The US median is 7,681. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post reports on a new study showing that federal safety net programs do more to ease poverty than previously thought.

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