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In The Know: Hundreds of votes go uncounted during November election

by | December 1st, 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.

Hundreds of voters who cast provisional ballots during the Nov. 4 election ended up not being counted by election officials. While many were excluded for valid reasons, the Tulsa World found that at least two ballots had not been counted due to a mistake by the election board. Community leaders in Tulsa said the city has made progress in reducing distrust of law enforcement among blacks and Hispanics, but more needs to be done. Some Oklahoma Muslims say increasing discrimination in the state is creating the worst environment they have faced. A Tulsa World poll found 54 percent of Oklahomans viewed Islam unfavorably, but almost 80 percent said Muslims should enjoy the same religious freedoms as other Americans.

A sharp drop in crude oil prices caused shares in Oklahoma’s largest oil and gas companies to fall between 12 and 30 percent on Friday. Justia analyzed the ruling that ordered Continental Energy CEO Harold Hamm to pay a $1 billion divorce settlement. Following a large demonstration by Norman High students and community members against how three sexual assault victims were treated at the school, the district’s superintendent said they will make reforms that seek to be a national model in sexual assault curriculum policies. The Oklahoman wrote that lawmakers have no excuses not to pursue criminal justice reforms to reduce incarceration. Former Oklahoma Secretary of Health Tom Adelson wrote in the Tulsa World that predictions of an Obamacare ‘trainwreck’ have not come true. Two events are coming up in Tulsa to help people learn about obtaining health insurance through the marketplace exchange created by the Affordable Care Act.

Tulsa World opinion editor Wayne Greene gave recommendations to fix the state’s broken budgeting process. The Oklahoman wrote that two separate AG opinions finding that the Legislature illegally shifted funds when making this year’s budget show a need for budget reforms. OK Policy previously discussed how the Legislature’s funding grabs have threatened low-income college students and the uninsured. Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and former state Treasurer Scott Meacham argued in NewsOK that Oklahoma schools are failing, but they said we should not have a serious discussion about increasing funding until we change teacher tenure and compensation, create higher curriculum standards, and hold back more students. The Tulsa World argued that the reinstatement of Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver still does not justify revoking Common Core standards.

The Oklahoman praised OK Policy’s newly updated CountyStats tool that provides fact sheets with key data for each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. You can see the latest CountyStats fact sheets here. Oklahoma lawmakers and managers of the Capitol restoration project traveled to Kansas to get tips on Capitol repair. The EPA has awarded more than $14.2 million to the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to fund drinking water systems throughout the state. The Number of the Day is number of Oklahomans exonerated after being falsely convicted between 1989 and 2014. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress shares how the Affordable Care Act is helping LGBT Americans.

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The Weekly Wonk November 30, 2014

by | November 30th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, 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. Because In The Know has taken short breaks over the last two weeks for a conference and Thanksgiving, this edition of The Weekly Wonk includes material from both weeks.

OK Policy released our updated CountySTATS 2014, with county-by-county data on a wide variety of indicators. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board discussed some of the more interesting numbers they uncovered in CountySTATS 2014. In his Capitol Updates, Steve Lewis discussed why agency directors shouldn’t expect new funding this year, despite growing need, and argued that if Oklahoma wants to increase education funding, it will need to do more than simply rearrange the funds it already has.

A new blog post explained how state leadership’s efforts to block the Affordable Care Act means the state is missing out on the flexibility the federal government is offering states in expanding health coverage. We examined the implications of a ruling from the state Attorney General finding that the legislature acted unconstitutionally appropriated from the Trauma Care Assistance Fund in an effort to balance the state budget. We’ve written about the legislature’s habit of inappropriate appropriations before, and the shortfalls they create.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed a recent presentation given by Dr. Larry Jacobs on the future of the Affordable Care Act and concluded that while the road to full implementation might be bumpy, it’s not a dead end. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board came to a somewhat different conclusion. Policy Director Gene Perry spoke to The Oklahoman about the possibilities for criminal justice reform in 2015, and The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board praised OK Policy’s support for a renewed effort from the Governor’s office in implementing the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. In our Editorial of the Week, Blatt made recommendations for Gov. Fallin’s second term in office.

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Education funding schemes no substitute for dealing with taxes

by | November 26th, 2014 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

Sen. Brian Crain said this week he will introduce two $2.5 billion bond issues to generate funds for common and higher education.  The proposals would have to pass the legislature and a vote of the people.  Apparently the idea is to invest the borrowed money to earn enough to pay the interest on the bonds.  If there’s more earned than owed the money would go to education, and when the bonds are paid off all the earnings would go to education.

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In The Know: Oklahoma voter registration lead officially goes to GOP for first time in state history

by | November 26th, 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.

Republicans have surpassed Democrats in voter registration for the first time in Oklahoma history, the result of a decades-long trend in state politics. Speakers at a vigil in response to events in Ferguson, Missouri said the same underlying racial tensions and distrust of law enforcement are present in Tulsa. Guthrie educators said the community’s repeated refusal to approve bond measures has led to severe deterioration of facilities at Guthrie schools.

On the OK Policy Blog, we discussed how another funding grab by the Legislature to close this year’s budget shortfall was found unconstitutional. Several Oklahoma elected officials, businesspeople, and church leaders held a public scripture reading at the state Capitol to celebrate the National Bible Association’s International Day of the Bible. Mustang Public Schools has cancelled plans to offer a Bible course developed by the head of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, amid controversy about bias in the curriculum and reports that the course was presented to Mustang school board members in a way that sought to skirt open meetings requirements.

The Oklahoman editorial board discussed the state’s continuing failures to protect children from abuse and neglect. Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm has followed expanded oil and gas production north to the Oklahoma-Kansas border. The Number of the Day is how many commercial banks are in Oklahoma, which has fallen steadily since 1985. In today’s Policy Note, a woman writes in The Huffington Post that legal challenges by Oklahoma and others seeking to eliminate subsidies for purchasing insurance on healthcare.gov are a threat to her parents’ lives.

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Legislature’s wandering budget hands get slapped again

by | November 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Healthcare | Comments (0)

pickpocketFor the second time, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has struck down a provision of this year’s state budget, ruling that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it pulled $5 million out of the State Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund to fund other government services.

In June, the A.G. ruled that the legislature had acted improperly when it diverted $7.9 million intended for the Oklahoma Higher Access Learning Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise, for other purposes. The college scholarship money was part of $191 million that the legislature redirected from nearly 30 different agency revolving funds and other state funds in an effort to balance the FY 2015 budget and avert even deeper cuts to services.  With the OHLAP money no longer available, officials decided to apply an across-the-board cut to all agencies in proportion to their funding from the FY 2015 General Revenue fund.

Back in June, we called attention to several other funding grabs by the Legislature to balance their budget. In the case of the Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund, we noted that this would result in a $3 million shortfall in payments to hospitals and other trauma care providers in FY 2015, and had also led the agency to further slash critical funding for community health centers and cut support for the cord blood bank.

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In The Know: Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver reinstated

by | November 25th, 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.

The U.S. Department of Education has reinstated Oklahoma’s flexibility waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The state had lost its waiver after repealing Common Core education standards, but it was restored after the State Regent for Higher Education certified Oklahoma’s old standards as “college and career-ready.” You can read the letter from the U.S. Department of Education here. Hundreds of students, parents and supporters lined the street in front of Norman High School on Monday to protest the school’s handling of the bullying of three female students who allege they were raped by a former male student. Buzzfeed shared photos and social media updates from the event. Norman Public Schools has released a fact sheet describing their response to the sexual assault allegations and protest.

State officials have sought a protective order in federal court to withhold from the public key documents and information in a civil rights lawsuit filed by inmates who reported being raped at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. Oklahoma’s Department of Public Safety has complied with a federal judge’s order to deliver records to attorneys for 21 Oklahoma death-row inmates who have filed a lawsuit to block their executions. Oklahoma and twenty other states are asking a federal appeals court to overturn provisions of Maryland’s gun-control law that bans 45 assault weapons and limits gun magazines to 10 rounds. Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller said Oklahomans are owed up to $37 million in unclaimed death benefits they are not aware of.

On the OK Policy Blog, we look at how others states are taking advantage of federal flexibility to design their own plans to expand health coverage, which Oklahoma has so far refused to do. At an Oklahoma City Metro Chamber forum, several economists praised Oklahoma’s metro areas as engines of growth, but criticized state leaders for failing to plan for the long term and neglecting investments in education and infrastructure. A new grant program by the Tulsa Area United Way that funds creative responses to community challenges has awarded its first grants to a new medical clinic for homeless and at-risk youth and a camp serving child victims of domestic violence, among others.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rejected parts of Texas’ plan to reduce pollution from power plants that are impacting a wildlife refuge in Oklahoma. The New York Times reported on how wind power projects in Oklahoma are starting to produce energy cheaper than coal or natural gas. The Number of the Day is the percentage of calls to Oklahoma’s child abuse and neglect hotline in 2013 that were reporting abuse and/or neglect of an adult. In today’s Policy Note, This American Life shares stories of schools struggling with how to handle misbehaving kids and examines evidence that some of the most popular punishments may actually harm kids.

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Oklahoma has options to insure our people. Here’s how.

by | November 24th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (1)
Image from University of Salford used under a Creative Commons license

Image from University of Salford used under a Creative Commons license

When justifying their opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s provisions to extend health coverage to the uninsured, Oklahoma leaders often cite a preference for a state-specific solution. For example, Governor Mary Fallin promised an “Oklahoma plan” to address the large number of uninsured citizens in the coverage crater. And State Insurance Commissioner John Doak called for “state-based regulation that gives consumers options and the freedom to make the choices that best suit their families’ needs.”

Despite this rhetoric, state leaders have gone all out to obstruct the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to expand coverage. Simultaneously, they’ve refused to take advantage of the flexibility that the federal government has granted to other states.

 Of the 28 states that have accepted federal funds to expand health coverage, four have negotiated with the federal government for a waiver to use the funds in innovative, creative ways that are specific to their own state’s needs. A few more, like New Hampshire and Indiana, are negotiating such plans for their states. They have done exactly what Governor Fallin and Commissioner Doak claim is needed.

Here’s what they did:

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In The Know: Norman students to protest high school’s response to bullying and rape allegations

by | November 24th, 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.

Students at Norman High School are planning to walk out today in a protest of the school’s response to bullying and rape allegations. The students have released a list of changes they are asking for from the school district. Jezebel shared the story of the rapes and how three teenage victims were bullied out of school. An associated with Human Rights Watch wrote an op-ed charging that the Tulsa Police Department is not taking rape investigations seriously.

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger has told state agencies that budgets will not be cut as the result of an attorney general’s opinion that the Legislature illegally transferred money out of a revolving fund for uncompensated care. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed predictions that Oklahomans is headed for another “flat” state budget year. SCOTUSblog discussed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s request to argue against health care subsidies going to Oklahomans before the U.S. Supreme Court. If Pruitt’s challenge succeeds, about 55,000 Oklahomans could lose access to affordable health coverage.

In an Oklahoman op-ed, OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt made recommendations for Governor Fallin’s second term. The Oklahoman reported that Gov. Fallin and legislators are looking more supportive of criminal justice reform in the coming legislative session. The Tulsa World reported that among those who were exonerated after being wrongfully convicted of serious crimes in Oklahoma, few have ever received compensation from the state. An in-depth investigation by The Guardian looks at changes in access to an abortion in Oklahoma and nearby states.

Tulsa Public Schools and the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association have come to a deal on contracts that will provide an average $400 salary increase for teachers. Two Tulsa first-grade teachers are standing by their refusal to give their students high-stakes tests, despite the risk to their jobs. The U.S. Department of Interior filed a lawsuit to stop a wind farm project in Osage County, which the Departments says is breaking the law by damaging and destroying rocks that belong to the Osage Nation. A trade association says wind power saved electricity customers in Oklahoma and surrounding states more than $1.2 billion last year.

The Number of the Day is the median annual wage of a petroleum engineer in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post examined an Affordable Care Act program that is helping reduce health care costs by incentivizing doctors to make house calls.

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Managing budgets and expectations (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

by | November 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)
Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger issued a press release last week saying Oklahomans should expect another “flat” state budget next year.  For the first third of this fiscal year general revenue collections are about $141.5 million above last year.  Assuming the trend remains the same it would mean $424.5 million in “new” money.  That hardly sounds like a flat budget.  But Doerflinger reminds us that this year’s budget has a big hole to be filled next year before any new spending can be added.  To balance this year’s budget some of the agency revolving funds were used for general purposes.  That has left them with lower balances and likely cannot be repeated. There are probably other adjustments, and a tax cut, if I remember correctly, will begin in January.

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In The Know: Lawmakers defend tax cut as Oklahoma Supreme Court considers legal challenge

by | November 21st, 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.

A group of Oklahoma lawmakers released a statement defending passage of an income-tax cut that is under review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. OK Policy previously discussed how the Supreme Court decision could dramatically change the politics around tax cuts in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case against federal health insurance subsidies at the same time justices consider a similar challenge from Virginia. If AG Pruitt’s lawsuit is successful, at least 55,000 Oklahomans could lose access to affordable coverage.

NewsOK shared the story of an Oklahoma City woman who is hoping for a path to legal work and residency by President Obama’s immigration executive action. Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn predicted a violent reaction to the President’s announcement. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he is planning another lawsuit against the federal government over it. A group of Republican business owners in Oklahoma and Republican state Sen. Brian Crain called on Congress to pass an immigration bill that includes a path to legal status for some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

Oklahoma City Public Schools kicked off a six month planning process to identify the most important issues the district will face over the next several years. In the Tulsa World, Kara Gae Neal described public education as the largest, overburdened, under-incentivized business in the state. A group of charitable foundations is meeting to come up with a plan to keep a Tulsa-area youthful offender center open through June. The group will seek to find short-term “bridge funding” to keep the facility open, but a long-term solution will require reversing state budget cuts. Bill Moyers reported that an Oklahoma City is running a food drive to help its own impoverished workers get through the holidays.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health will receive a $1.15 million federal grant to gather data on homicides and suicides in an effort to prevent those deaths. Oklahomans, particularly families with children, were more negative about the economy in October than their neighbors in Missouri and Arkansas, according to the Arvest Consumer Sentiment Survey. The Number of the Day is the total value of all goods traded between Oklahoma City and Tulsa in 2010. Both cities were each other’s second largest trading partner among major cities, with Dallas, TX as the largest trading partner. In today’s Policy Note, Vox explains what’s in President Obama’s new immigration plan.

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