In The Know: State Attorney General dismisses death-row inmates’ concerns

by | July 18th, 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:

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office said Thursday that death-row inmates’ concerns about the risk of cruel and unusual pain and suffering during executions by lethal injection are unfounded. A group of 21 death-row inmates had filed the lawsuit following the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in late April. An editorial in The Oklahoman argues that although the state Supreme Court has upheld a bill repealing Common Core in Oklahoma, the bill itself is nonetheless flawed because it grants state lawmakers the authority to write new educational standards. State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi has expressed concern that the two-year time frame given to develop new educational standards might not be enough.

A guest post on the OK Policy blog warns against the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Oklahoma, a secretive organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state lawmakers. The state Workers’ Compensation Commission approved its budget on Thursday, which includes the termination of 16 employees. The teen birth rate in Tulsa dropped by 20 percent between 2012 and 2013, outstripping the state’s overall drop of 9 percent. Advocates credit the evidence-based, comprehensive sex education available in Tulsa County. KGOU explained why a coalition of 18 Oklahoma counties planning to build a pipeline to pump water from southeastern Oklahoma fell apart. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has announced forthcoming in-depth water studies in three of Oklahoma’s most water-challenged regions to address potential supply issues.

A Senate panel has approved funding for all seven AWACS planes at Tinker Air Force Base. The Department of Defense had previously planned to retire the planes to save money. A task force dedicated to figuring out funding for dams on the Arkansas River has suggested creating a trust fund for the dams supported by sales or property taxes. Officials say that badly-needed repairs on the state Capitol building could begin by the end of the year. A new federal earthquake map places parts of Oklahoma in the top-two hazard zones. State agriculture officials say the ongoing drought, a late spring freeze and late spring rains have produced the worst wheat crop in nearly half a century.

The Number of the Day is the percentage decline in Oklahoma’s teen birth rate between 2012 and 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Bloomberg View examines the concept of participatory budgeting, in which citizens have a hand in allocating resources.

continue reading In The Know: State Attorney General dismisses death-row inmates’ concerns

Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma (Guest Post: J.C. Moore)

by | July 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (3)

business_moneyJ.C. Moore is a retired science teacher, a member of the the American Geophysical Union, and co-founder of OKcitizensfirst.org.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a great influence on our state politics, but many Oklahomans have heard little about the organization. On the surface,  ALEC is an organization made up of corporations and state-level elected officials which meets three times a year to write “model legislation” for states. Officials can then take the model legislation back to their state for consideration. That sounds like a good process, except that what goes on under the surface of ALEC is kept secret.

In May of 2013, ALEC met in Oklahoma City. While corporate representatives from ALEC met with our legislators, a group of citizens protested across the street. The protesters, as well as members of the press, had been barred from attending by security guards. The agenda of the meeting was secret and an elaborate drop box system was created to avoid FOIA requests. Now, over a year later, there is still little known about the meeting or its influence on our legislators.

continue reading Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma (Guest Post: J.C. Moore)

In The Know: Fallin’s office says Barresi not being considered for secretary of education

by and | July 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 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 Governor Fallin’s office denied a rumor that the Governor is considering outgoing State Superintendent Janet Barresi for her Secretary of Education. A Jenks school administrator said the district is not scrambling to adopt a new set of standards after the repeal of Common Core, because they will continue using their own Continuum of Standards. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how huge tax cuts in Kansas have opened a deep budget hole while not showing any signs of boosting the economy. On the OK Policy Blog, we look at the data to see whether term limits have actually changed how long legislators serve in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma prosecutors accused the Pardon and Parole Board of having an anti-victim and anti-district attorney bias, but they also appealed to legislative leaders and Governor Fallin to increase funding for the agency. Oklahoma City police said they continue to be overburdened with transporting psychiatric patients across the state because Oklahoma has not funded enough mental health beds. Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Colbert said that dozens of bills introduced in the state Legislature this year would have had a “lethal and devastating” effect on Oklahoma’s judiciary if enacted into law. 

State Rep. Fred Jordan asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to get involved in the race for Tulsa County District Attorney. Another candidate for the DA position, Steve Kunzweiler, has challenge Rep. Jordan’s candidacy based on a constitutional ban on lawmakers being elected to any office in which the pay had been increased during the lawmaker’s term. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control said they continue to oppose a state question to legalize marijuana but are preparing for its possible passage.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said some state agencies are concerned about potential legal complications from unaccompanied children being housed at Fort Sill, in light of a state law banning the use of state money to provide services to people who enter the country illegally. Federal officials have previously said few if any of the children at Fort Sill will wind up in Oklahoma. Minors appearing in immigration courts without attorneys are deported 90 percent of the time while those with lawyers are removed at a rate of 54 percent, according to an analysis released Tuesday by a New York-based nonprofit. A group of TU law students have joined the “Immigration Rights Project” to help represent the children at Fort Sill.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma high schools had a dropout rate above 40 percent for the Class of 2012. In today’s Policy Note, CNN Money discusses how the prosperity of the American middle class has fallen below Japan, Canada, Australia and much of Western Europe, even as a few very wealthy Americans skew the average wealth upwards.

continue reading In The Know: Fallin’s office says Barresi not being considered for secretary of education

Did term limits really change how long Oklahoma legislators serve?

by | July 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (0)
Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

Gene Stipe, who served 53 years in the Oklahoma Legislature (1948-54, 1956-2003)

*This post has been updated to correct errors in the original version, noted by *

In September 1990, Oklahoma voters, by an overwhelming margin, approved State Question 632 which limited service in the Oklahoma legislature to no more than twelve years in the House of Representatives and Senate combined. The new term limits took effect in *1992 and did not apply to time already served. The first group of legislators subject to SQ 632 hit their term limits in 2004 (for House members and Senators elected in 1992) and in 2006 (for Senators elected in 1994).

Oklahoma political observers are in near unanimous agreement that term limits have had profound and far-ranging effects on the Oklahoma legislature. In the view of many journalists, legislative and agency staffers, and lobbyists, today’s legislators are significantly less experienced than were their predecessors. Short legislative careers are taken to mean that legislators are less familiar with policy issues, agency operations, public finances, and the legislative process itself.  With less time to rise through the ranks to leadership, term-limited legislators are often seen as more overtly ambitious and more beholden to lobbyists than in pre-term limit days. 

Yet is it really the case that term limits have brought about the sweeping changes that are often attributed to them?

continue reading Did term limits really change how long Oklahoma legislators serve?

In The Know: State Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

by and | July 16th, 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 that only a few hours after hearing oral arguments, the Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a bill repealing Common Core standards and giving legislators more influence over any new standards. Superintendent Janet Barresi asked parents and educators to apply to join committees that will develop new academic standards. Information about the committees and how to apply is available here. CareerTech Director Robert Sommers, who also serves as Governor Fallin’s secretary of education and workforce development, announced he will resign both positions August 15.

Oklahoma’s General Revenue Fund collections for the full Fiscal Year 2014 came in barely above prior year collections and 4.8 percent below the official estimate. With a critical shortage of judges for deportation hearings, all of Oklahoma’s hearings have been moved to Dallas. President Obama has put forward a plan to appoint additional judges, but it still needs Congressional approval. In a continuing series on federal and state disaster aid in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Watch examined how thousands of disaster aid requests end in rejection.

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma just wrapped up the largest distribution year in its history. The food bank provided 17.3 million meals this year, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed a new school meals program that provides a more efficient way to feed kids in poverty. The Oklahoma City Jesus House’s Adopt-A-Block initiative is sending a group of people enrolled in the homeless shelter’s sobriety program into low-income communities to mow lawns, provide emergency food aid, and deliver box fans for people without air conditioning. The Oklahoma City Council voted to allow northeast Oklahoma City hospital to continue housing adult psychiatric patients, despite protests from residents who said they were afraid of people with mental illness.

Fifteen teachers from Spain will be joining Oklahoma City Public Schools this year under a memorandum of understanding with the country to bring guest teachers to Oklahoma. The volume of payday lending in the state and number of lenders has declined over the past two years after spiking in 2011. The OK Policy Blog previously shared stories of how payday loans impose very high costs on some of the poorest Oklahomans. RH Reality Check examined how the issue of health care access and Governor Fallin’s refusal to accept federal funds for Medicaid are affecting Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race.

The Cherokee Nation is constructing a new 28,000 square-foot health center in Washington County. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is reaching out to people who have completed a firearm safety training course but have not yet applied for a handgun license because time is running out on their certifications’ validity. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded three more earthquakes yesterday in Oklahoma, including one that shattered windows and put cracks in the wall of the Harrah police station.

The Number of the Day is how many journalists report full-time from the Oklahoma statehouse. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post reports on how 18 cities in Texas have passed rules to reign in some of the worst practices of payday lenders.

continue reading In The Know: State Supreme Court upholds Common Core repeal

In The Know: Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures

by and | July 15th, 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:

Oklahoma officials are taking a second look at confidentiality agreements signed with railroads that prevent disclosure of information to the public about shipments of oil coming through the state. A new poll finds that Governor Fallin’s favorability with Oklahoma voters has fallen to 52 percent in early June, a 19-point drop from her high of 73 percent in September. The OK Policy Blog explained how despite Governor Fallin’s attempt to shift the blame to President Obama, the real reason behind state Medicaid cuts is Oklahoma leaders’ mismanagement of the state budget.

Authorities preparing for the renovation of Oklahoma’s state Capitol plan to authorize preliminary design work before millions of dollars in bond money becomes available. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett are beginning a campaign for changes in state law to reduce cities’ reliance on sales taxes, a sometimes volatile revenue source that can pit city against suburb in battles over big-box retailers.  The Tulsa Regional Chamber released findings of a workforce analysis project with recommendations on improving job opportunities and skilled workers in Tulsa. You can find the full report here.

The Tulsa World reported that all of the immigrant children have been given vaccinations, and kids who test positive for communicable diseases have been quarantined in non-military facilities. A growing backlog of immigration cases has caused the average wait time for a hearing in an immigration court to exceed 1.5 years.

Oklahoma Watch continued a special report on how federal and state aid funds are helping to rebuild from damaging storms in Oklahoma. The latest stories look at who is receiving public disaster assistance and the recovery effort for Moore Schools. The Tulsa World editorial board discussed how Oklahoma’s decision to repeal Common Core standards is costing the state money and leaving teachers without clear guidance for the coming school year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how Common Core repeal could lead to more federal control of Oklahoma schools. The okeducationtruths blog discussed concerns about the non-profit Oklahoma Public School Resource Center’s (OPSRC) connections with groups pushing for controversial education reforms. The OK Policy Blog previously featured a guest post on services that the OPSRC is offering schools.

A student at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City said she was expelled from the private college because she married her same-sex partner. Oklahoma City Public Schools is teaming with Oklahoma Caring Foundation and Oklahoma City County Health Department to offer mobile immunizations at selected schools through July 24. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa brought in its 75 millionth ton of cargo since opening 43 years ago. The Number of the Day is the total tonnage processed by the Port of Catoosa in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Quartz looks at how companies like QuikTrip, the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s, and Costco Wholesale are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures

Gov. Fallin blames Obama for Oklahoma’s Medicaid cuts. The real reason is closer to home.

by | July 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (16)
President Barack Obama greets Governor Mary Fallin at Tinker Air Force Base.

President Barack Obama greets Governor Mary Fallin at Tinker Air Force Base.

Earlier this year, we warned that Oklahoma risked deep cuts to our state’s health care safety net if we didn’t increase state funding for Medicaid and mental health services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, needed $90 million and the Department of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needed $20.9 million in new funding just to maintain existing services.

Instead, lawmakers budgeted flat funding for the Health Care Authority and just $2.2 million in new funding for mental health. As a result, Oklahoma has slashed Medicaid doctor reimbursements, hiked copayments for Medicaid patients, and reduced eligibility for services. Families who stand to lose behavioral health rehabilitation services have spoken out about the cuts. In response, Governor Fallin responded with a statement blaming President Obama. Governor Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz said:

continue reading Gov. Fallin blames Obama for Oklahoma’s Medicaid cuts. The real reason is closer to home.

In The Know: Department of Corrections proposes reducing number of officers on security posts

by and | July 14th, 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.

The Department of Corrections is proposing to eliminate 12-hour shifts in state prisons by reducing the number of officers on security posts. Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group representing corrections officers in Oklahoma, wrote a letter stating that they have grave concerns about how this move would affect the safety of staff and inmates. House Speaker Jeff Hickman approved more than 80 interim studies to go forward in the Legislature, including studies of lethal injection alternatives and monitoring of prescription drugs. You can see the full list of House interim studies here and Senate interim studies here. The Ethics Commission will consider a series of proposed amendments to its new rules during upcoming meetings.

School districts in Oklahoma have been hit hard in recent years with retirement notices from teachers who are leaving for better-paying industries. The state Department of Education has released an Oklahoma Indian Education Resource guide with lesson plans and tools for studying the state’s sovereign tribes. You can view the guide here.

A Tulsa Veterans Affairs clinic is struggling to meet the rapidly rising demand for care from veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. An advisory board member for a hospital in Creek County wrote that Oklahoma’s refusal to accept Medicaid funds could force rural hospitals to close their doors. KGOU reported on the benefits for Oklahoma Native Americans of signing up for SoonerCareEmergency medical service fees are set to rise in Tulsa, about a year after city officials extended allowed response times to keep down fees.

Oklahoma Watch released the first part of a special report on how federal and state disaster aid is being spent in the wake of the violent tornadoes and storms of spring 2013. A study of the Gerber-Wellington aquifer, which covers 3,000 square miles of the most densely populated areas in Oklahoma, found that under current policies the water could be depleted in 35 to 41 yearsThe Oklahoma Corporation Commission plans to seek the public’s input in the placement of wind farms and the regulation of rooftop solar panels. Infectious diseases once unknown in Oklahoma are showing up because of changes in climate, the urbanization of previously forested areas and people traveling to once-remote regions.

Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham discussed her experience trying to commute on the Tulsa bus system. The Number of the Day is the average time patients with broken bones had to wait before receiving pain medication in Oklahoma emergency rooms. In today’s Policy Note, Huffington Post discusses new legislation by Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Rand Paul that aims to break the cycle of incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

continue reading In The Know: Department of Corrections proposes reducing number of officers on security posts

The Weekly Wonk July 13, 2014

by | July 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 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.

This week, we explained how Oklahoma agencies have $6.7 million less in funding than originally budgeted, after lawmakers’ attempt to divert money from Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships was revealed to be unconstitutional. We introduced the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPRSC), which provides schools with a variety of resources they would otherwise be unable to afford.

We shared information about the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC), including details of its upcoming conference on July 15. ONAC provides free training and technical assistance to tribes in Oklahoma that wish to design and implement various asset-building programs. Kate Richey’s work on behalf of OK Policy with the Oklahoma Assets Network can be found here.

Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column and a blog post by policy analyst Carly Putnam discussed the extension of Insure Oklahoma, which provides health insurance to low-income Oklahoman workers and families. We’ve written before about how Insure Oklahoma could be used to cover the state’s low-income uninsured long-term if we would accept federal funds to extend it. In our Editorial of the Week, the Tulsa World noted that the extension of Insure Oklahoma is only the first step in making sure thousands of Oklahomans don’t go without health coverage.

An editorial in The Oklahoman used OK Policy data to argue in favor of greater state support for Oklahoma’s public universities. A letter to the editor in the Norman Transcript cited OK Policy while calling for the state government to accept federal funds to expand health coverage.

Quote of the Week

“The sad truth is that the state budget has become dependent on using one-time funds in good times and bad. Oklahoma’s economy has been expanding for more than three years, yet legislators tapped nearly $1 billion in nonrecurring revenues over that period — some appropriately so, but most not — to spend more than the amount certified.”

- Oklahoma state treasurer Ken Miller, speaking out against the overuse of one-time funds and cuts to recurring revenues in the state budget (Source: http://bit.ly/1jXUlT1)

See previous Quotes of the Day here.

Numbers of the Day

  • 25 minutes – Average wait for emergency room patients in Oklahoma before they are seen by a doctor.
  • 97,617 – Number of Oklahoma K-12 students that qualified for special education programs during the 2011-12 school year.
  • 31.4% – Percentage of Oklahomans living in areas with concentrated poverty in 2010.
  • 1,712 – Number of utility-scale wind turbines in Oklahoma as of 2013.
  • 260 – Number of organ and tissue transplants in Oklahoma in 2013. As of March 7, there are 897 Oklahomans on a waiting list for a transplant.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

What We’re Reading

In The Know: Another 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children may be placed at U.S. military bases

by | July 11th, 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:

Yesterday, Fort Sill allowed a limited number of members of state and national media to tour its barracks, where over one thousand refugee children from Central America are being housed until they can be placed with family and sponsors. The average child stays at Fort Sill for 15 days before being placed. The White House has asked the Department of Defense for the authority to house another 5,000 children along side the 3,000 already housed on three bases. It is not yet clear if more children would be brought to Fort Sill.

Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman unveiled a proposal to better fund schools without costing taxpayers more money by diverting funds generated by the franchise tax. Dorman estimates his proposal would add an additional $50 per pupil. Franchise tax revenues currently go to the General Fund that supports most state agencies, including education. A guest post on the OK Policy blog introduced the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC), which helps supply schools with a variety of resources they would otherwise be unable to afford. A new report finds that four in five Oklahoma adults who receive publicly-funded mental health services are unemployed. State advocacy groups are calling for greater assistance from public officials in aiding those with mental illness to find jobs.

Over a year after tornadoes hit the town of Moore in late May, residents are still struggling with insurance companies, who some residents say are not settling fairly. A Tulsa mother who says her daughter’s severe epilepsy has been successfully treated with medical marijuana in Colorado is campaigning to make medical marijuana legal and accessible in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission expressed dismay that the legislature approved a $3 million withdrawal from the Commission’s revolving fund to balance this year’s state budget. The Commission receives no appropriations and was not consulted about the withdrawal. The City of Tulsa is considering partially automating its 911 service in an attempt to reduce wait times for callers. The automated system would direct callers to dispatchers from the specific emergency department needed. The Tulsa County Commissioner is calling to have a new city-county jail agreement in place by September. The city and county have previously disagreed on how much the city should be charged to hold an inmate in the county jail and how a ‘municipal inmate’ should be defined.

The state Department of Health has announced that the state’s first case of the West Nile virus this summer has been found. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and the highest-risk months are July through October. Thursday was Tulsa’s rainiest day of 2014 so far, with nearly two inches of rain recorded at Tulsa International Airport. Researchers from Oklahoma State University have received a $750,000 grant from NASA to develop a material that will protect astronauts from radiation while in space.

The Number of the Day is is the number of organ and tissue transplants in Oklahoma in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, FiveThirtyEight argues that as economics and demographics of migration in America shift, immigration has changed much faster than the immigration debate.

continue reading In The Know: Another 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children may be placed at U.S. military bases