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Games legislators play

by | June 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

truefalseIn the final days of session in May, the legislature approved SB 2127, the annual General Appropriations (GA) bill providing funding for most state agencies.  The press release issued by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President claimed that the agreement reduces spending by $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent compared to the FY 2014 appropriated budget.

Given that the budget negotiators started with $188 million less of available revenue, limiting FY 2015 cuts to $102.1 million might seem like an accomplishment to be proud of. But under closer scrutiny this story doesn’t quite hold up, and neither do several other assertions made in the wake of the budget agreement. In this post we shed light at a few of the secrets buried in the budget.

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In The Know: Common Core repeal bill could violate state Constitution

by | June 2nd, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know National Association of State Boards of Education sent a letter to Governor Fallin arguing that the bill to repeal Common Core standards in Oklahoma violates the state constitution. By requiring any new education standards to be approved by the legislature, they say it violates the separation of powers that should go to the state Board of Education. Oklahoma educators expressed concern that starting the standards process over again would create chaos in schools.

The Oklahoman editorial board pointed out that a plan to schedule off the top funding increases for education based on a revenue trigger would have contradicted a tax cut based on revenue triggers, with no clear way to decide which takes priority. The education funding bill did not ultimately make it through the Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that overhauls the pension system for most new state workers. OK Policy previously explained how this change could endanger existing pensions and increase Oklahoma’s unfunded liabilities.

The Panola School District in southeast Oklahoma may shut down if it can’t find a way to close a $256,000 budget shortfall by the end of June. Educators from all over the state say the writing test scores coming back from the CTB/McGraw-Hill testing vendor appear to be full of flaws. A new petition drive will kick off Wednesday for a state question to fund storm shelters in all Oklahoma schools. On June 4 in Tulsa and June 5 in Oklahoma City, the Red Dirt Rangers are hosting a release party for a single and music video produced by more than fifty Oklahoma musicians to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health statistics and opportunities to gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved next year’s funding levels for Oklahoma college and universities that are largely unchanged from this year. Six universities across the state are aligning their coursework to make it easier for students to transfer between them while pursuing a degree. One month after a botched execution drew international attention, few public records have been released by the state and the Board of Corrections is preparing to discuss the matter in secret for a second time. In the weeks leading up to a botched execution, an Oklahoma assistant attorney general referred to defense attorneys’ warnings that the execution could go awry as “hysterical speculation,” records released to the Tulsa World show.

A campaign that seeks to house Oklahoma City’s chronically homeless population is showing results, with the city’s chronically homeless falling from 376 people last year to 260 this year. Vox previously discussed why it’s cheaper to give the homeless housing than to leave them on the streets. A new report ranks Oklahoma 47th in the nation for senior health, with low-income seniors reporting especially poor health. Garvin County in south-central Oklahoma is set to become the first public agency in the state to purchase a drone for firefighting and other emergency situations. An oil company seeking to build a disposal well in earthquake-prone Logan County was awarded a permit after agreeing to record additional pressure and volume measurements.

The Number of the Day is how many female students in Oklahoma took AP exams in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Vox shares six reasons teen birth rates are plummeting across the country.

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Weekly Wonk June 1, 2014

by | June 1st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

The application deadline for the Summer Policy Institute has been extended to June 2! Oklahoma college students are invited to join us for an exciting four-day event featuring speakers and panels on a variety of Oklahoma public policy issues. Click here to apply.

In guest posts on the OK Policy blog, former intern Matt Simmons argued that the death penalty fails a cost-benefit analysis, and an OK Policy Research Fellow, Breanca Thomas, wrote about the e-cigarette debate in Oklahoma. We urged the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers the state Medicaid program, not to raise copayments on generic prescription medication. We’ve written previously about the devastating impacts of the state budget shortfall on the Medicaid budget.

A group of 50 Oklahoma musicians are releasing a single and accompanying video to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health status and in support of the state accepting federal funds to extend health coverage to low-income Oklahomans. The release parties for “Stand (Let Your Voices Be Heard)” will be on June 4th and June 5th in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, respectively. You can read more here about why Oklahoma should extend coverage.

In his Journal Record column this week, Executive Director David Blatt discussed how lawmakers caved to empty threats when they voted to make permanent a tax break for horizontal drilling. We’ve written before about why the tax break should have ended. Blatt was also quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about the tax break.

Numbers of the Day

  • 25  – Total number of mental health records Oklahoma has submitted since 1993 to an FBI database for gun purchase background checks.
  • 2.53 inches – Precipitation in Oklahoma from Jan-Mar this year, compared to a 6.32 inches 30-year average. It has been the 6th driest year since 1895.
  • $291.7 million – Total amount of one-time reserve funds used to avoid even deeper cuts in Oklahoma’s FY 2015 budget.
  • $110 million – Amount of combined federal and state funds distributed for disaster recovery in the year following the May 2013 Oklahoma tornado outbreak.

Policy Notes

  • Jared Bernstein discusses why a higher minimum wage should be understood as a labor standard like laws against child labor, discrimination, overtime without extra pay, and wage theft
  • Simply being poor can make you sick, writes The Atlantic.
  • The Pitch reports on a new criminal investigation of an online payday lender that is owned by the Miami Nation of Oklahoma.
  • MetroTrends discusses why only about one in four Americans eligible for housing assistance actually receives it.

More than 50 Oklahoma musicians release song to raise awareness of Affordable Care Act

by | May 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

take a stand

On June 4 in Tulsa and June 5 in Oklahoma City, the Red Dirt Rangers are hosting a release party for a single and music video produced by more than fifty Oklahoma musicians. The new song, “Stand (Let Your Voices Be Heard)”, aims to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health statistics, opportunities to gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the need for Oklahoma to accept federal funds to extend coverage further. The event will also raise money for the Red Dirt Relief Fund, which provides assistance for Oklahoma musicians facing a medical emergency without health insurance.

Because of Oklahoma’s decision not to extend health coverage to low-income Oklahomans, some 140,000 adults have been denied access to affordable health care. The few options available to the uninsured are vulnerable to state funding cuts, and the safety net designed to help them is shrinking.

The Tulsa event will be at 7pm, Wednesday, June 4 at the Woody Guthrie Center. The Oklahoma City events will be at 5:30pm, Thursday, June 5 at the Hart Building. The events are free and open to the public. Donations and all proceeds from sales of the song will go to the Red Dirt Relief Fund.

In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs Capitol repair measure

by | May 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Gov. Fallin has signed a measure authorizing $120 million in bonds to repair Oklahoma’s crumbling Capitol. Exterior work is expected to begin this summer or fall. She also signed a bill (HB 2589) criminalizing trafficking large quantities of prescription drugs. Another  bill that would have required doctors to check an online database of patient behavior before filling prescriptions (SB 1820) did not advance this year, but the bill’s author is optimistic about its chances in the 2015 legislative session.  Click here for OK Policy’s fact sheet on prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma.

Gov. Fallin signed a bill (HB 1623) authorizing suicide awareness training in Oklahoma high schools.  StateImpact Oklahoma summarized the fates of bills they had followed during this legislative session. The Journal Record’s M. Scott Carter reviewed the legislative session via an A – F grading system. A guest post on the OK Policy blog discussed the debate around regulation of e-cigarettes. An editorial in The Oklahoman warned against provisions in the bill to repeal Common Core standards in Oklahoma that would give politicians more control over the crafting of all of the state’s academic standards. The New York Times described the backlash against Common Core in a number of states, including Oklahoma.

A national study ranked Oklahoma 17th nationwide for harmful power plant emissions, a slight improvement over last year’s ranking (16th). Three eighth-grade girls from Jenks won a regional award for their design of a do-it-yourself tornado shelter. They will advance to a national competition sponsored by the U.S. Army and the National Science Teachers Association. An anti-abortion bill signed by Gov. Fallin on Wednesday could force the closure of two of Oklahoma’s three clinics providing abortion services. Oklahoma remains remarkably untouched by a national measles outbreak, which has seen cases in neighboring states.

Oklahoma Watch reports that the state Department of Corrections has yet to release the execution log of Clayton Lockett, who died in a botched execution on April 29. Execution logs detail the week prior to a prisoner’s execution. A new Fresh Start program designed to reduce recidivism rates launched in March with more than 90 recently released Oklahoma inmates. The program is part of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s “Smart on Crime” initiative. Gov. Fallin is allowing a burn ban to expire in 36 counties due to recent rainfall, but StateImpact writes that the rain has only slightly alleviated Oklahoma’s drought.

The Number of the Day is the combined federal and state funds distributed for disaster recovery to victims of last May’s tornadoes. In today’s Policy Note, MetroTrends discusses why only about one in four Americans eligible for housing assistance actually receives it.

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The debate on e-cigarettes lights up (Guest Post: Breanca Thomas)

by | May 29th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (2)

Breanca Thomas is a PhD student in Health Promotion Sciences in the College of Public Health at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and a 2013-14 OK Policy Research Fellow. She intends to pursue a research career focusing on effective methods of reducing health disparities among at-risk groups.

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Oklahoma leaders have been weighing e-cigarettes’ possible commercial and health benefits with their potentially harmful health effects. The caveat? Neither risks nor benefits of these products have clear evidence.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have gained popularity nationally and especially in Oklahoma. E-cigarettes are devices that simulate smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette. The device contains liquid nicotine that is heated to produce a vapor similar to cigarette smoke.

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs controversial tax break for new oil and gas wells

by | May 29th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that makes permanent a generous tax break for new oil and gas drilling. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses how lawmakers caved to bogus threats from drillers that they would leave the state without this tax break, despite wide acknowledgement that this wouldn’t happen. Lawyer Jerry Fent plans to challenge the drilling tax break and scheduled income tax cuts for violating the Oklahoma Constitution’s requirements for a revenue bill.

Clinics and hospitals who serve Medicaid patients are concerned that Oklahoma’s proposed cuts to provider reimbursements will hurt patients’ access to care. The OK Policy Blog discussed how Oklahoma is considering hiking fees on the state’s poorest and sickest citizens to help cover Medicaid’s budget shortfall. Oklahoma could have avoided these cuts and actually expanded coverage by accepting federal funds under the Affordable Care Act. The voter registration deadline is this Friday for Oklahomans to vote in the June 24 primary elections.

Despite objections from numerous Tulsans with disabilities, the Tulsa Transit authority approved fare increases and service cuts that would end late evening routes across Tulsa. A Save the Arts campaign is fighting city budget plans that could eliminate nearly all arts programs affiliated with the city of Tulsa. Gov. Fallin signed a bill that will allow the state to help Tinker Air Force Base with a $44 million purchase of land for a new aircraft maintenance facility. A proposal to issue up to $40 million in bonds to help build a new joint headquarters for state veterans and mental health agencies was shelved after protests from some veterans’ groups who didn’t want veterans to be so closely associated with mental health issues.

Gov. Fallin signed a bill that requires abortion clinics to have a physician with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital present when an abortion is performed. Oklahoma legislators’ attempt to derail new science education standards for Oklahoma failed because the House and Senate voted against the standards in different bills. A bill repealing Common Core standards in Oklahoma, which Governor Fallin has yet to sign, would give the Legislature more power to reject any education standards developed by the state Board of Education. Rose State College is offering a new Native American Studies program which includes a study abroad to Hawaii as comparative indigenous studies and internships with local tribes. Recent rains have helped Oklahoma farmers and ranchers to partially recover from the severe drought affecting the state.

The Number of the Day is the total amount of one-time reserve funds used to avoid even deeper cuts in Oklahoma’s FY 2015 budget. In today’s Policy Note, The Pitch reports on a new criminal investigation of an online payday lender that is owned by the Miami Nation of Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma could hike fees on the poorest and sickest citizens

by | May 28th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

copay_signsThis year’s state budget will be tough for most state services, but one of the biggest losers is Oklahomans who are insured through Medicaid. The FY2015 budget appropriates flat funding to the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA), which administers Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. However, flat funding from the state translates to an $85-$90 million shortfall, due to rising enrollment and declining federal matching funds.

Without the funding it needs to continue providing the same level of services, OHCA is looking at several options to make up the gap. Steep cuts in provider reimbursement rates of almost 8 percent appear inevitable. The agency is also looking at eliminating some adult dental services and requiring prior authorization for a variety of services, from controlled substance prescriptions to back surgeries.

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In The Know: OKC attorney threatening lawsuit over gross production tax bill

by | May 28th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that an Oklahoma City attorney who has successfully sued the state in the past is threatening another lawsuit if Gov. Mary Fallin signs into law a bill setting a revised tax rate for oil and natural gas wells. Towering scaffolding around the state Capitol will be the first indication that the biggest repair, refurbishment and remodel in the 96-year history of the landmark building is under way. House Minority Leader Scott Inman expressed disappointment in the just-ended legislative session, due to  bad legislation and infighting between the governor and House Republicans.

NewsOn6 reported on mounting criticism against Governor Fallin for a long backlog of Open Records requests that have not been answered. The OK Policy Blog looked at a cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty. Oklahoma Watch examined reasons behind the high rate of death by firearm for young black men in Oklahoma. A sandwich shop operator sexually abused and harassed female inmates who worked there while serving time at a private halfway house, according to new details in a lawsuit filed by the women.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing a risk-assessment on the Tulsa area’s nearly 20-mile levee system along the Arkansas River. The system was identified as being among the top 5 percent of levees in the nation with potential for damaging floods. Five Girl Scouts from Tulsa met with President Obama to demonstrate a project at the White House Science Fair. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is planning a series of meetings throughout June to hear what residents in communities around the state believe are their most critical health needs. Variety Care, a nonprofit, family-based Oklahoma healthcare center, is working to increase the number of clinics that will offer free books and literacy-rich environments to children.

Ardmore school district is planning to apply for a new federal program that will allow it to serve school breakfast and lunches to all students at no charge. OK Policy previously discussed how the community eligibility program offers a more efficient and effective way to make sure kids in low-income communities have enough to eat. A group is kicking off a petition drive to get medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in Oklahoma with a rally at the state Capitol.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case in which OG&E and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt unsuccessfully challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan for reducing regional haze. OG&E will now be required to install scrubbers at its coal-fired plants to reduce pollution. Residents of Osage County are concerned that several large wind farm developments could endanger the tallgrass prairie ecosystem. The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is partnering with a private oil and gas pipeline company to help protect the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken.

The Number of the Day is the amount of precipitation in Oklahoma from January to March this year. It has been the 6th driest year in Oklahoma going back to 1895. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how being poor can make you sick.

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Does the death penalty cost more than it’s worth? (Guest Post: Matt Simmons)

by | May 27th, 2014 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (0)
Photo by Ken Piorkowski used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Ken Piorkowski used under a Creative Commons license.

Matt Simmons is a former OK Policy intern. He recently completed his MA in American history at the University of Tulsa, and he is currently pursuing a PhD in history at the University of Florida. He can be found on Twitter at @mattfsimmons.

Last month Clayton Lockett was executed by the state of Oklahoma. It did not go as planned. Rather than succumbing quickly to an intravenously administered lethal drug cocktail, Lockett expired from a heart attack after 43 minutes. Governor Fallin suspended further executions pending the results of an investigation into execution procedures.

More than just an investigation into execution procedures is needed, however. Questions of morality and justice surrounding the death penalty will continue to be debated, but it’s worth looking at the fiscal costs and benefits to taxpayers. Our legal system tries to be absolutely certain before sentencing someone to death (although the system is still not fool-proof). As a result, death penalty cases require significantly more time and money than other cases.

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